By Jeff Martin

The Gunsolus family of Cattaraugus has been a smash hit in the demolition derby circuit over the years.

Jim Gunsolus and his son, Bryan, have amassed over 100 trophies from wins in Western New York and Ohio. This spring, Bryan won the demo in Cuba, and now he has set his crosshairs on the demo contest at the Cattaraugus County Fair on July 29.

For Jim, demo derbies — and the inherent danger involved in them — continue to hold his family spellbound.

Jim said, “People are watching something they don’t dare do because it’s dangerous, very dangerous.”

Drivers will crowd into the grandstand arena on Monday night and, again, on the last night of the fair with one mission: smash opponents’ vehicles into submission and be the last one driving. Popular since the mid ‘60s, demolition derbies are spectacles that speak to all drivers who participate and all those who witness them.

Jim, who used to drive a truck and now owns a small dealership, said drivers must behave and follow laws throughout their lives. Once they drive onto the dirt track and are given permission to smash other cars, they do so with joyful abandon.

“They tell you to keep running into other cars and you just do it,” Jim said, laughing. “It was always a good time.”

Kristina Charlesworth, treasurer for the fair board, said the demos attract all kinds of people for a variety of reasons. Fairs across the country, she said, wouldn’t be the same without them.

The fair runs July 29 – Aug. 4. At 171 years old, the fair offers 21 rides, food and live acts at affordable prices. Traditional acts return, but there are new offerings as well, including chainsaw carving and a horse act.

Live performances include the return of the Fox Brothers, a Christian country comedy group that people have been asking to see again since they stopped attending the fair.

“People love the group,” Charlesworth said. “We’re glad to have them back.”

Grandstand shows and rides are included in the regular admission price ($9) the first two days of the fair. Additional charges for rides and entertainment are applied for the remaining days of the fair, including a concert featuring Justin Moore on Aug. 1.

But it’s the demo derby, which opens the first official day and concludes the final day, which attracts the most people.

Jim, who stopped participating in demos about eight years ago following a bad racing car accident, said he’ll be there to cheer on his son.

Fires and rollovers are what Jim feared most while driving in demos, and the likelihood of that happening is great when taking a vehicle and ramming it into another vehicle.

“I’ve got banged up and bruised through the years,” he said. “Nothing major, but it’s still enough to make most people not want to do it. I’m 66-years old and I just can’t do that kind of thing anymore.”

While spectators still crowd arenas all over the country, Jim said it’s getting harder and harder to participate in demos because of the cost.

“Back years ago you could get a junker for $15, but a junker now costs $500,” he said. “That’s a lot of money to just throw away.”

Luckily, Jim has a small dealership that supplies his beaters, and he helps other local drivers secure vehicles.

“I’ll do what I can to make demos still go,” he said.

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