Classic Recap, Sandusky Non-wing News

By – Keith Shampine
Photos – Chris Porter

The Budweiser International Classic is in the record books for another year and for the first time since Mike Ordway in 2003, the 200-lap grind saw a new winner.  By now, most anyone in North America with an interest in supermodified racing knows Sunday afternoon at Oswego Speedway saw Otto Sitterly drive to his first win in the prestigious Labor Day weekend race.

Otto also gave third-year supermodified car owner John Nicotra, who resides and does business in Homestead, Fla., his first Classic win; one year after the duo won their first Oswego track championship and only weeks following their second consecutive point triumph.

Sitterly’s win cements his status as not only one of the best supermodified drivers in the country, but one of Oswego’s best ever.  The proof to that statement comes from the elite group he joined by accomplishing the track championship and Classic win in the same year. The group comprises many of the lakeside oval’s best ever: Eddie Bellinger, Doug Didero, Greg Furlong, Doug Heveron, Jim Shampine, Nolan Swift and Bentley Warren. With the win, Otto’s official tally of Oswego super feature wins increased to 12, tied with Ron Lux for 20th on the all-time list.

To gain the win, Sitterly went nose to nose with the car and driver many considered to be the fastest at the speedway all season, the Xtreme Chassis No. 3 of Doug Didero.  It seemed fitting that Sitterly passed Didero to gain the victory. While many expected the Didero, Paul Colloca-led Xtreme group to win more than two features in 2009, most still observed Didero at the top of the non-winged supermodified throne after last year’s convincing Classic victory and the fast laps he turned all season. Sitterly unseated Didero from that throne with the late-race pass and win – at least for the upcoming winter.

Consider the competition Sitterly had in his own camp. Given equal equipment, Sitterly’s teammates came in the form of Indy 500 veteran and nationally-recognized open-wheel racer Davey Hamilton, and one of the best open-wheel racers in the country, Bobby Santos III.  Otto, considered a grassroots racer who has been an Oswego regular for his entire 10-year supermod career, never faltered as the team’s top driver. He qualified best, stayed up front all day and passed the best in the business to drive to victory.

Sitterly also finished ahead of many drivers with a multitude of national success in open-wheel racing. The 2009 Classic field included drivers whose resumes should be considered as impressive as any short-track open-wheel driver in the country.

Consider these quick facts regarding Sunday’s Classic field:

Three Indy 500 veterans were in the field: Bentley Warren, Joe Gosek and Hamilton.

Three ISMA champions: Dave McKnight Jr., Warren and Gosek.

Thirteen ISMA feature winners: Warren, Gosek, McKnight, Joey Payne, Gene Lee Gibson, Gary Morton, Greg Furlong, Santos, Didero, Tim Jedrzejek, Ray Graham Jr., Randy Burch and Hamilton.

And six former Classic winners: Hamilton, Furlong, Didero, Tim Snyder, Gosek and Warren.

But there were many top supermodified shoes who, unfortunately, didn’t have a ride in the 53rd annual Bud Classic.  Chris Perley, Ordway, Mike Ordway Jr., Mark Sammut, Dave Shullick Jr., Rob Summers, Jeff Holbrook and Russ Wood all sat out this year’s Classic. Most of those names have had success in year’s past, including Ordway winning in ’03 and Russ Wood finishing second in 1993 and ’96.  In fact, Wood’s runner-up finish in ’93 was in the same Graves car that Randy Daratt now owns which Keith Shampine drove to a seventh-place finish Sunday.  The car was then owned by Ed Shea.

Other than Mike Lichty in the No. 74 and Jeff Abold in the 05, no ISMA teams opted to stick around central New York for the weekend and race the Classic. The reasons probably vary and most are legitimate, but it’s still a shame that the country’s best supermodified race lacked many of the top drivers from the country’s best touring supermodified series.

News and Notes…

Here’s a good one. The Classic top 10 featured eight drivers who reside outside New York: Didero (N.C.), Graham (Iowa), McKnight (Ont.) Jedrzejek (Ohio), Shampine (N.C.), Randy Burch (Ohio), Tim Snyder (N.H. ) and Hamilton (Idaho). But only one top-10 finishing car – Burch’s No. 52 – is maintained outside of the Empire State.

