As nervous as Leah Stoecker, 17, was before the Powder Puff division of the demolition derby at the Nicollet County Fair, she knew that two other drivers wouldn’t be out to get her: her mom Becky Stoecker and her sister Hailey Stoecker, 18. Driving in demolition derbies has become a family past time for Leah and her mom, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
Tony Liebl, Becky’s father, and his wife Karen of Nicollet started doing demolition derbies back in 1976 and 1979, respectively, when the prize money was a lot smaller and the contestants were all local. Then his children all picked up the derby bug, driving as soon as they were allowed to at the age of 16.
At the Nicollet County Fair this weekend, the three generations of the family were entered in nine different races, ranging from Tony who said it could be his final year entering derbies, to his grandson Joseph Liebl, 14, who was driving in his first ever derby. Rules now allow drivers to compete as young as 14 with parental consent.
“I think I owe Hailey a revenge shot though,” Becky said as she and her daughters put on their helmets and started their engines while making their pact not to try to hit one another. Hailey laughed, knowing that her mom was referring to the time she hit her mom last fall in New Ulm, busting her chin open, which later required stitches. “She was just there,” Hailey said, explaining why she hit her mom. Drivers can be disqualified for not hitting someone and Hailey needed to hit somebody.
“It’s the adrenaline rush,” said Hailey about why she liked derbies.
“Yeah, first you’re all nervous, until you have your first hit,” said Leah. Both said they have improved as drivers and have made friends from doing so many derbies.
Becky and her children are now part of the newer generation of derby drivers, traveling farther and competing for larger prize money.
During the Powder Puff derby, Becky noticed that something was not right with Hailey. She signaled to race officials, who stopped the race. EMT responders quickly had Hailey’s car surrounded. It’s not clear what happened, but Hailey had injured her hand while either holding the steering wheel or being caught in it. At the hospital it was determined she had broken a bone in her wrist.
The ethos of demolition derbies — no matter how often you get hit, you get back up and keep fighting — holds true with Hailey. She said she plans to keep driving in demolition derbies despite her injury.