By – Keith Shampine
Photos – Chris Porter

With the conclusion of the July 24-25 Hy-Miler Nationals at Ohio’s Sandusky Speedway, the International Supermodified Association’s season hit its unofficial halfway mark in the 2009 campaign.  While there are still nine of 16 events left, beginning with this weekend’s Friday, Saturday doubleheader at Delaware Speedway, teams have traditionally viewed Sandusky’s important Hy-Miler weekend as the midpoint to the year. By now, fans and competitors alike realize who the front-runners are for the ISMA championship, who’s been struggling and who may be a dark horse for a popular first feature victory or strong, late season runs after showing promise in early-season races.

All-time great NFL coach Bill Parcells has a famous quote that goes, “You are what your record says you are.”  In racing, I suppose it would read, “You are what your finishes say you are.”  And if you’re looking at the feature finishes and point standings in ISMA, it usually begins with The Rowley Rocket, Chris Perley.

Perley’s success in the winged supers is well known throughout the country. The five-time ISMA champ has been the favorite at just about every ISMA race he’s entered for the better part of a decade, and when the first six races of ’09 featured only two Perley wins, fans thought the competition may have caught up to him.  But in typical Perley fashion, the New Englander drove to his fourth straight Hy-Miler 100 victory July 25 at ’Dusky, silencing any rumblings about the Vic Miller-owned No. 11 team not being on top of their game.

When Perley isn’t winning, he’s as consistent as anyone. Consider this: disregarding his three wins this season at Berlin, Stafford and Sandusky, Perley has finishes of second in the opener at Waterford, third at Toledo, fifth in the Oswego King of Wings, fourth at Cayuga and fourth in the Fast 40 at Sandusky – a top five in each of his 2009 starts.

The consistency is almost as impressive the wins.  And concerning the points chase, the consistency is more important than the wins. Many racers in all divisions have won championships with only one or two wins to their credit in a season.  What garners them the titles are the numerous finishes of second, third, fourth and fifth.  It’s the classic battle of the racer who wins a number of features, but puts his car on the line to do, resulting in a few accidents and DNFs along the way, versus the driver who doesn’t take as many chances, rolls the car on the trailer each night, ending up with more top-five runs than he can count.

But in ISMA, it seems as though Perley is both. He’s the racer who wins a lot and he’s the one who is the most consistent. This has many fans wondering who will ever knock the multi-time champ off his throne. Mark Sammut looked like he had a shot at the title after his popular Cayuga win, but the Canadian’s disappointing finishes of 15th and 25th at Sandusky have Perley some 200 points ahead.

Sammut isn’t giving up, though, and he admits the points are something in the back of his mind as he heads down the highway to the many supermodified events he attends each year.

“(Perley) struggled a little bit there, for him anyway, and we were thinking about it a bit,” Mark said last week, alluding to the points battle. “It’s in the back of your mind. But let’s face it, Perley is still the class of the field. He’s always tough to beat. Now, we’re going to regroup and hopefully get it back going in the right direction. There’s still a long way to go.”

Sammut’s success in 2009 has been one of the brightest spots of the season not only in ISMA, but the Midwest Supermodified Association (MSA) as well. Sammut has wins in both series in 2009 after closing ’08 with his first supermodified feature victory in a non-sanctioned race at North Carolina’s Southern National Speedway. The driver of the No. 78, a 2002 homebuilt chassis, says there were no major changes to the team or car that have led to the success.

“I wouldn’t say we made any big changes. It’s no magic thing that I can pinpoint. I think running well just comes from trial and error over the years and we’ve been to these tracks a bunch of times. We’ve figured out what works and it has us running up front most of the time. We’ve just finally got the car right and it’s driving a little better for me.”

Sammut took home one of the most popular ISMA victories in recent memory when the 12-year super veteran won his first ever ISMA feature in his home country last month at Cayuga, about a two-hour drive from Sammut’s London, Ont., shop. Mark shared his thoughts on the big win: “Any win in ISMA is huge, no matter where it’s at. We’ve mainly run with ISMA over the years and to get the feature win, especially at Cayuga, finally tops it off. We don’t mind going to an MSA race now and again but obviously we can’t make them all because we’re ISMA runners. To get that win was great for us and let’s hope it leads to some more.”

Summers confident with new ride

A driver who picked up his first ISMA win a couple of years ago is Vernon, Connecticut’s Rob Summers. The versatile racer, who has spent a fair amount of time behind the wheel of asphalt modifieds, has struggled over the past year and a half due to a Brian Allegresso-built chassis that the Lane Racing No. 97 team hasn’t been able to get a good handle on. Top finishes were rare in the car, and Summers admits the entire Lane Racing team was brought down by the struggles.

But the Sandusky Nationals saw Rob behind the wheel of a different car – a Bodnar-design, Joe Petro-built chassis that Petro once drove to a number of solid finishes. The car had been for sale for most of the 2009 season and as the year progressed, it became quite a hot item for a few New England-based ISMA teams. The Howie Lane-led Lane Racing team purchased the race-ready car from Petro barely a week before the Hy-Miler, and Summers proceeded have his best races of 2009 at the Ohio half mile, finishing fourth Friday night and seventh Saturday.

