TURLOCK -- Dan Hicks had the tools and he had the talent for Monday night's Destruction Derby at the Stanislaus County Fair.
And the Turlock resident had the right plan.
He ran his 1967 Chrysler Imperial conservatively early, then smashed his way to the championship victory -- and the $1,000 prize -- in front of a capacity crowd of 3,800 at the FoodMaxx Arena. It was the second derby win for Hicks, who also won in 1995.
"I played the waiting game," Hicks said. "A lot of us have been doing this for a while, and we're aware of each other out there. You take it easy early, then clobber each other late."
Hicks was one of three cars still running in the final minutes of the finals. He was joined by Denair's Tony Silveira and Turlock's Mark Cabral. They stalked each other, circling the smoking hulks of other cars in the heat, with Hicks and Silveira crashing together in a head-on collision just after the final siren sounded.
They both raised their hands to the crowd, then shook hands under an ovation.
Silveira pocketed $750 for second place. The top three drivers -- and five of the top seven placers -- drove Chrysler Imperials.
"They're the best cars out here," Hicks said. "The Buicks are pretty good, too, but the Imperial is the car you want in a derby."
Silveira had a different plan than Hicks -- none.
"There's no strategy," he said. "You just hope to keep your car running and you hope to get a lot of luck out there."
This was Silveira's most successful derby in nine years at the Stanislaus County Fair. His red and gray Imperial was also voted the best-looking car.
"It's something we try to do every year -- make the car look good," he said. "Then we just smash it up."
While the championship heat of 20 cars had its moments, the three preliminary heats had most of the action. For those races in the early evening, everybody's car entered the arena in pristine condition. And every one of them left -- either under their own power or towed by one of the army of trucks -- with a rear end that looked like an accordion and a steaming radiator.
Before the finals, the pits behind the arena were filled with the symphony of sledgehammers and the glow of acetylene torches as crews tried to get cars back in working order.
In the second heat, Turlock's Chris Camp slammed into John Walter Bailey's Cordoba, rolling it onto its side and temporarily stopping the heat.
"It's happened to me before," Camp said. "I guess this time it was my turn to get somebody back."
In the third heat, Cabral rolled his car over when he hit the flattened trunk of Andy Dayton. His car rolled on top of the trunk, then slid to the side, putting Cabral's car on its side and ending the heat.
Westley's Keith Yamamoto was in his first derby, racing with his older brother Jason. Yamamoto didn't make it out of his heat, or the consolation heat, but he still had an experience.
Yamamoto, an all-District linebacker for Patterson High last fall, said he prefers the football collisions.
"Hitting somebody in a car is something, but I'd rather hit somebody on the football field," he said. "Plus, in the car, everything seems to break."
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at email@example.com or call 578-2300.