HUGHESVILLE - The air was thick with dust and smoke, and bumpers and other car parts were flying as racers fought to maintain control of their vehicles during the the Figure 8 racing qualifiers and championship races at the Lycoming County Fair Sunday evening.
Figure 8 racing differs from the demolition derby in that drivers must use strategy and quick thinking to beat their opponents, according to Pete Duchman, the event announcer.
"These drivers want to out-think, out-maneuver and out-drive their competition," he said as the first heat lined up to begin the qualifying races.
CRAIG S. McKIBBEN JR./Sun-Gazette
Cars run an early heat in Sunday’s Figure 8 races at the Lycoming County Fair.
To prepare for the race, drivers have to remove all glass and lights from their vehicles, reinforce the doors and tie the seats up. Drivers wear motorcycle helmets and are required to fasten their seat belts. Several drivers also had taken the liberty to adorn their vehicle in favorite colors, write the names of family and friends or sponsors and paint designs.
First- and second-place trophies were awarded to the top two drivers in each heat, with a "hard luck award" going to the driver who experienced the worst luck - this award was given to drivers who smashed into walls, flipped their cars and had stalled engines and other mishaps.
The only female driver, and one of the youngest drivers, to tear up the track during Sunday's qualifying races was Jessica Shetler, 16, of Hughesville. Easily identified in the heat by her purple car, Shetler was excited to be part of the competition.
"This is my first year. My dad's been doing it for a while, so I wanted to try it," she said.
Shetler's father, Frank Shetler, also present at Sunday's event, has spread his love of Figure 8 racing to many family members and friends. Another member of the team, Tim Besserman, caught the Figure 8 racing bug from Frank.
"He had me in his pit crew last year, and from there I was hooked," Besserman said.
This year the team, For the Fans Racing Team, had nine drivers, including Jessica and some of the family's neighbors. Jessica said she practiced for the racing by driving around in a field.
"It's a lot of fun," she said of the competition.
Amy Shetler, wife of Frank and mother of Jessica, was proud of her daughter.
"I was pretty nervous, but she did a great job," she said. "She's only had her permit for two months!"
Jessica took home a "Hard Luck Award" after her car got stuck against a wall in her heat, while Frank, who participated in several heats, took home one first-place trophy and one "Hard Luck Award."
Close calls and collisions occurred frequently but the biggest crash of the night occurred during the fourth heat, when driver Jason Koch flipped his vehicle. The race was paused while members of the Hughesville Volunteer Fire Department rushed to the scene. Koch was fine, but his car was finished.
Excitement grew in the crowd for the championship races. First-place winners from each qualifying race competed in the championship races. Steve Young, of Bloomsburg, and Brandon John, of Orangeville, made it through the championship races and went head-to-head for a four-lap run-off to determine the grand champion.
Audience members in the back rows of the bleachers were standing and taking photos while Young and John tore around the figure-eight shape in the track, trying to out-race one another. In the end, Young was dubbed grand champion of Figure 8 racing at the Lycoming County fair. Front-seat spectators headed home with dust and pebbles in their hair, but great stories to tell.
The fair continues this week, for which the weather is expected to be hot, with chances of storms today.