At 74, demolition derby winner dubbed ‘Queen of the Ring’ is forever young

Published: Sep. 4, 2021 at 11:16 PM CDT
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VINTON, Iowa (KCRG) - Mud, smoking engines, and leaking vehicles are all part of the demolition derby experience, but a 74-year-old behind the wheel is something you don’t see every day.

“It’s crazy,” Mary Umbarger, of Keystone, said. “You get banged here and there, then you go back and you try to hit them back.”

Umbarger drove the “Forever 21” car on Saturday at the Benton County Bullring Demolition Derby, accompanied by handprints from her 11-children and 11-great grandchildren. This was her first demo derby in nearly 50 years after she said her grandkids were taking a liking to the sport.

“It was just a dare, and I’m stupid enough to take on the dare I guess,” Umbarger said, with a smile. “One time for old time’s sakes.”

It was a dare that landed her the title of “Queen of the Ring” in her first derby a few weeks before the county fair. She drove Saturday to try and keep her title and prove she was forever 21.

“Everbody’s making it about age, but it’s not,” Umbarger said. “It’s about having fun.”

“When her niece messaged me and said she was first coming, I was a little worried that she was 74,” Chris Claypoole, the event’s promoter, said. “And then when she put on a show that first time, I was like ‘age is no limit at all.’”

Now a derby Icon, Umbarger was inspiring people like Claypoole.

“I hope when I’m 74, I can still wheel a car like [Umbarger] can,” Claypoole said.

Despite not being able to pull off the win, she hoped her showing would prove people need to continue doing what they love at any age.

“No matter what age you are, you can go out there and try anything,” Umbarger said. “If you fail, big deal. You’re still having fun doing it. If you think young, you’re going to be young.”

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