OSWEGO, NY – As the countdown continues toward the 59th running of the Budweiser International Classic 200 at Oswego Speedway on September 6, we look back at the next historic Classic driver on our list – the first Oswegonian to win the Classic, Steve Gioia Jr.
The Gioia family had been fielding racecars at Oswego Speedway for several seasons before Steve Jr. finally climbed behind the wheel of Steve Sr.’s No. 9 in 1973.
Right from the start the young Gioia had a feel for the Classic, nailing a tenth place finish in ’73 and backing it up with runs of ninth in 1974 and second in 1975.
Like in ’75, the story of the 1976 Classic was again Fred Graves in the Hite four-wheel drive No. 39. But again, as in previous years, the machine would not see the finish.
Until Graves dropped out at lap 165, it was a three-horse race in ’76 between Graves, defending champion Gary Allbritain and Gioia.
As Graves pulled pit side with engine issues, the field now bunched up with Allbritain leading Gioia, Bentley Warren, Johnny Logan, Ed Bellinger Jr., Jim Shampine, and Chuck Ciprich.
In the closing laps of the race, Allbritain tried all he could to hold off the hard charging Gioia, but with only six laps to go – he gave way. Gioia used an outside move on the front stretch to grab the race lead and held on to become the first Oswego native to win the Classic and the youngest to do so at the time, at just 23 years of age.
As had happened the previous season for the Classic winner, Gioia would come back in 1977 with another great run, finishing second to Warren Coniam.
Following his amazing three year stretch from 1975-1977, Gioia would finish in the top five of the International Classic another eight times.
In 1980 and 1981 Gioia had finishes of third and fourth as Jim Shampine and Doug Heveron drove to victory. Heveron’s win in ’81 beat Gioia’s record as the youngest Classic winner, with Heveron taking the checkers at just 21 years of age.
The 1982 Classic will go down as one lost for Gioia.
After starting seventh on the grid, the ’82 event shaped up to be a two car battle between Gioia and rookie Mike McLaughlin.
With the two setting a torid pace, Gioia took the lead at lap 116 and was in control until lap 145 when both he and McLaughlin were caught in an oil spill from another car, sending both into the outside wall and out of the event.
Heveron went onto his second consecutive Classic win in ’82, in memory of Shampine.
Gioia bounced back in 1984 with a third place effort behind Warren and Dave Shullick Sr. before finishing second yet again in 1986.
Gioia’s hot streak continued from 1987 to 1990 with finishes of fifth, fourth, sixth, and seventh.
Another Classic within Gioia’s grasp came in 1992 as the No. 9 chased down a fuel starved Joe Gosek in the closing laps, to finish in the runner-up position yet again.
The final top five run for Gioia came in 1994 as he took another podium result behind Bellinger and Pat Abold.
Gioia’s 11 top five finishes in the Budweiser International Classic 200 rank third all-time behind only Nolan Swift (13) and Warren (12).
For more information on Oswego Speedway and Budweiser International Classic Weekend visit online at www.oswegospeedway.com or call (315) 342-0646.