Babb Looks to Show Demolition Derby Prowess, Repeat as Champion of Five Flags’ Annual Smash Fest
By Chuck Corder
On the surface, there wouldn’t seem to be too much game planning for a Demolition Derby.
See car, demolish car just about covers the strategy sessions.
But even in a Demolition Derby, luck sometimes has to fall your way. It did last year for local mechanic Justin Babb when he won the annual crash fest at Five Flags Speedway.
“Honest to God, it was a fluke last year,” said Babb, 32, who works primarily for Beach Bum Trolley, his family’s business. “Every time I hit somebody, the car would shut down on me and sit there for almost 10 seconds. Then, I’d fire it up, throw it in reverse, hit somebody and it’d shut off again. That’s a different kind of strategy, and you just pray to God nobody hits you while you’re standing still.”
On Friday, Babb hopes to once again take home that $1,500 check for winning the Demolition Derby at the famed half-mile oval.
The Modifieds of Mayhem, Pro Trucks, The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen and Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks will rev up what promises to be a jam-packed crowd. Next to the Snowball Derby, the Demolition Derby historically is one of the most highly attended nights at Five Flags.
Gates open at 5 p.m. Friday with pre-race festivities to kick off around 8. Admission is only $5 and free for children 5 and under.
Babb has quickly grown into a Demo Derby legend of some esteem in recent years. In addition to winning last year at Pensacola’s high banks, he was the second-to-last car alive in 2014 at Five Flags and won a Demolition Derby on dirt at Southern Raceway just a few years ago.
The sport of bent metal and bizarre paint schemes didn’t always come so easy for the Philadelphia native who arrived in Pensacola by way of Arkansas.
“When I went to Five Flags for my first Demolition Derby,” Babb explained, “I made it all the way to the start line and the car locked up, the motor let go. I climbed on top of the car and sat and watched the rest of the race.”
A Demolition Derby doesn’t require a tactician’s mind. Instead, it calls for some good, old-fashioned common sense.
“Big-bodied cars, that’s where it’s at,” Babb said plainly of what type of cars bring the most success.
He brought a sedan to the Demolition Derby in 2015 and had it “folded up so bad,” Babb said. “Somebody hit me and it felt like they were driving an Army tank. My helmet came off. I thought somebody reached in my car and punched me in the face.”
Last year, he drove to the win in a Cadillac he found at Butler’s U-Pull-It. This year, he hopes to repeat with a 1987 Ford LTD Crown Victoria, a popular choice for Demolition Derbies.
Tony Pearson is the money man and purchased the car for Babb. This year, thanks to Pearson, Babb will have a “teammate,” in the loosest definition of the word possible. Richie Thompson will drive an ’86 Lincoln LTD Town Car.
Before he found his calling as a Demolition Derby driver, Babb tried his luck in the Sportsmen division at Five Flags, running a full schedule in 2011. Babb didn’t know a soul, but quickly made friends with Jim Pokrant, who helped with his setup.
“I’d go to the racetrack, and I’d take my phone with me and I took pictures of the cars inside and out,” Babb said. “That’s how I learned how to set the cage up. I found out I was no good on asphalt. That’s when I went over to the dirt.”
Between Southern in Milton and the dirt track in Flomaton, Ala., Babb and his racing buddies have found their niche in building Stinger cars.
This Friday, though, Babb will return to what he does better than most. While the glory and the winner’s purse remain his objective, he hopes the drivers all remain protected and unharmed by the end of the Demolition Derby.
“Getting hit at 50 mph, it truly does hurt,” Babb reassured. “Wetting down the track is smart because it slows down the cars. Moving in the barrels that mark the boundaries would make the track smaller, so cars can’t build up a lot of momentum, but they’re still always hitting each other.”
Babb remembers celebrating that final hit to seal the victory last year.
He hopes his Crown Vic — with a crazy custom paint job by Black Sheep Automotive, and stickers from Southern Raceway and Beach Bum Trolley — will guide him back toward another triumphant win.
“When I won, I’m on top of car and I looked back and saw thousands of people on fence cheering,” Babb said. “That was the coolest thing.”