DUNKIRK – It was like a scene out of the movies Wednesday night in Dunkirk.
Flames, thrills, crashes and hell driving took over the Chautauqua County Fair as the Black Cat Hell Drivers delivered the “greatest show on wheels.”
Drivers performed hell driving and various stunts to shock and wow the audience. The show is the last traveling thrill show in North America and has been touring since 1934. The action kicked off with a 1937 Dodge jumping between two ramps. The stunt is usually saved for the end of show, but since the clouds looked ominous, the stunt was moved as a safety precaution.
Other stunts included hell driving with two, three and four vehicles making near passes in front of each other and driving on elevated ramps. One of the longer distance stunts was when Petersen drove around the entire 1-mile track on two wheels, known as a hi-ski.
Jim “Crash” Moreau performed the slide for life when he was dragged behind a vehicle through flames. Star of the show, Tonny Petersen, and Laurie Ann Derautes even stood atop moving vehicles during stunt driving. Moreau also performed a steel wall crash – a vehicle was suspended upright with Moreau hitting the car hard enough to flip the upright vehicle. This is Moreau’s 48th year driving and he started in the late 1960s with the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show. According to Moreau, he received his nickname of Crash when he was a child and would accidentally hit vehicles and poles on his bicycle.
Stuntman and clown Justin “Wrongway” Bellinger is the youngest driver in the show. He said he saw the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show when he was only 4 years old. Following that show, he said he had found his lifelong dream and would eventually come to work under Moreau.
“When I was 14 or 15 I started bothering the holy heck out of every stunt guy I could. Finally, Crash Moreau took me under his wings and I did some shows with him for a few years. Johnny (Wiser) came out with this show in 2010 and he had Tonny (Petersen) call me up. Tonny called me up and says ‘It’s Tonny Petersen and I want you to come out and be the clown.’ I thought it was a prank at first,” Bellinger admitted.
During the show Bellinger did his own version of the slide for life, drove a mini motorcycle through fire and provided comic relief between stunts. Black Cat Hell Drivers got its name from Producer Johnny Wiser who saw it in an old magazine on the side of a vehicle. The Black Cat Thrill Drivers was painted on the side of a car in that magazine but Wiser said the show did not last long.
Forestville resident Steve Tooley and his son, Hayden attended Wednesday’s performance. Both thought the show was great and Hayden’s favorite part was when a motorcycle crashed through a wall of flames.
“(The show) brought back a lot of memories from when I was a kid watching Joie Chitwood,” Steve said.
Fair Director Dave Wilson said the show was “excellent” and praised the final stunt. In the stunt, Wiser flew a vehicle into the windshield of another car.
“I think the show was an excellent show. When they hit the last car … that was a perfect shot; there is no doubt in my mind. They were an excellent group,” Wilson said.