Demo derby rookie is ready to rumble

Tia Flynn of Coeur d’Alene, with the car that she will drive in her first demolition derby at the North Idaho Fair and Rodeo. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Tia Flynn of Coeur d’Alene, with the car that she will drive in her first demolition derby at the North Idaho Fair and Rodeo. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Tia Flynn will be celebrating her 45th birthday by bashing and banging her gift into oblivion in a public spectacle that’s long been a Coeur d’Alene crowd-favorite.

As a first-time contender in the North Idaho Fair and Rodeo’s demolition derby, the mother of three hopes to make her presence known – and felt – behind the wheel of her birthday gift: a stripped-to-the-bones ’84 Chrysler Fifth Avenue affectionately dubbed “Colonel Mustard.”

Flynn, an audiologist at Affordable Hearing Aids in midtown Coeur d’Alene, has been a longtime fan of the demo derby, the final event of the 86th edition of the annual fair and rodeo. In fact, she’s envisioned herself smashing her way through the stripped-metal traffic in the event since she started taking her three young boys – now 12, 18 and 21 years old – to the fair years ago.

“Remember that episode on ‘Happy Days’ where Fonzie and Pinky Tuscadero were in the demolition derby? I think I was 10 and I wanted to be Pinky,” Flynn recalled. “So when we moved here, the first time we went to the fair I took my boys and husband to the demolition derby, and we have watched it almost every year since. And every year I kept telling my husband I wanted an Affordable Hearing Aid car.”

The demolition derby, scheduled for 4 p.m. today, is one of the biggest draws for the five-day fair and rodeo festivities, attracting an average of 25 to 30 drivers and a standing-room-only audience to watch competitors battle around the mud-spattered arena. The appeal of the derby is something Flynn, who also races dirt bikes, said she thinks everybody can relate to.

“Your whole life you’re trying to drive around and not smash them up; its fun to be able to smash them up on purpose for once,” she said.

So when her husband, Eric, an electrician with the Coeur d’Alene School District, heard about a vehicle that had been sitting in a field for several years, he decided to make Flynn’s dream a hollowed-out and reinforced reality. The car was donated to the couple from On Time Signs, and with the help of four friends, her husband and the rest of the “Colonel Mustard” pit crew have been laboring for weeks to get the Chrysler into fighting shape.

But it’s no easy undertaking.

“There are so many rules, but it’s all about safety,” Eric Flynn said, adding that the crew has put in at least 60 hours of work in the past two weeks, with another 20 or so to go. “The hardest part is stripping it all down. It takes a couple days to take everything out, and another couple to reinforce it. I couldn’t have done it without the help of the other guys in the pit crew.”

John Goedde, president of Kootenai Charities, the local organization that hosts the demolition derby, said the event provides high-impact entertainment that’s as safe as possible for the drivers. “It’s one of the most popular events in the area,” he said.

Proceeds from the event, which usually range from $2,500 to $3,000, go back to the community in the form of scholarships at North Idaho College, Christmas fundraisers and other community-based programs, while a purse in excess of $2,500 is awarded to the champion.

Goedde said Flynn is one of many women who’ve taken part since the derby started almost 30 years ago. “We’ve had female drivers before and they always do a good job and have fun. So I’m glad to see another first-time female driver.”

Inside Flynn’s No. 8 car, a crushed red-velvet driver’s seat is the only remnant of the Chrysler’s former life. But even that is overshadowed by a five-point safety harness and metal beam that extends behind the seat from floor to ceiling.

“Not too many women get a derby car for their birthday. I think this is my best birthday yet,” she said, as her husband and some members of the Colonel Mustard pit crew prepared to apply the finishing coat of yellow paint to the car’s exterior.

Asked about her expectations, Flynn replied she just hopes to put on a good show and maybe make it to the final round. Winning the cash would be icing on the cake. “I just hope I don’t get taken out right away. I want to bash it up for a while,” she said.

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