Bob Bond attempted to make a comeback Classic weekend after sustaining a broken foot at a spring ISMA event in Toledo, Ohio. He practiced Friday with the wing atop his Xtreme No. 25 until he jammed on the brakes to avoid a spinning Rich Reid.  The pressure from hitting the brakes resulted in some pain and Bond decided to offer the ride to Gosek.  “Double O” Joe didn’t last long in the Super Nationals; a fuel pickup problem was said to be the culprit.

Rumor has it Keith Gilliam is done.  The 46-year-old retired Onondaga County sheriff may even have a buyer lined up for his No. 87. It’d be a shame to see Gilliam hang it up after what many consider to be his finest season behind the wheel of a super.  Let’s hope it’s just the latter-season blues that many racers and teams often catch.

Andy Noto, who worked on Gilliam’s crew throughout the ’09 season, says he has an Xtreme car on order. Noto recently sold his sprint car operation and used the cash to kick-start the building of his new supermodified chassis.  Noto’s been out of the supermodified game since 2006, when he fielded a former Muldoon roadster previously owned by Sitterly.

Certainly no official word to this one, but rumor has it Ed Laprade is looking to purchase the Didero 3 for Bentley.  Laprade put a torsion-bar front end suspension package on his No. 15 before Classic weekend, which he said worked a lot better than the previous setup.  A fast lap of 17.186 in Friday practice was easily the fastest the 15 car had gone all season. Unfortunately, Bentley got loose on the front-stretch in the early going of 200 lapper and hit the inside hubrail head on, ending the supermodified legend’s day early.

As for Didero, one couldn’t imagine him getting out of the sport at this point.  What are the chances the Xtreme team shows up in 2010 with a brand new chassis? When asked if they would campaign weekly at Oswego again in 2010, Doug’s wife, Cindy, replied “absolutely not!”  Even flying, Charlotte to Oswego every week is a long trip, and I can vouch for that!

Dan Connors Jr. had another terrific showing for himself in the Dan Connors-owned, Paul’s Big M-sponsored No. 01. The 16-year-old rookie was running around the top 10 until he was involved in an accident in the middle stages of the race. Dan Jr. said he was “taken out by a lap car,” alluding to Lichty. The elder Connors, a former supermod racer himself, was none too pleased with the Canadian after the race, advising Mike that the Connors team is in favor of him sticking to winged-super racing.

Mark Letcher has been seen in the Oswego pits for most of the season. He’s usually around the Connors camp, as apparently it’s his Bloss Machine-built engine in the 01.

Let’s hope Stephen Gioia III has a speedy recovery. I know Stephen had busy plans for the fall.  Before the 200, he said his team was planning on hitting the non-winged Sandusky show Sept. 19, winged ’Dusky show Sept. 27 and Lorain Oct. 3.  Everyone is hoping to see Stephen back behind the wheel of his familiar No. 9 on opening day 2010.

As for Oswego supers traveling to Sandusky, Lou Levea Sr. and the Jason Spaulding-wheeled No. 23 owner Jake Ratcliff have said they are going.

John Nicotra says “we plan on bringing one car for Otto.”

The Daratt Farms 88 team has a tuned-up truck, new tires on their hauler and plans to head to the Buckeye State next weekend with Shampine behind the wheel.

Gosek said Sunday night he’ll probably go if Sandusky allows him to run the independent front on the 00. If not, he’ll likely stay home.

One would think after a fine fifth-place Classic result, Lavery would head west since he put the wing on for the Hy-Miler in July.

With five MSA regulars in the Classic on Sunday and more likely to take the wing off, the field should be somewhere between 15 and 20 for the non-winged ’Dusky show. It seems like a terrific idea to run wingless the race after Classic on account of the number of MSA teams who currently have a non-winged setup on their cars and Oswego racers eager to get one more race in before the cold weather hits.

See you in Ohio.