The cars weren't the only ones hitting hard Tuesday night - some drivers ended up hitting other drivers at the Chautauqua County Fair Demolition Derby.
Although clouds were dark and the sky was gloomy, the rain held off as drivers competed in five heats to claim the coveted title of being the last two cars running or best in show voted on by the audience to be eligible for Sunday's championship. The event saw two small car, 2- and 4-cylinder vehicles, and three large car heats, all rear-wheel drive vehicles, but saved the most excitement for last.
The fifth and final heat, featuring only nine drivers, was the most exciting with the biggest hits from the cars and the drivers. It did not take long for the action to start when a car got stuck on a cement barrier. Driver Nick Whitfield of Forestville (E7) was hit by another driver causing his car to get stuck on the barrier. With larger cars, the hits became bigger from the drivers. The heat was stopped for a minor fire in the car driven by Jared Talbot of Salamanca (E9). While firefighters worked to extinguish the fire and check on the car, drivers James Ellman of Dunkirk (E6) and John Robinson of Stockton (E1) were both thrown out of the heat for fighting. Following the fight, which was broken up by fair officials and police officers and involved numerous people, Mike Riddle of Fredonia (E3) and Hank Pencek (E54) of Dunkirk were the winners with Talbot receiving best of show.
OBSERVER Photo by Samantha McDonnell
Ken Harvey of Cattaraugus (second from right) stands by as firefighters extinguish a fire in his car during the first heat.
Pencek said that he ran a good heat and is looking forward to Sunday's championship. He will be donating any prize money he wins to charity.
"I got a fresh wagon donated to the Arthritis Foundation and Hailey's Honeys (team)," he said. "There will be some late nights in the garage (until Sunday)."
The first two heats of the night were small car heats. In the first heat of 16 drivers, it took less than 15 minutes for a car to catch on fire. Ken Harvey of Cattaraugus (A11) was unable to continue due to his car catching on fire and leaking flammable fluids. That fire was the only major fire of the night and Harvey was able to escape without injury. By the end of the heat, the car driven by Chris Cornwall of Machias (A4) had the trunk in his backseat from being hit numerous times. The vehicle resembled a Smart car, a very small compact car. Three other drivers battling Cornwall to be crowned as the last two moving were Bryan Gunsolus of Springville (A3), Keith Glowniak of Dunkirk (A8) and Dave King of Cattaraugus (A10) with Gunsolus and King taking the winners' title. Cornwall and his crunched car were voted best of show.
The second small feature heat saw 19 drivers including a first-time female driver. Kaitlin Trippy of Burnham (B4) drove in her first demolition derby. By the end of the heat, Emily Dillenburg of Forestville (B8), John Nickerson Jr. of Brocton (B11), Chuck Dillenburg of Forestville, who is Emily's father and drove car B9, and Gunsolus, who ran in a second heat and drove car B6, were all fighting to be the last one moving. After all the hitting was done, Gunsolus and Nickerson were the winners with Chuck Dillenburg receiving best of show.
The first large-car heat was the third heat of the night. With only seven cars entered, the barriers were moved in for safety. Pencek, who first ran in this heat, was running only on his rim when his tire came off. Following some big hits from the bigger cars, only three drivers remained. They were Eddie Paluch of Dunkirk (C7), Patrick Ossman of Dunkirk (C1) and Timmy Ossman of Piedmont, S.C. (C5). Since Paluch drove out of bounds voluntarily, he was disqualified. The winners were both Ossman males but Paluch won best of show. Timmy Ossman is up for the summer visiting his uncle, Patrick Ossman, and is only 17 years old. This was his first demolition derby and said he had "pure adrenaline" running through him following the heat. Patrick Ossman said he never saw what happened at the end of the heat before in a demolition derby.
"I never really saw anything like that, what happened to Eddie (Paluch)," he said. "I'm glad he won best of show."
Patrick Ossman said it was a hard heat to drive in since all the drivers knew each other and were friends. He said it was hard to hit one another but it was something that had to be done. Both Ossman males are looking forward to finding cars to drive on Sunday. The fourth heat only had seven large cars but that did not stop the hard hitting and mud flinging. The hard hits kept coming when Steve Gromala of Fredonia (D6) was hit over a cement barrier and cars driven by Brandin Barr of Fredonia (D1) and Kelly Paluch of Dunkirk (D4) were hung up on one another; all drivers were able to free their cars. Paluch's vehicle was later hit so hard it almost tipped over but luckily landed on four wheels. Battling for the winner's spots were Dan Kessler of Sheridan (D8), Gromala and Tory Mustarella of Buffalo (D7). Winning that heat were Mustarella and Gromala, while Kessler took best of show.
Fair Director Al Wilson said while there was one major fire and a minor physical dispute, the demolition derby was a clean one. To keep everyone safe, the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office was present in addition to Alstar Ambulance, Dunkirk Fire Department, East Dunkirk Fire Department and West Dunkirk Fire Department.
"There was a minor thing (during the last heat)," Wilson said. "Besides that it was a nice, clean derby. The guys were clean."
All heat and best of show winners will compete on Sunday in a large- and small-car feature heats. The championships will start at 4 p.m. with more qualifying heats with the feature heats following. Reserved seating in the grandstand can be purchased at the fair office or by calling 366-4752. Wilson said the show on Sunday should be enjoyable.
"It will be a better show on Sunday. All these guys have run for a long time," Wilson said.
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