“The (Petro) car was excellent,” Summers began. “I can’t thank Howie and Debbie Lane enough. Everyone needed a break from the other car. It was bringing the whole team down. We threw everything at it and nothing seemed to get it going; it was a tough go for sure. We’re going to put the car in the corner of the shop for awhile. Maybe we’ll get it out later in the year, or maybe not. This (Petro) car was much better and it boosted the team’s confidence. I think we can get a win with it. Lee and Waterford are two of my favorite tracks and if we can get it working well there, I believe we can get a win this season.”

Mike Ordway Sr. was actually in the 97 ride a few weeks ago at Cayuga, which had many fans wondering if Summers was out.  Rob spoke about Ordway driving the Allegresso-built Lane 97 in southern Ontario.

“I told Howie to put someone else in the car. I didn’t know if it was something I was doing or if it was in fact the car. Mike basically confirmed what I was saying about the car, and I think that cemented Howie’s feelings that we needed to do something different. I just want to thank Howie and Debbie and the Lane crew for sticking by me. We’re really looking forward to the rest of the year,” Summers added.

Lichty still searching for ISMA win No. 1

A driver who is yet to pick up his first ISMA win is one of the best winged-super racers in North America, Mike Lichty.  The Canadian, who has MSA wins to his credit, has flirted with the elusive ISMA victory a number of times over the last five years, yet the 22-year-old shoe is still searching.  Lichty talked about his first half of the ISMA season and his thoughts on being a top-three runner for multiple years and still missing out on the first-place trophy.

“It hasn’t been the season we’ve wanted, kind of up and down with some mechanical failures.  On one hand, we’re happy because we’ve had some decent runs. At Stafford, we had a shot at Perley but ended up breaking the motor. We’ve been dealing with the 11 and 61for years and we just work hard to stay up with them. We’re getting close, real close, but I don’t know when (the win) is going to come.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” Lichty continued, speaking of not having an ISMA win on his resume. “It’s satisfying because we’re in contention to win each show, but it’s absolutely frustrating when you can’t seem to catch a break sometimes. Look at Mikey (Ordway Jr.). He’s a great driver but he hadn’t been at it very long and he won at M-40 (Speedway, Mich.) last year, and we still haven’t pulled it off. It’s a tough deal for the amount of effort we put in and we can’t seem to pull it off – six years now and we’ve been close so many times. But we try stuff and sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t. But you’ll never catch the 11 car if you’re not trying stuff.”

Even with the up-and-down start to the season, Lichty, who also drives a USAC Silver Crown car on occasion, still sits fourth in ISMA points, only 52 points out of second but 269 markers behind Perley. If it weren’t for early-season engine woes, Lichty would surely be higher up in the points and possibly within reach of the Massachusetts hot shoe. Mike says he’s hoping the engine issues have been cleared up for both him and his Patco Transportation Racing teammate, Dave McKnight Jr.

“We know what caused the motor problems and knock on wood, I think we have it fixed for good.  We tried to turn more horsepower and we tried a different combination in our short-stroke motors and we had some problems.”

Holbrook, Ordway Jr. part ways

Mike Ordway Jr. losing the ride in the Jeff Holbrook-owned No. 41 has been the subject of much controversy over the last month. After driving the new John Colloca-built car in the season’s first four races, Ordway was informed before the July 12 Cayuga race that he wouldn’t be in the car in Canada. Many fans and competitors were perplexed with the move to put non-wing Oswego Speedway regular Bob Magner in the car instead of Ordway Jr. – not because of Magner’s driving ability, but because Ordway Jr. had wheeled the silver 41 to strong finishes of fifth, second and fifth in the season’s first four races. The New Hampshire youngster said last week that he was as surprised as anyone.

“It was unexpected more than anything, especially with how well we had been running,” said Mike Jr., speaking of his removal from the ride. “I thought everything was going well. I was happy and I thought the crew was happy. It bummed me out because we were getting real close to winning. I thought we were just getting to the point where we knew what the car wanted and we could make those changes and go win. They just called me before Cayuga and said they didn’t want me racing the car anymore. I don’t know why. I’ve heard so many different stories that are going around. All I know is that I’d like to have a ride.”

Holbrook, owner of a stout three-car ISMA team and driver of the No. 35 Allegresso car, says the reason for Ordway Jr. being out of his 41 is purely financial.

“It’s money and nothing but,” Holbrook said. “The sponsorship (Ordway Jr.) was going to bring went by the wayside or something, and he couldn’t come up with the money needed to run the car. It’s nothing personal, but financial and that’s the bottom line.  I spend $250,000 a year racing these cars and I need a little help. Bob Magner and Dave Trytek had some money and I told them they could run it.  Unfortunately, the Ordways have taken it personally and that’s too bad. They are the nicest people and believe me when I say, the kid is a fantastic driver. He could still get back in the car if he wants. If he can get some money together, he can get back in it.”

Holbrook added that as of now, Magner will be in the car when there is no Oswego conflict and Trytek will drive the car when Bob can’t make it, including this weekend at Delaware.

