MEDINA — Fans will gather next week at the grandstand of the Medina County Fairgrounds ready to hear the engines roar and listen for the loud crashes of the demolition derby.
Gary Bilek, one of its biggest fans will be front and center in the pit, cheering on the competitors with a special eye on Kristen Frantz of Seville and her brother Dusty from Spencer.
The one difference with Bilek is the 6-foot-1, 155-pound Barberton resident will rely mainly on his sight when the cars run headlong into each other. Bilek, who is missing the nerves that connect the inner ear to his brain, was born deaf, but that hasn’t stopped his love for the sport.
“Like most guys, he likes the crash and the bang,” Gary’s wife Kim Bilek said. “He enjoys building those cars.
“He always enjoyed the building of the car more than the racing part. He’s just as happy for the guys as he is for his personal achievement.”
And Gary, 55, has certainly done his share of building. Since 1998, he has constructed over 50 cars for the demolition derby at the Medina County Fair. He’s built three winning cars and watched Kristen Frantz finish second in 2011.
For the fourth year in a row, both Kristen and Dusty Frantz will have cars in the derby. The building of those cars has become a labor of love for Bilek, who works in the service department at the Medina Auto Mall.
A gearhead at heart, he’s been around cars his entire life. In fact, as soon as the derby is over, he said he is already thinking about the next year’s event.
“Gary comes from an automotive family,” Kim said. “His dad decided he was going to learn a trade since he was deaf. Since (his father) was a mechanic, he shuttled Gary toward auto body work because he didn’t have to hear to do it. Although he’s very good at repairing engines. His family calls him the car whisperer.
“He has been a car junkie all his life. He decided when he first got his driver’s license that he wanted to go and enter a car at the Barberton Speedway. The very first race he raced, he won. He did stock car racing for several years. The demo derby is an extension of that.”
The racing aspect ended soon after he married his wife in 1981, but more because as she put it, “it’s not an inexpensive hobby.”
The desire did not, which is why you’ll see Gary dancing and whooping it up along the fence as his cars try to become the last one standing.
He calls the derby his dream and can’t picture a day when he’s not working on cars. He gave a one-word answer to what the fair means to him.
That fun will play out this year with Kristen in a 1999 Ford Escort and Dusty in a 1966 Ford Fairlane. While some build cars to grab the impact of the head-on collisions and others make sure fluids are sealed, Gary has the answer.
“You build the car for the end of the race,” he said.
That’s how Keith Case of Seville won three times in Gary Bilek built cars and it’s where the finalists gain the upper hand.
Win or lose, Bilek, who has a photo album overflowing with derby pictures, will be there sizing up the competition before the first crash and smiling every time one of the Frantz’s knocks a contestant out.
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.