DUNKIRK - Not only was the sun blazing hot Tuesday at the Chautauqua County Fair, motor engines were heating up.
Overheated engines, blown tires and damaged bumpers were nothing out of the ordinary for the annual Demolition Derby. Fairgoers witnessed five heats as nearly 75 cars took to the track to turn their cars into junk, as one driver admitted.
While the event was very safe, according to Fair Director Al Wilson, there were two vehicles which flipped over. In the third heat with seven mid-sized vehicles, a car driven by Dennis White Jr., from Cattaraugus flipped on its driver's side against the wall. As White's vehicle was back on four wheels, he jumped back in the driver's seat ready for more action. White's car would die shortly after the incident. Even though the heat was so small, the boundaries were not moved in.
Firefighters work to flip a car back onto its wheels during the demolition derby at the Chautauqua County Fair on Tuesday night.
Photo by Samantha McDonnell
"We are going to let them rip, tear, smash and crash," announcer Brad Blizzard said.
After all the action had come to a standstill and Nate Smith of Sheridan even lost a tire completely off his car, the winners were announced. Al McNeal of Silver Creek, Tyler Laurie of Fredonia and Smith were declared the final three drivers. In addition to the final three vehicles hitting, a best of show driver was chosen by the crowd, which was awarded to White.
"We were just out there to have fun and make junk. All the money is going to charity," McNeal said.
In the fourth heat, which also saw larger vehicles from the 1980s and newer, Todd Ellman of Dunkirk was flipped on the car's passenger side. Fire crews from both East Dunkirk and the city of Dunkirk helped to return the vehicle back to all four wheels. Ellman was not injured and he continued driving in the heat. He would eventually be a heat winner and also take best of show. The other two winners were Corey Near of Dunkirk and John Krupa of Dunkirk. Even though the heat only saw six cars, Krupa was pleased with all the drivers' performance.
"For a small amount of cars, we put on a good show," he said.
The first heat saw 19 four-cylinder cars battle it out to be the last three running. Keith Glowniak of Dunkirk, John Nickerson Jr., of Brocton and Ken Harvey of East Otto delivered hard hits early on. Among smoke and debris, the winners were Harvey, Dan Sharp of West Valley and Nickerson, who also won best of show. Sharp said this was "one of the best" demolition derbies he has participated in in while Harvey said the heat "went well."
"It was dry and hard hitting. That's what we are here for - to make junk," Harvey said.
The second heat of the night featured 28 six-cylinder cars, the largest heat of the evening. This heat even saw two minivans - one which unfortunately died early in the competition. The heat was stopped twice: once for gas leaking and a fire in an empty car. The winners from this heat were Emily Dillenburg of Forestville, Mark Nickerson of Brocton and Keith Glowniak of Dunkirk. Eddie Paluch of Dunkirk won best of show. Dillenburg said after the heat she had wanted to make more hits, but was excited for the win.
The final heat of the night saw nine vehicles after two drivers opted to sit out prior to the start. The large cars were not shy of hard hits as Hank Pencek of Dunkirk was aptly nicknamed "Hammering Hank" by Blizzard. Pencek's hard hits were matched by Mike Riddle of Fredonia, Ellman - who ran in a second heat - and Art Seeley of Jamestown. The winners were Riddle, Seeley and Pencek while Ellman won best of show. Seeley's vehicle suffered a flat tire and he is on the hunt for a new vehicle prior to Sunday's championship.
"Hopefully I'll find a car for Sunday. My car is junk now," Seeley said.
Prior to the carnage, the annual Mark Carlson Best Paint Job award was voted on by the audience. Taking away the prize was Eric Remington of Fredonia with a car dedicated to Team Brennen in honor of Brocton resident Brennen Maddox. The $100 prize will be donated back to Team Brennen for progeria research.
There were no injuries reported in Tuesday's event. Wilson said all the drivers were safe and the county fair makes safety a top priority.
"The majority of (drivers) have been here for years and we stress safety, we really do. That's why a couple of them were black flagged for hitting the driver's door. Everybody got along. It's a nice bunch of boys out there. They want to have a good time and they don't want to see anybody get hurt," Wilson said.
All heat and best of show winners will compete on Sunday in a large- and small-car feature heats. More qualifying heats will start at 4 p.m., with the feature heats immediately following. Reserved seating in the grandstand can be purchased at the fair office or by calling 366-4752. Grandstand gates will open at 3:15 p.m.