As for Ordway Jr., who has aspirations to race cars for a living, he has no concrete plans for the remainder of 2009.

“I’m not real sure with the supers. I’ve been talking to modified and midget teams and trying to get into something there, but so far nothing has come together. I want to try to make a name for myself in something. Whether it’s a midget or sprint car or modified here in New England, I don’t care.  I’m not trying to pursue anything in the supers. I’d like to get away from that and try to do something different,” he said.

Rookie of the Year battle is a good one

After seven races, five rookies sit in the top 20 in ISMA points – Ben Seitz (sixth), Dan Lane (eighth), Craig Rayvals (11th), Dave Duggan (16th) and Jeff Locke (18th).

Seitz’ second-place drive at Cayuga was the best finish of any of the rookies, and it propelled the former NEMA midget champion to the thick of the points battle in just his first year in the ultra-powerful supermodifieds.

Lane, a former 350 super racer at Lee USA, has put together a steady season behind the wheel of the Lane Racing No. 9.  Three top-10 finishes and a season’s best seventh at Berlin have the young New Englander 60 points back of Seitz, and only 10 back of his teammate, Summers. Lane is proving to be a talented addition to the ISMA field and one would think he’s looking forward to the 75 lapper Aug. 14 at Lee USA, where he has a good amount of experience driving a 350.

Craig Rayvals is a former Oswego regular who decided for a change in the form of giving ISMA a try this season. Running as a teammate to young Jeffrey Abold, Rayvals has driven to some consistent finishes over the first seven races with a best of eighth at Stafford. A disappointing, mechanically-flawed Sandusky weekend saw Rayvals slip out of the Rookie of the Year battle, falling to 11th in points and 253 behind Seitz.

According to Craig, he’ll probably drop out of the R of Y battle altogether; he said Saturday night that he’s waiting for a Hawk Jr. chassis to be completed so he can return to the Oswego non-winged weekly wars. While Craig will be a welcomed addition to Oswego’s field, he’ll be missed on the ISMA trail, where he’s gained the respect of the winged-super runners.

Dave Duggan is behind the wheel of the Drinan-built, former Holbrook-owned No. 51. He is 16th in the standings. Jeff Locke drives a beautiful No. 37 Locke Crane Services-sponsored Allegresso car. Like Duggan, he’s missed a few shows but has proven to be a capable driver. With upcoming New England shows, both Duggan and Locke will be able to gain experience and try to knock down their first top 10s of the year.

When asked who he thought had the upper hand in the R of Y battle, Lichty offered some thoughts: “I see Seitz is in sixth (in points). He’s impressed me. I know the kid can drive an open-wheeled car very well with his success in NEMA. Danny Lane has impressed me, too, but I don’t think he has the experience Seitz has. Locke has only been racing a couple of years, and he’s progressing really well for the limited experience.”

Sammut gave some thoughts on the new crop of rookies, as well.

“Seitz has had Budnick’s car looking really good and he’ll probably win it; he is doing a really good job. Dan has been smooth. Craig ran Oswego a long time and this is a totally different deal. Just like when we go to Oswego, it’s new to us. For Craig, it’s the opposite and the winged racing is new to him. But I think he’s doing a good job, too. They’ve all done a good job so far.”

Classic plans for ISMA contingent

With Oswego’s Budweiser International Classic 200 always looming this time of year, the winged racers will have the option to take off the wing and run the longest race of the year against Oswego’s weekly field and some of MSA’s contingent. The high purse and opportunity to be competitive against Oswego’s top runners in an endurance race generally entices more than a couple ISMA racers to try to qualify for the 200.

Sammut, who lately has had poor luck on Classic Sundays, said he’d like to give the Classic another try, but said last week plans for Labor Day weekend are “hard to say” and he didn’t know for sure.

Lichty echoed his fellow Canadian’s thoughts, saying, “we’ll see” regarding a non-wing effort at Oswego Labor Day weekend. Lichty’s team, owned by his father, Brad, has an early ’80s Bodnar chassis at their disposal. The car, numbered 74, is a sleek looking little super that Mike drove to a fine fifth-place finish in the 2005 Classic 200. Lichty said the only original part on the car is the roll cage, and it’s a mount he enjoys to drive without the top wing.

Holbrook noted that Allegresso is currently building a non-winged Oswego super for him, but it won’t debut until “opening day of 2010.” As for this year’s Classic, the original plan was for Holbrook to drive the No. 01 Muldoon chassis that Dan Connors Jr. has been campaigning weekly at Oswego. But plans certainly change, especially in racing, and a tentative purchase of the 01 by the Connors family will most likely see Dan Jr. in the car Classic weekend.

Classic is a month away, but before that, four ISMA shows will take place in two states and Canada, beginning with this Friday’s 30-lap affair in Delaware. A 50 lapper will follow Saturday night, and then it’s back to New England for the Ollie Silva Memorial 75 Friday, Aug. 14, at Lee USA, N.H., and a second 2009 50 lapper at Waterford, Conn., Saturday the 15th.