OSWEGO, NY – As the countdown officially begins toward the 58th annual Budweiser International Classic 200 for Novelis Supermodifieds at Oswego Speedway on August 31, we look back at the Top30 moments in International Classic history, with the assistance of George Caruso’s 50 Most Memorable Moments of the International Classic.’
With 10 days remaining until the International Classic, the countdown continues with No. 10, as Steve Gioia Jr. became the first Oswegonian to win the Classic in 1976.
The 1976 International Classic was touted as being “an early Christmas present” for car owner Bill Hite and driver Fred Graves. It was a forgone conclusion that their far superior, four-wheel drive rear-engine Supermodified, would be banned after the season ended.
The ’76 Classic was theirs for the taking. All they needed to do was finish the 200-laps, but they could not do it.
At the start of the 200, Graves could have run away and hid, but he didn’t. Instead, Graves set a mid-level pace allowing himself to be pressured by two young Supermodified upstarts in 1975 Classic winner Gary Allbritain in the Duncan No. 07 and second generation driver Steve Gioia Jr. in his father’s No. 9.
The pair ran all over Graves, looking inside and outside, and even took the lead from Graves on a couple of occasions.
Soon after the lap 150 mark the engine in the Graves No. 39 began to break up and by lap 165 the four-wheel drive rear-engine was headed to the pits.
With Graves out of it, Allbritain and Gioia continued their battle without him.
A caution flag with less than 10 laps to go brought four other competitors into the fray, but with 6 laps remaining Gioia made a gutsy move to the outside of Allbritain for the lead. If the No. 9 did not stick, Gioia would risk falling all the way back to sixth position.
But, with a burst of speed, Gioia surged by Allbritain as the locals in the grandstand cheered wildly.
Gioia would hang on in the closing laps for the dramatic Classic win. Victory lane was a mob scene as Gioia’s young crew swarmed driver and car as soon as it stopped at the start/finish line.
The victory was a moment of triumph for Steve Gioia Sr., who started competing at the Speedway some 15-years prior with little success until now.
The famous photo of the ’76 International Classic was that of Mrs. Gioia pulling out the newspaper from her pocketbook with the headline proclaiming, “Steve Gioia Jr. Wins 1976 International Classic.”
Allbritain held on to take the runner-up position in ’76 with Bentley Warren, Ed Bellinger Jr. and Jim Shampine finishing the top five.
Chuck Ciprich, Jim Cheney, Denny Wheeler, Johnny Logan and Dick Batchelder completed the top ten after 200 laps.
To purchase tickets for Budweiser International Classic Weekend and the 58th annual Budweiser International Classic 200, call the Speedway’s box office today at (315) 342-0646.
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