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Around the “O”

Story & Photos – Chris Porter

It’s been bumpy ride for some teams this year as Oswego Speedway’s season rolls past its midpoint. While Otto Sitterly, Pat Lavery and Joey Payne have enjoyed a successful and fairly steady season, other drivers and teams have found themselves on a less than desirable avenue. Even though some find themselves off their planned path, the unexpected twists and turns haven’t always yielded poor results.

The road for Stephen Gioia, III has been both up and down so far in 2009. Gioia has knocked off numerous top-five finishes, but has suffered a few disappointing runs that have essentially kept him out of the top five in points. He currently sits sixth, just two behind two-time feature winner Ray Graham, Jr. and 11 behind fourth-place points contender, Pat Lavery.

However, it’s been the winged shows that have brought the most smiles to the pilot of the No. 9. In their quest to provide Gioia with a “comfortable ride” the team has found small, but difference-making changes that have helped improve their driver’s performance.

Gioia says they’ve been working on getting him to feel comfortable in the car for four seasons now. He feels they’re getting closer, especially with a wing atop their supermodified.

Regardless of falling out near the halfway mark of the King of Wings 50-lapper a few weeks ago, Gioia says he had a ball. Impressive runs with the wing the last few years have greatly boosted his level of confidence when running with one. Now, he’s working on transferring the feel of those rides to the way his car handles on the track with out it.

Listen toStephen Gioia, III on running with a wing

“It’s a good feeling when you’re a fast car and you can be the aggressive person,” Gioia said, “ to show somebody a wheel and not worry that someone’s coming from behind. When you can look forward instead of looking behind, it’s exciting because you know you’re one of the cars to beat. We’re not quite there yet. We’re fast. We’ve got to work on getting around people, but that’s going to come. It’s going to come.”

Two drivers who’s roads have been littered with potholes this season are Tim Snyder and Jerry Curran. Both came into the 2009 season with great expectations – feature wins with title hopes in reach. However, their journeys have been bumpy at best – each still looking for a satisfying run while in the midst of searching for answers to questions they’ve had since opening day.

“We’re nowhere where we want to be,” Snyder said. “We’ve had eight races, you want to have eight wins. We make changes to the car. When you make changes you never know what you’re going to have.  We spent the money. We didn’t buy a new car, but we probably should have. But you never know with the tires and everything else. It’s in one piece. We’re putting back on the trailer each week for one reason or another. We’re not happy, but we’ll take a week off.”

The team tries something new every week. They learn a few things – either that it works or that it doesn’t. They’re looking for a better percentage of changes that work. Snyder says that some of the momentum has been killed by the winged races as they throw curve balls just when the team feels it’s making progress. However, he’s hoping the month of August will give his team the shot in the arm that the eighth month of the year usually brings them.

The first race in August would be a much welcomed time for the team’s weekly educated guesses to all come through at once.

Listen toTim Snyder on the Mr. Supermodified race

“I’d like to win the thing,” he said, “but I’ve already spent 10 plus. But, it’s a great win to win. I’m not a Mr. Supermodified guy. The way the handicap is now, it looks like we’ll probably be out front if we qualify well. I hate starting up front. I hated starting on the pole tonight. I’d rather start 10th and work my way through and race the car. That’s fun to me rather than starting up front and run and hide … like Ray did tonight. You don’t know what you’ve got. You don’t have to race high and you don’t have to race low. I like to race in the pack and have some fun. We’ll take the front row in the 10 grand to-win and try and run away. If we get the car underneath us, we’ll be fine.”

For Curran, the ride hasn’t been the same since an entire rebuild of the front end was needed after last season’s nasty Classic wreck. 2008 made the Oswego native a weekly threat for 2009. However, just getting a top five as the season heads into August would be an accomplishment in itself at this point.

The new suspension that was built for the front end has been swapped out for their previous one. They too, are struggling with finding a setup that will help their car stay planted. The power is there, there’s just no grip. Curran’s left guessing whether it’s a tire issue or perhaps something else that he and his fellow competitors are having to deal with.

Listen toJerry Curran on his 2009 struggless

Starting from the bottom of their hill and with nowhere else to go but up, Steve Buske and Chris Osetek unveiled their creation two weeks ago at the Oswego Speedway. The first sign of progress for the No. 66 team was simply getting to the track. They did, albeit 30 minutes before the drop of the night’s first green flag.

