Pumpkin derby brings thrills, spills

By Eric Florip, Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter

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Kadin Drury didn’t come away a winner in his first race. But after releasing his four-wheeled pumpkin down a derby-style ramp, he didn’t come away disappointed, either.

“It crashed, and I was excited about that,” said Kadin, 7.

The Vancouver resident’s pumpkin — dubbed “Leadhead” for the nail heads sticking out of it on all sides — took a hard left and went tumbling off the edge of the track while his opponent crossed the finish line. Kadin inspected it after the race, looking over the skateboard wheels attached to the bottom with axles. The miniature skeletons bound by twine on top. The nails around the sides, a few now pushed all the way into the face from the spill.

Kadin grinned.

“He’s OK,” he said.

Leadhead was one of some 40 racing pumpkins on display at Serendipity’s Events and Photography center in Vancouver for Saturday’s Screaming Pumpkin Derby. The basic rules: Axles had to be attached independently to the pumpkin, and no propulsion or other motors were allowed to get them moving — only gravity.

Decorated pumpkins raced, two at a time, from the top of a four-foot-high ramp in the events center, with the first to cross under the checkered flags at the bottom declared the winner. If neither pumpkin made it — this happened more than a few times Saturday — the victory simply went to the pumpkin that made it farthest before wiping out or stalling.

The derby was first put together last year by Vancouver-based The Butler Did It Catering, which has organized a Halloween party for years. The company decided to transform its own pumpkin-centric gathering into a community event, said owner Karen Shimer.

“We don’t carve them anymore,” said Shimer, dressed as a wild-haired nurse Saturday. “Now we race them. And it’s a lot more work.”

In addition to the participants who brought their own racing pumpkins, volunteers decorated and built about 20 more that were used by walk-in racers early in the event. Local businesses also donated plenty of supplies for the event, including pumpkins, building materials for the ramp and raffle prizes.

Most racers didn’t hold back in decorating their own pumpkins. One sported tentacles. Another was made to look like Yoda, the “Star Wars” character.

Eight-year-old Dalan Howell’s pumpkin was fashioned after his own costume, the red-and-blue-clad video game character Mario. His pumpkin — complete with a hat — claimed victory in its first race.

A collection of trophies awaited the top pumpkin racers, plus scariest pumpkin honors, best spirit and best crash, among others.

The derby’s turnout Saturday was about twice as big as last year, Shimer said. The races fit right in with the event center’s goal of hosting family-friendly activities, said Serendipity’s owner Donnamay Brockbank.

“It seems to be something the kids really have fun with,” she said. “And we love it.”

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; www.twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com.