Demolition derby ``Hit-tress'' battles for crown
MARSHFIELD -- Eileen Mann slithered out the window of her crushed and
limping Mitsubishi Diamante, oblivious to the smoke and dust hovering above
the mangled fenders and flat tires that littered the demolition derby
Blonde hair flying in the breeze, she turned to the roaring crowd, grinning
from ear to ear, and gave a Tiger Woods fist pump.
``That was a tough one,'' Mann said after winning last Friday's preliminary
heat at the Marshfield Fair.
A voice boomed from a loudspeaker announcing Mann would be one of the
finalists for Friday night's $1,800 showdown for car-wrecking glory.
It won't be the first time in 11 years of competition she has made it to
the ``feature,'' or the finals.
What it will be is another chance to win the elusive, and coveted, grand
``I want to win the feature,'' Mann said. ``I want a trophy for winning the
That would make Mann the first woman to win a derby at the Marshfield
Fair, and one of a small number to win anywhere in the country, except for
those who drive in all-female competitions -- the powder puffs.
Mann has been the national lady demolition derby driver of the year.
She has driven compacts, sedans and 8-cylinder boats to their graves. She
loves the speedy figure-8 races -- in which drivers have to negotiate a
4-way intersection in the middle of an oval track -- but has a losing
``I'm terrible at the figure 8s, but they're so fun to drive,'' Mann said.
Few women in the U.S. have been as consistent over the last 10 years.
From Maine to Kansas, to Ohio to New Hampshire, Mann has driven off with
scores of trophies from races where she blew tires, destroyed radiators and
crushed fenders on her way to the finals.
The unofficial ``Hit-tress'' of demolition derby, Mann has had nearly every
experience a driver can have, except giving that fist pump and beaming
victory smile for the grand prize as a champion.
After more than a decade on the demolition derby circuit with her husband
Jim Mann, owner of Auto Gallery, a Brockton used-car dealership, Eileen has
become one of the guys.
At every one of the hundreds of festivals, fairs and carnivals -- the
demolition derby circuit for 50 years -- a collegial group of die-hard
regulars spend a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of grand to buy a
car that will be wrecked in 15 minutes.
Many of the racers are friends or family, and so the pre-race pit area is a
flurry of activity in which cans of spray paint and radiator caps are
borrowed and doors are wired shut.
It's also a locker room where the competitors exchange good-natured barbs.
New drivers are noticeable and welcome.
New female drivers are usually treated, consciously or not, with kid
On the track, guys ease up on the accelerator when they go in for a hit.
But not when it's Eileen.
``Jim and Eileen are great people,'' said Ken Weston, a fellow driver from
Almeida's Used Cars & Parts in Plymouth. ``I'd love to see Eileen win, but
she's got to come through us first.''
Mann, 39, a Randolph native who now lives in Taunton, rolled into the
competitive demolition derby scene in 1996 after her brother, Brian
Donohoe, 46, began driving at a few fairs.
Mann spray painted designs on her brother's and went to see how he did
during a race in Foxboro.
The roar of the engines and sound of the crunching metal tingled her toes
and widened her eyes.
A few weeks later at the Brockton Fair, Jim Mann asked Eileen to have a
beer with him after a derby they both raced in.
Despite her brother telling her to ``stay away from that Jim Mann,''
Eileen and Jim have been together ever since.
``I'm a cheap date,'' Eileen said laughing.
More than 20 fellow drivers attended their wedding and all sipped from
derby trophy-shaped glasses for the traditional well-wishing toasts.
``My mother was horrified,'' Mann said.
The couple have two daughters, Mackenzie, 4 and Emily, 3.
Eileen has been a stay-at-home mom, and in between the dealership, derbies,
raising two kids and work with a Maine boy's camp, the two have started a
race of their own in Lempster, N.H., the Woodbooger Demolition Derby, that
boasts a $2,500 first prize.
``It's been a lot of fun,'' Mann said. ``I have been all over the country;
the people we've met have become our friends. It's not just a great time;
it's become a way of life.''