Cassadaga man gets win after 20th year competing

Smashing to victory

Lahnen poses with his hardware and his family after winning the 2018 Shults Auto Group Championship Demolition Derby Finals on Sunday.

A rainy day at the Chautauqua County Fair might usually keep families from filling up the grandstands on a normal day, but for those who ventured out to watch the Shults Auto Group Championship Demolition Derby Finals on Sunday — they were not disappointed.

On a humid afternoon, the fair’s biggest crowd-pleaser took center stage on the muddy race track at the Budweiser Grandstand and after all the hits, smashes, and collisions, one man stood on top of the podium.

That man was local Steve Lahnen from Cassadaga, and not only was he the last one standing, but he was flying around the race track all afternoon which caught the attention of every single person in the stands.

“This feeling is awesome,” said Lahnen. After pausing for a second, Lahnen laughed and looked down at his 7-year-old son and said, “especially since he built my car.”This was Lahnen’s 20th consecutive year competing in the derby at the Chautauqua County Fair, and after competing hard all 20 years, he finally got his first feature win.

The competition almost came to a devastating halt early on after a massive hit sparked a big gasp from the crowd and caused the derby officials to throw out the caution flag. First responders and derby officials rushed to the scene and luckily the participants walked away with no injuries.

After the scare, people from the crowd were complaining that there were too many cars on the track, as 22 cars qualified for the finals.

Nonetheless, the derby continued, and only five competitors remained, including the two Brocton brothers that battled it out Tuesday night, Mark and John Nickerson. As more and more cars continued to break down, Lahnen was honest in saying he really hadn’t planned a strategy.

“I really didn’t have a strategy,” said Lahnen. “I just kind of waited to see what would happen with the rest of the cars.”

The crowd started buzzing once the competition got down to four competitors. While Mark and John Nickerson were battling it out, John’s engine in the number 102 car blew out and wouldn’t turn back on, leaving him out of the competition and in fourth place.

“Once I saw the second and third drop out, it was just a matter of holding on for that win,” mentioned Lahnen.

At the point, the three remaining racers were Lahnen, Mark Nickerson, and Chuck Dillenberg of Sheridan. After some more hitting and smashing went on, Lahnen was the last one standing, leaving Nickerson in second place and Dillenberg in third place. As he hopped out of the car, all he could do was jump up and down for joy.

“I was trying to go for the Mad Dog and get some big hits,” said Lahnen. “Then cars started to drop out and I had to keep going. I didn’t think I was going to get down that far [in the competition].”

The Mad Dog trophy goes to the derby competitor with the biggest hits of the competition. So not only did Lahnen win the derby feature competition, but he was also awarded the Mad Dog trophy as well, which he also won on Tuesday’s edition of the derby.

After he was awarded the Mad Dog, Lahnen still wasn’t done claiming honors for his race. One of the best awards drivers can win at this competition is the Chad Ellman Memorial Trophy, which goes to the hardest hitter of the week. Chad Ellman, a Dunkirk native, was one of the greatest demolition derby drivers in New York state since 1972 until he died at the age 42 in 2015.

When Lahnen was then told he had won the honor, he couldn’t help but smile. After he collected the hardware, Lahnen turned and embraced his whole family with a hug.

“I’d like to do it for another 20 more years,” stated Lahnen. “I want to still be doing this when I can run with my kids. I’m really looking forward to that day.”