OSWEGO, NY – Twenty years ago today – May 19, 1996 – Oswego Supermodified veteran Joe Gosek officially qualified for the 80th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
At the time, Gosek was a two-time champion of Oswego’s Budweiser International Classic and a former ISMA Supermodified champion.
Known in racing circles as Double ‘O’ Joe for his racing machines which carried No. 00, Gosek made right on the newly formed Indy Racing League, which provided fresh opportunities for American open-wheel talent to make a run at Indianapolis.
Gosek first signed with the Tempero/Giuffre Racing team, which brought Lola race cars with Buick power plants to the Speedway. However, in time it could be seen that this pairing would not work to get Gosek in the show.
Eventually Gosek was able to strike a deal with Andy Evans and Team Scandia which also competed with Lola chassis but were powered with the Ford Cosworth XB. Team Scandia was looking to field an incredible seven cars in the ’96 Indy field.
After the completion of three full days of qualifying it was finally Gosek’s turn to make a shot at the field on Bump Day – Sunday, May 19 of 1996.
When Gosek took to the Speedway Scott Harrington had just filled the field of 33 starters with a four-lap average of 222.185 mph, meaning that Gosek would need to bump his way into the lineup to qualify for the 500.
On the bubble was the ride of Billy Boat.
Not even an hour earlier, Boat had been injured after crashing an AJ Foyt entry he was trying to get up to speed in case his current machine was bumped from the field. Boat suffered a leg injury and would not be able to drive.
Either way the Pagan Racing No. 99 driven by Boat on day three of qualifying was still the slowest car in the field at 221.824 mph, the mark Gosek would have to beat to get into the lineup.
When called upon Gosek answered in the bright red No. 43 Lola cutting laps of 223.730 mph, 223.093 mph, 222.231 mph, and 222.036 mph for a four lap average of 222.793 mph to put him 31st in the field of 33 come race day.
After climbing out of his machine as a 500 qualifier, Gosek took hugs and high fives from several well-wishers including wife, Vicki, brother Ed, and current Supermodified car owner John Nicotra.
Gosek had this to say on that historic day to ESPN infield report Gary Gerould.
“I don’t know what to think right now,” said Gosek. “It’s a thrill that I have never experienced. When I was out there I was just trying to concentrate and Andy (Evans) gave me a hit of confidence before I went out, do the best you could for what we had. I just tried to relax and it came to me and everything worked really well. I don’t know exactly what it was but I’m happy for everyone on Team Scandia and the whole deal is fantastic.”
Gosek would be joined in the 11th and final row of the 80th Indianapolis 500 field by Harrington and Danny Ongais, who was driving the car qualified on pole position by the late Scott Brayton who lost his life at Indy just two days prior on May 17, 1996.
Come race day Gosek would complete 106 of the 200 laps, ending with a 22nd place finish in his one and only start in the 500.
An unofficial report on race day indicated that no driver had ever received more phone calls, faxes, or fan mail to the Speedway prior to 1996, than Gosek.
In 1998 Gosek would make another attempt at the field, but was unable to qualify.
Since Double ‘O’ Joe’s run at Indianapolis, Oswego’s only Indy starter has secured two Oswego Speedway Supermodified track championships as well as another International Classic victory.
Gosek now owns a total of 43 Supermodified wins at Oswego outdone only by fellow Oswego legends Jim Shampine, Bentley Warren, and Ed Bellinger Jr., with his most recent victory coming on July 5, 2014.
Oswego Speedway returns to action this Saturday with a fan appreciation $10 admission special presented by Best Western PLUS/Quality Inn and Suites Riverfront of Oswego.
Grandstand gates will open at 4:30 p.m. with the start of hot laps with the day’s first green flag waving at 6:30 p.m.
The day’s action will be highlighted by a 50-lap Novelis Supermodified main event and a 30-lap Pathfinder Bank SBS feature.
Kids 16 and under will again be admitted free at all Speedway events in 2016 with the exception of Budweiser International Classic Weekend and Race of Champions Weekend.
For more information on Oswego Speedway be sure to visit www.oswegospeedway.com. You can also follow on Twitter @OswegoSpeedway and like on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OswegoSpeedway.