There was so much hugging taking place as people left the ticket booth and entered the stands for a destruction derby on Saturday at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora that it could have been easy to mistake it for a family gathering. 

A crowd of over 300 people turned out to cheer on 24 derby drivers as they crashed their customized vehicles into each other in a small, muddy arena, with the proceeds going to help Micenley Woods, 26, of Jamestown, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a motocross accident on Sept. 9. 

Woods worked as a heavy equipment operator and mechanic for Tuolumne Economic Development Authority Inc. in Tuolumne. According to his father, Robert Woods, 57, of Soulsbyville, his son had only been on the job for about three weeks before the accident occurred. 

“Someone brought a motorbike into the shop to be repaired,” Robert Woods said. “They got it running and he took it out for a test drive. No one knows what happened. When they found him, he was unconscious, had an erratic heartbeat and a faint pulse. There were no broken bones, but he had a traumatic brain injury.”

Robert Woods added that his son has no memory of the accident.

Micenley Woods was taken by ambulance to Adventist Health Sonora, then transported by helicopter to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto, where he was hospitalized for seven weeks.

His blood pressure stable and no longer on a ventilator, Micenley Woods is now in a long term care facility in Elk Grove, where he is steadily improving. His father said his whole right side is weak, like he had a stroke, but he held his right arm up on Tuesday. 

The family is hopeful for a full recovery. It was hard in the beginning, and they said in the first week they wondered if he was going to live. Now, they look forward to each and every improvement. 

Lana Wood, Micenley’s mother, said that everyone in the community “has been so good about it,” and she expressed her gratitude for all of the help.

Micenley Woods’ boss, James “Jimbo” Fryer, 52, of Tuolumne, approached Woods' parents with the idea of a destruction derby fundraiser while he was still in the hospital. They said yes. 

Fryer and Micenley Woods had worked on derby vehicles together on the weekend before the accident.

As a special tribute, Micenley’s name was painted on a Ford Crown Victoria, belonging to Gage Foster, of Tuolumne, in his favorite color: orange. In fact, there was a sea of orange everywhere one looked. Orange T-shirts, emblazoned with “Me-Wuk Bash” over images of derby cars were on sale, worn by Woods’ family members and spectators alike. 

The fee was $10 for the derby and $20 for the derby withentrance to “The Pit,” where onlookers could see, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., how the vehicles were pounded, welded and made ready to compete against each other in a battle of steel, horsepower and sheer determination.  

Drivers paid $100 to enter the derby and compete for the $5,000 purse, with the top prize of $2,500 for the first-place finisher. They competed in three heats, with the top four in each heat going on to the consolation round and then on to the main event. 

Sponsors for the event included Black Oak Casino, Chicken Ranch Casino, Quality Transmission, Leslie Heavy Haul, Boyer Construction, Smith Mobile Welding, Daugherty Tire and the Tribal Gaming Agency. 

Michelle McCoy, 52, of Groveland said she knew Micenley Woods’ family when they lived in Groveland and had known him since he was 2 years old. She described him as a “kind, loving, sweet kid,” and her son Layne, 24, added, “We’re glad he is alive.”  

Michaela Busler, 27, of Groveland, said Micenley Woods “has a big heart, he’s funny and has a fighting spirit.”

Contact Shelly Thorene at sthorene@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4527.

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