DUNKIRK - Through a graveyard of broken cars, hopes and dreams, emerged two champions in their haggard cars, but with their dreams intact.
The culmination of every hour of sweat for the drivers in the Chautauqua County Fair's demolition derby came together Sunday in five heats and two feature matches. The feature matches included the winners of the five prior heats and the winners of Tuesday's heats.
The two features were the longest and loudest matches, with fans rooting for their favorites.
One driver bails out of his car after he learns the bottom is flaming. As he bails, firefighters are on the scene to help eradicate the flames.
Photo by Mark Belcher
The small-car feature was won by David King, after he battered each of his opponents into submission. Tom Henderson took second after competing with King, but his engine gave way. Brian Gonsolus took third and Eric Diate won the crowd's favor in best of show. The large-car feature was the longest match of the evening. It held 27 competitors, each of which had proven their brutally strong cars. Mike Riddle walked away with the first-place spot. He and Tommy Shaffer were exchanging hits competing for the top spot and he only narrowly edged Shaffer out when he freed his car from a jam and struck Shaffer's struggling engine one last time before he waved his submittance. Dave Sealy walked away with third in the battle and Johnny Robinson stole best of show from the crowd.
"My secret is putting on a show without breaking your car too soon in the match," Riddle said. "You can't hit frame to frame. I always try to hit the sides of the car first."
He walked away with the champion's trophy, the grand prize and the opportunity to appear in the New York State Fair. Although he said he would probably put his money into another derby car, he said he had yet to decide on his appearance in the state fair.
Event promoter Rick Kowarko said Sunday's event went smoother than Tuesday's event, which ended in a chaotic fight.
"The day has gone very smoothly," he said. "These guys are very dedicated and are giving us a good show."
Fair Director Al Wilson said he agreed the day went smoothly. He said keeping the values of the fair in mind are important when conducting popular events.
"It has been a lot better," he said. "We had a lot of police out there and it helped. We were ready ... we want this to remain a family fair."
Their preparation was successful and the police presence was higher than Tuesday. Dunkirk police along with Chautauqua County sheriffs, mounted sheriffs and K-9 units were present at all entrances, preventing any incident from occurring all evening.
Police weren't the only first responders on the scene. Dunkirk's firefighters were present along with an Alstar ambulance to ensure safety through the evening, and they were called upon several times. There were no serious injuries, but the ambulance crew did respond to a member of the crowd passing out. The firefighters were also called upon many times to put out fires in cars, at one point even bringing out a hose to drench an oxygen-hungry fire.
A crowd of roughly 5,000 wrestled into the grandstand to see 100 drivers, which is considerably less than 10 years ago. Wilson attributed the fallout to the economy.
"Scrap prices are high, money is tight and jobs are few," Wilson said. "That's what the problem is. These boys don't have the money to put into the cars."
Although money is tight, the two winners of each heat were awarded $200 each. Feature-match winners were awarded more, however. First-, second- and third-place winners from the large-car feature were awarded $1,250, $500 and $350. The first-, second- and third-place winners of the small-car feature were awarded $600, $300 and $100.
With cash prizes and pride at stake, Kowarko said the feature matches were the most competitive and therfore the crowd favorites. He said ultimately the most important match is the large-car feature because it offers more money and the first-place winner is allowed to compete at the state fair.
In Heat A, Patrick Lahnen and Matthew Hamm were the winners, Chad Glazier took third, Krista Shrantz took best of show and Billy Hamm took promoter's choice.
In Heat B, David Mosier and Kevin Glazier were the winners, Chis Cerrie took third, Keith Daloniak took best of show and Chad Brown took promoter's choice.
In Heat C, Kevin Davis and Tyler Laurie were the winners, Josh Dennis took best of show and Ryan Perry took promoters choice.
In Heat D, Kris Cerrie and Chuck Pierce Jr. were the winners, Steve Lahnen was third, Chris McQuiggan was best of show and Alex Kuzdale took promoter's choice.
In Heat E, Johnny Robinson and David Seely were the winners, Aaron Robinson took third, Art Seely was best of show and Travis Storer was the promoter's choice.