Bent-metal tribute: Roberts remembered before clash of cars

Vongni Yang, The Union Democrat

The legacy of longtime demolition derby driver Rick Roberts livedon Sundayin the arena at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds.

A special tribute and moment of silence was held for the beloved Sonora resident and homicide victim before the engines were started.

A U2 tribute car, and two others, were built specifically to honor Roberts, who raced under the U2 moniker since the mid-1980s.

"We will miss you and we will derby on," said arena announcer Bogio Ditler. "U2 will live forever."

After Jenni Roland, 49, of White Pines, sang a rendition of the national anthem, the roaring sounds of engines revving and metals clashing began.

Because the main event was too close to call immediately after the derby's conclusion, unofficial results were given.

Brian Holt, of Modesto, outlasted the 12 other drivers in the final event to capture first place and the $1,500 prize.

Richard Shimer, of Coulterville, and his 1960 Thunderbird came in second. Sac Diaz was third and Tuolumne's Jesse Madden rounded out the top four.

Heat 1 winners were Madden, Erick Burkey, of La Grange, and Mariposa's Jason Coburn.

Brian Holt, the eventual winner, placed first in Heat 2 followed by Dino and Dani Danicourt at second and third, respectively.

In Heat 3, Phillip Tevis, of Santa Clara, was first, Wyatt Danicourt second and Nathan Holt third.

In the Last Chance Qualifiers, drivers Diaz, Nate Gray, Shimar, Josh McClure and Eric Everhart redeemed themselves and secured their spots in the final event by finishing in the top five.

Brandon Holt's 1976 AMC Pacer and 4U2 car took first in the Compact Car division. Joseph Ecrayd came in second and Carson Atkinson was third.

Burkey's U2 tribute car to Roberts won the Prettiest Car Trophy.

Although the derby attracted hundreds to the arena, for most of the drivers and people associated with the event, it was all about Roberts.

Roland, a U.S. Navy veteran, recalled her fondest memory of Roberts from 2012.

"Rick was a very nice man," Roland said. "The last derby that I ran over in the Angels Camp Derby, Rick was my one and only pit partner. I broke my ribs, and my husband was another driver, but he didn't realize that I was hurt and Rick did. When we were towing my car, Rick pulled me out of the windshield and took me to the first-aid station, so we can go to the hospital."

Ditler, who met Roberts in an agriculture class as a freshman at Sonora High School in 1983, couldn't stop but rave about the legendary derby figure.

Ditler, a third-generation Sonoran, said Roberts could turn any old and beat-up vehicle and transform it into a viable derby car.

"That guy had visions of derby in his mind since he was a young man, and he put it all to practice," Ditler said. "He just did so much for this sport and this county. It's just a great pleasure to know the man, and he just entertained us for so many years, and it's just a sad, sad thing, but also, a very happy and powerful thing. You can see his legacy with all the people turning out, and all the tribute cars to him. I'm happy to have known him."

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The Union Democrat
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