“It seems like total destruction the only solution.” - Bob Marley.

Alan Trustman, who write the screenplay for Bullitt, once told a group of college students interested in movie writing that almost nothing tickled the average American more than watching wanton destruction of valuable personal property. Don’t ask me to explain it, he said, but Americans can’t get enough of glass breaking and car crashing.

Last Sunday, more than 2,000 people and 44 bizarrely decorated junk cars gathered atop the Gay Head cliffs, before a backdrop of the Vineyard Sound and the Elizabeth Islands so gorgeous it could, and probably has, inspired flights of poetry. There, from noon until 5 p.m., the crowd looked on as the bizarrely decorated cars and their just as bizarrely decorated drivers churned around a muddy track, mashing fenders, spraying rusty parts over the landscape and sending up clouds of red clay dust, blue smoke and purple oaths.

When it was all over, the Third Annual Gay Head Columbus Day Crunch, or Crunch III, was declared a glorious success, and a hell of a good time.

The Gay Head Columbus Day Crunch is not a true demolition derby, rather a hybrid of dirt track racing and the more aggressive tactics of Boston cab drivers. But if it’s wanton destruction of valuable personal property you craved, the Crunch satisfied the urge.

The Columbus Day Crunch began, according to Hugh Taylor, as “just a bunch of guys who wanted to smash up cars.” Now, he admits, the event has gotten so big that he and co-organizer Carl Widdiss have to spend all their time running the show. Mr. Widdiss was up on the officials’ platform, communicating by walkie-talkie with Mr. Taylor, who kept the pit orderly and made sure the racers didn’t get carried away.

The Crunch’s popularity has forced its organizers to come to grips with paying for police protection, arranging parking and seeing to crowd control. “It’s gone past crunching a few old wrecks,” Mr. Taylor says. If the crunch continues, he says, it will have to be more formally organized, and perhaps turned over to an established organization as a fund raiser.

This year, if there are any profits, they will go to make up for the money Mr. Taylor and Mr. Widdiss lost putting the event on last year, Mr. Taylor says.

Perhaps more than the car smashing, it’s the enormity of the contrast with the accepted norms of Vineyard life that has turned the Gay Head Crunch into one of the biggest crowd draws on the Island.

Consider, for example, the winner of Crunch III, John Early. Mr. Early is a successful builder, a selectman of the town of West Tisbury, a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and an officer in the West Tisbury fire department. With this in mind, visualize John Early tearing around a dirt track behind the wheel of a 1972 Ford Gran Torino station wagon painted Rustoleum Spray-On Glittering Gold and with a wooden goose decoy nailed to the hood.

Go up a notch in scale, and contrast the image of Martha’s Vineyard as a peaceful outpost of natural beauty and a haven for the elite with the reality of roaring engines, crumpling metal and 2,000 people streaming down State Road in Gay Head to watch it all.

“I’ve heard a lot of people were appalled,” Hugh Taylor says. He tells of walking into the Vineyard Conservation Society offices “looking all greasy and nasty” to announce the first derby to Michael Wild, now director of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, but once a Conservation Society employee.

Instead, Mr. Taylor found two Conservation Society members who were aghast at the idea of a demolition derby. “It went totally across the grain of their idea of the Vineyard. It is a foreign-feeling [event]. But apparently plenty of people enjoy it,” he says.

“It’s hilarious,” confirms Ken Goldberg, the man who emceed the show from atop a scaffold. “You can’t beat it.”

To the audience that paid $3 a head to get in, Crunch III may have looked simply hilarious, but down in the pit with the contestants it became obvious that a lot of serious, hard work had gone into some of the cars to ready them for sacrifice in the contest. All of the cars had required extensive modifications just to meet safety standards: window glass was taken out and gas tanks were replaced with gas cans in the protected rear seat area. But some bore shiny new paint jobs, one had a make-believe rocket engine welded to the trunk, and another had smoke bombs rigged up to fire on remote control.

Granted, most of the cars were outrageous junkers. But with the value of the labor involved in getting a junk car to run and then painting slogans and epithets on it, all the Crunch III entrants were minor works of art with a good deal of intrinsic worth.

Mr. Early’s car, the Golden Goose, was a Crunch II veteran. “It’s a Gran Torino, and I mean grand. It’s got power everything,” Mr. Early said before his first heat. “It belonged to a friend of mine who gave it to me on the condition that I run it in the derby.

“It’s survived because I kept on the inside of the track and was very prudent about who I hit,” Mr. Early says.

Down the line from John Early was a man who clearly had no use for words like prudent.

“I’m gonna go out and kill and maim,” Brian Henderson declared as he gunned the engine of his car.

“If I don’t, I’m gonna drive right off the cliff,” he said. His car, a huge station wagon, was covered with a stubbly, white, spray-on substance. A slogan on the side announced “Texture Queen” and “M.V. Drywall.”

Another dinosaur from the days of cheap oil wallowed further up in the put. It sported a cardboard bow with “SS Auriga” painted on it, a reference to the Steamship Authority ferry involved in a collision this summer. The driver, Captain Turkey, was clad in a white jumpsuit.

“My strategy?” he said in a response to a questioner. “Survive.” The Auriga motif was chosen because “the Auriga seems to have an affinity for crunching,” Captain Turkey explained. His other secrets included “rocket fuel and 250 pounds of sand in the tailgate.”

Most of the contestants were men with some connection to auto mechanics. Jackie Clason was an exception.

“It’s Macha instead of Macho,” she said. “Female Macho....It’s the most fun I’ve ever had, and I did learn how to drive in a taxi.”

Bill Shay is one of the veteran contestants and proprietor of Airport Motors, source of many of the cars in the event. He was laboring feverishly under his Camaro for much of the afternoon.

“The key to being a successful driver is being where the other guy is not,” Mr. Shay says. Mr. Shay had spent hours preparing his car. “We had a rear-cooled design which we nixed because we couldn’t make it up State Road,” he says.

Scott Caseau had adopted the rear-cooled design - in other words, the radiator was propped up where the back seat was. Midway through his first heat, Mr. Caseau’s car vanished in a cloud of blue steam. For a moment it seemed that his car had exploded as the interior filled with smoke. But it was just the radiator. Mr. Caseau limped into the pit, unhurt.

In the end, it came down to two cars, Mr. Early’s Golden Goose and a far seedier sedan driven by Capt. Dick Thompson of the Schamonchi. Round and round the dirt track they went, Mr. Early in pursuit, coming close to Captain Thompson’s tail and straining for the final push, only to have Captain Thompson skitter away.

The crowed cheered, egged on by Mr. Goldberg. Finally, the Golden Goose caught Captain Dick, and spun him off the track. Mr. Early took a victory lap, then pulled into the pit to get hugs and handshakes from his boosters.

“He keeps our town afloat,” Mr. Goldberg says as he presents a gold trophy to the winner.

The crowd began filing out. But the day wasn’t entirely done. The few survivors lined up, and began a crunch to the finish as James Taylor’s voice singing “I’m a steamroller...a nasty hunk of steamin’ junk...” blasted from the loudspeakers out across the Sound.