SCARBOROUGH — The surprise came after the street drags and qualifying races, just before the popular ramp portion of the Friday night demolition derby-style spectacle at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway that is Car Wars.

ThatMomentA pack of more than 20 vehicles idled at the far end of the track. Each had a nickname. Ironman. Chewbacca. Mad Max.

Leading the way was Pikachu, a beat-up sedan spray-painted in signature bright yellow in honor of its namesake cartoon character. The driver approached the ramp. Normally, he would accelerate into the slope to tip the car on its side, sometimes even all the way over, and give the thousands of fans in the grandstand the show they came to see.

But on this night, a magical late-summer evening under a nearly full moon, he slowed down and stopped his car on the ramp.

“Whoa, what do we have here?” Marc “the Shark” Cardullo said into his microphone. Cardullo provides the play-by-play for Car Wars. He’s been doing it for years. “Pikachu can’t make it up the ramp!”

The crowd was confused. A few people booed.

Then Pikachu – who goes by Tom Thompson away from the track – climbed out of his car’s window and waved. The crowd cheered but still didn’t know what was happening. This wasn’t in the Car Wars schedule.

A woman named Shiann Thurlow walked out onto the track. She’s been a Car Wars fan for years, but on this night she wasn’t wearing the typical spectator outfit of faded blue jeans and a tank top or cutoff shirt.

Thurlow was dressed head to toe in yellow and black. A fur hood with ears. Fur-lined boots that stretched to her knees. A yellow tail that looked like a lightning bolt.

She was dressed as Pikachu.

“Uh, folks,” Cardullo announced, “we’ve got a wedding for you tonight.”

o o o

Thompson is 43 and lives in Windham. He has a rugged frame, an ample belly that sticks out over his jeans and a goatee dyed blond.

He drives a truck during the week, but spends Friday nights at Beech Ridge.

Car Wars has been around for 12 years. It started as a family-friendly, bump-and-smash alternative to traditional stock car racing but has grown to one of the raceway’s most popular offerings. It’s dirty, testosterone-fueled fun.

The first few times Thompson attended Car Wars, it was as a spectator.

“Then I thought, ‘That looks like something I’d like to try,'” he said.

Each car is modeled after a character. Thompson long ago settled on Pikachu, the most well-known character from the Japanese cartoon and game empire Pokemon, because of his bright yellow appearance. Thompson wanted to stand out.

He isn’t as young as some of the other drivers anymore, so he doesn’t really have anything to prove to his fellow competitors. He’s there for the fans. The kids.

And they love him.

Beech Ridge owner Andy Cusack said drivers often stay to sign autographs at the end of each Car Wars. The line is always longest in front of Pikachu’s table.

o o o

Thurlow has been a Car Wars spectator for years. It’s her kind of entertainment.

“I’ve been a redneck my whole life,” she said proudly.

She’s 34 and grew up in Gorham. She is petite and tattooed. Her hair is dyed blond, nearly the same color as Thompson’s beard.

Thurlow has known Thompson for some time. Both have children from previous relationships, and his son and her son were friends, so they would cross paths on occasion.

Sometimes, Thurlow would bring her kids to Car Wars and see Thompson in action as Pikachu. She knew how he felt about her but didn’t let on.

When he finally got up the nerve to ask her out, his patience paid off.

Thompson, who managed to stay single into his 40s, said he knew from the beginning that he’d marry her.

“I figured I had to put a ring on her finger to keep her,” he said. “And I wanted to keep her.”

Thurlow had been married once before and had no interest in a traditional wedding with everyone fussing over her. She’d done that already.

She had a different idea.

o o o

It was just about a year ago that Cusack got the unusual request to host a wedding on Car Wars night.

Cusack has owned Beech Ridge Motor Speedway outright since 1999. It’s been in his family since 1981.

The track has been a wedding site before, but always on off nights or prior to an event. Never in the middle of a program.

“When I told them we’d do it, I said, ‘Let’s do it in true Car Wars fashion,'” Cusack said.

That suited Thurlow and Thompson perfectly.

“We’re not really churchgoers,” she said. “This seemed like the perfect place.”

Added Thompson: “If it wasn’t this, it was just going to be a backyard wedding.”

Earlier in the summer, Cardullo dropped hints into his Car Wars commentary that something was going to happen this year involving the Pikachu team.

Only a few people knew about the wedding ahead of time: Thurlow’s and Thompson’s children, who range in age from 13 to 21. Their parents. Thurlow’s twin sister.

Early in the evening on the last Friday in August, about an hour before Car Wars was about to start, Cusack gathered the raceway staff inside the garage just outside his office. Thurlow and Thompson were there, too.

Cusack walked through what was going to happen.

o o o

The bleachers were starting to fill up.

The early Car Wars events had filled the cool twilight air with the scent of gas and motor oil and burnt rubber.

Cardullo had already warned the audience that “something big was going down.”

As he waited, Thompson calmly prepped the Pikachu car. He wore stained jeans, a black sleeveless T-shirt and steel-toed boots.

Thurlow, back at the garage, was transforming herself into Pikachu.

About 7:30 p.m., Cusack got his team in place.

When Thompson approached the ramp and stopped unexpectedly, Shiann was under the stands waiting for her cue.

They met in the middle of the front stretch, where he got down on one knee to let the crowd know exactly what they were witnessing.

“We’ve got a Car Wars first folks,” Cardullo said, walking out onto the track. “Let’s make this official.”

Cardullo and Firefly, the Car Wars mascot, served as witnesses. Cusack, a notary, signed the marriage license.

The bride and groom exchanged rings and simple vows: “I give you this ring, to wear with love and joy.”

They kissed. Behind them, in the infield of the racetrack, a massive fireball exploded into the sky.

The crowd cheered once more, and the line of cars behind Pikachu revved their engines and blared their horns.