Landing a driver isn’t too difficult if you have a supermodified with an empty seat – enter Michael Barnes. A third positive note came when they were finally able to fire the car up, just moments before the field took the white flag to start the feature. Piloted by Barnes, the No. 66 was able to get a few trips around the speedway before calling it a night – still, not a downer. They were able to learn some basic, but valuable information to better their next outing.

For Buske and Osetek, they’ve already accomplished a good portion of what they originally wanted to do. The idea was born out of a state of boredom, Buske says. The two, young, adventure-seeking whilst laid back, mechanical-minded supermodified fans took a page from the “olden days” of racing. Three years ago, they found a roll cage and started building themselves a race car from scratch.

Listen toSteve Buske and Chris Osetek on their supermodified venture

What they’re hoping to do from here on out is to work on whatever mechanical issues come their way, with the eventual goal of getting their car to finish a race. A computer systems engineer, Osetek says the two have a lot of ideas they’d like to eventually have the opportunity to test out. However, he says they must first get the fundamentals of getting the car to run out of the way, first. There’s plenty of potential and plenty more passion.

Look for Barnes to be their test pilot as long as he’s available.

Another car making its season debut in the pits two weeks ago was Joe Gosek’s No. 00. After missing the first half of the season due to a shoulder injury in January, Gosek has nowhere to go but up. He said that his doctors didn’t want him racing until he was fully healed. Feeling like his strength level was where it needed to be, he finally gave it a shot a few weeks ago. Whether the shoulder is at 100% percent or not, Gosek’s desire to race is certainly there, perhaps at 101% percent.

With just over one month remaining in Oswego’s season, running for a track championship is out of the question. However, that will only help him focus on the one thing that’s always a top priority – winning races.

“You come up here every week and try to do the best you can and try to win races,” Gosek said. “Our goal is just to try and win as many races as we can from here on out. Which, you’ve got the big 10 grand to-win and you’ve got the Classic. There are really not that many races left, actually … four or five maybe? So, we’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ve got a whole new shock package on it. So, it’s a whole lot different stuff than we even had on it last year. We’ve just got to make the best of each week and get the car the best we can for the Classic. We plan on being here the rest of the way.”

This coming weekend’s $10,000 dollar Mr. Supermodified race would be a great way to get back into the swing of things. It’s a race that the supermodified vet has never been able to capture. A win would also put him where he wants to be for the International Classic – a race he’s already looking forward to.

Listen toJoe Gosek on the Mr. Supermodified event and readying for Classic Weekend

Finally, another driver who’s had quite an up and down season is Lou LeVea. Starting out the season in the Coon/France-owned No. 03, LeVea is poised to finish the season out in the Mark Castiglia-owned No. 61.

The 2009 season wasn’t going as well as the No. 03 team had hoped it would. The fruits of countless hours of work put into the car during the off-season never seemed to have blossomed. An ugly combination of personality and mechanical conflicts came to a boiling point when the team traveled to Ohio for an Oswego-MSA Challenge winged show.

By the time the team came back to New York, LeVea was no longer the driver of the No. 03. However, just a few weeks later, doors seemed to open up for the former super stock and SBS feature winner and he was back in the seat of a big block supermodified.

Listen toLou LeVea on his rollercoaster season

Castiglia called up LeVea and told him he was interested in buying a supermodified. He asked LeVea if he would go and look at a few with him. He’d purchased LeVea’s SBS racer earlier in the year and was now looking for something with a little more kick. However, once a deal was made for him to purchase a car from Pat Furlong, Jr., Castiglia turned around and told LeVea that LeVea was driving it.

LeVea has noticed an immediate difference in his new ride.

“The 61 has a lot more motor,” LeVea said. “So, we have to be a lot more careful coming off the corners. I thought the car was a little bit loose getting in because of brake bias and I adjusted that in the heat race. But in the feature I realized what I was doing was getting off the throttle so fast that it was upsetting the rear tires because of the lighter motor parts and stuff. Basically, it’s going to be a really fast car once I learn how to drive it.”

The team has one more race with the Furlong-owned motor. After that, LeVea says Castiglia will ether have to buy it or find a different one.

As for Castiglia, LeVea says he doesn’t really know if Mark will want to drive the car. He’s still campaigning the No. 90 small block super and with a little more help preparing that car, he aiming to improve. LeVea says he hopes Castiglia will at least take the super out for a ride, but also notes that he’s perfectly happy staying behind the wheel of the No. 61 too.