Demolition diva ready for damage at Benton Franklin Fair

KENNEWICK — Standing in open-toed heels as antifreeze drips from a nearby burgundy-colored 1940 Buick convertible, June Monteagudo wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I love high heels,” she said, seemingly oblivious to the rough surroundings of her business, June’s Classic Auto Body in Pasco.

All around her are dozens of cars — from the beautiful restored Buick to a dented 1980-something Datsun 510 that very closely resembles a pig.

To be exact, a Pepto-Bismol-pink pig complete with snout and curly tail.

The pink pig is one of the eight vehicles Monteagudo will drive in crunch-filled races during tonight’s demolition derby as the Benton Franklin Fair kicks off.

“It’s a cute little car,” Monteagudo said. Then she added: “For now.”

In her 19th year of demolition racing, Monteagudo knows how to prepare for the event. Though her long manicured nails and flowing brown hair wouldn’t indicate it, she does a lot of the work on the derby cars herself.

The glass, carpet and all seats except the driver’s are removed from the car, she explained as she pointed inside a late ’70s sedan spray-painted tangerine orange.

Most of the cars Monteagudo chooses to race are older models. “You get more metal,” she said.

“The ’70s were good, the ’80s too, but the cars in the ’90s are real thin, and now? Plastic,” she said with disgust. “It’s like I’d be racing in a rubber baby buggy bumper.”

As the years pass, Monteagudo and her competitors wreck more cars, making it harder to find the older models they want. The Cash for Clunkers program also has been no help, she said.

And as if the lack of sturdy cars isn’t enough, Monteagudo jokes that she also has to deal with bad gas.

“These cars have been sitting around for a while and today’s gas is horrible. It gums up,” she said, making a frustrated flourish with her hand.

It’s evident Monteagudo has a passion for her pastime, but two years ago she almost gave it up after receiving a blow more brutal than the worst demo derby crunching hit.

Her husband Victor died of a heart attack in May 2007, leaving Monteagudo stunned and heartbroken. For the first time, she didn’t want to race.

But her two daughters, Vicki and Lisa, got her back on the track in time for the fair.

“They said, ‘Mom, you have 10,000 fans out there. They’re waiting,’ ” she said. “So I went out there again and it felt good.”

Monteagudo said she’s since reached out to other widows and widowers, telling them to get out of the house and stay active to deal with their grief.

“When you cry, you cry alone,” she said, her big smile and stylish sunglasses hiding any trace of a tear. “And when you smile, you’ve got the whole world with you.”

Of course, tonight Monteagudo may not be smiling, and she’ll be trying to deal out some grief to her fellow drivers.

The derby’s time trials begin at 6:30 p.m. at the fairgrounds arena. Races start at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $10 for general admission. The $12 reserved seats already are sold out.