- Associated Press - Friday, September 15, 2017

CAPE GIRADEAU, Mo. (AP) - Some were merely crumpled. Others would be hideous, if not for a ramshackle charm.

Even the groundskeeper’s wheelbarrow bumped along on a flat tire as he rounded the track setting out fire extinguishers. But that was the game - perseverance.

Among the fleet that recently gathered for the Southeast Missouri District Fair’s demolition derby was an undead Lincoln Town Car; number 19.


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The finish was sprayed black, save for a few hand-lettered sponsorships and a light-blue awareness ribbon painted on the hood.

It was the Niederkorn car from Chaffee, Missouri. But the beanpole driver who crawled through the windshield as he waited in line for vehicle inspection wasn’t John Niederkorn, who had been a derby fixture for the past decade. It was his son.



It wasn’t Seth Niederkorn’s first time in the driver’s seat, but his single derby showing in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, didn’t count for too much. Still, he seemed more nonplussed than nervous.

His father John - a broader and marginally taller version of Seth - was at the front of the inspection line, scoping out other drivers’ cars. Not in an official capacity, he explained. Just a curious one.

His inability to be in the driver’s seat this year had him itching for other ways to be involved. For this year, that mostly meant preparing the derby car and cheering for Seth. After the Poplar Bluff derby, he’d realized demolition derby could be a difficult thing to watch from the bleachers.

“It makes me nervous,” he told the Southeast Missourian of watching his son do the driving did. “You want to be out there with him to watch over him, but you know you can’t right now, and that’s not very fun.”

More fun, he said, was the process of building the car.

“He’s helped me build every car since he was 12,” John said of his son.

Not all 12-year-olds could make welds hardy enough to be trusted in the derby pit, but Seth’s held up.

“Oh, yes,” John said. “He’s a good welder.”

As he went off to tend to another derby car, another member of the Niederkorn pit crew vouched for John and Seth’s handiwork.

“He just wants to be in it so bad,” family friend Woody Woods said of John. “We stopped business on the farm and the excavation business for the last two weeks so we could get that car ready.”

They did the same every year, Woods said, except this year the doctors had found John’s cancer.

A fundraiser followed at Schindler’s Tavern in New Hamburg in August. The crowd in Arena Park on Saturday was dotted with “Friends Don’t Let Friends Fight Cancer Alone” T-shirts worn in support of John.

“There’s a list of people who I’d take a bullet for, and he’s right at the top of it,” Woods said. “I’d do it right here.”

But the cancer meant no more car crashing. So Seth became the driver. His heat - the last of the night - started shortly after 10 p.m. He took his knocks, gave them back and went back for more.

And in his second-ever derby, Seth scrapped his way to second place.

“Got pushed in a ditch and broke the distributor,” he said. “A lot better than what I expected.”

John was proud.

“He said he was proud of me and that I did great,” Seth said.

After such a result, he said the Niederkorn team’s plan is more derby.

“Dexter,” he said. “September 23.”

___

Information from: Southeast Missourian, https://www.semissourian.com

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