Countdown to Classic: 24… Bellinger Outlasts 6-Hour Rain Delay, Earns Third Classic Crown in ‘88

OSWEGO, NY – With the countdown now set at 24 days until the Budweiser International Classic 200 at Oswego Speedway, the clocks turn back to 1988 and an International Classic that would seemingly never end.

The 1988 Speedway season proved to be a banner year for the driver of the Miller American No. 02.  Bellinger went on to narrowly claim his only Oswego Speedway track championship in ’88, by just 25 points over Mike Ordway, with three regular season feature wins.

Eddie Bellinger Jr. went on to claim his third International Classic in 1988 driving the Miller American No. 02 (Speedway Press/Eagle Photo)
Eddie Bellinger Jr. went on to claim his third International Classic in 1988 driving the Miller American No. 02 (Speedway Press/Eagle Photo)

As it would turn out, Bellinger and Ordway would be in close quarters yet again as the International unfolded on Labor Day Weekend.

Time trials for the ’88 Classic would again be held on Friday night and it was Bentley Warren, now driving the Mazur owned No. 61jr, grabbing the coveted pole position for the 200 with a lap of 17.391 seconds.  Bellinger, who sat on the pole for much of qualifications, would hang on for second quick time to set the front row for Sunday’s main event.

As can sometimes happen on Classic Weekend, the weather wreaked havoc in ’88.  An early morning rain set the schedule back several hours, forcing Sunday morning’s qualification events to occur much later than normal.  In those qualifying races Bobby Fitzpatrick and 2011 Novelis Supermodified championship runner-up, Randy Ritskes, would collect heat wins.

On a side note, long time Supermodified pilots Jim Cheney and Todd Gibson would come out of retirement for the 1988 International, with each qualifying for the 200.  Cheney had not competed in a Classic since 1978, while Gibson had not made a start since 1981.

When the International Classic 200 finally took the green flag it was Bellinger jumping out front early on before being taken over by Ordway, in the Booth No. 99, on lap 3.  Just as the race began to set into pace, rain began to fall on the Speedway forcing a red flag at lap 35.  After a 30-minute delay, racing continued.

Ordway would go on set a torrid pace in the Booth machine leading past the lap 50 mark when pole sitter Warren hit the wall viciously in turn two. The No. 61jr nearly turned over on impact, forcing Warren out of the event. Bentley was unhurt in the shunt with the turn two retaining wall.

Coming back to green Ordway would continue to press out front until Bellinger retook the race lead on lap 86, pinning Ordway behind the lapped car of Gary Evans.  Bellinger would then lead the field past the halfway mark and into lap 112 when the caution lights would come on again, this time for Howie Lane and Art Rousseau in turn one.

As the yellow lights came on Bellinger slowed immediately out of turn four, with Ordway directly on his back bumper.  Ordway was unable to slow in time, colliding with the rear end of the No. 02 sending Bellinger wildly out of control on the front straight.  Somehow Bellinger was able to regain control, avoiding contact with the inside hub rail, and each car was able to continue on in front of the field under yellow.

However, Ordway sustained nose damage in the altercation and was forced pit side in the No. 99.

Just as Ordway entered the pit area, rain began to fall yet again forcing another red flag period.  This time however, the showers were much more significant.  The race was stopped at 3:45pm and it would take until just before 10 p.m. before the track was ready to go back to racing.

When the race finally got back underway Bellinger was now the clear cut favorite, but Jamie Moore in the No. 44 was quickly on the move.  Moore blasted into the runner-up spot and began to chase down Bellinger, but Moore’s right rear tire would go flat on lap 143 causing Moore to spin in turn three collecting third place running Gene Lee Gibson as well.

With Moore and Gibson out of it, AJ Michaels would now move into the runner-up spot behind the wheel of the Mucci Motorsports No. 98.

Young Michaels pressed Bellinger for several laps, but eventually the veteran would gain the edge on the upstart pilot gaining a comfortable margin on Michaels by lap 185.

Young AJ Michaels took runner-up honors in the 1988 International Classic.  (Speedway Press/Eagle Photo)
Young AJ Michaels took runner-up honors in the 1988 International Classic. (Speedway Press/Eagle Photo)

At the finish of the longest International Classic in history, Bellinger would outgun Michaels for his 3rd Classic triumph since 1983.

Michaels, who earned his only Oswego Speedway win in July of ‘88, collected the biggest pay day of his career with his second place finish.  Michaels would go on to finish 9th in the 1989 Oswego Speedway track championship standings before losing his life in a racing accident at the Speedway on opening day of 1990.

Gary Albritain, Steve Gioia Jr., and Mike Muldoon would finish the Top 5 order in 1988.

Muldoon was behind the wheel of the Magari No. 10 machine that Warren Coniam took to victory lane in 1987.

(Statistical references credited to 50 Years: Oswego Speedway International Classic; Caruso Jr. and Haynes)

Tickets are on sale now for Budweiser International Classic Weekend through the Oswego Speedway box office, located just outside of the main pit gate at the Speedway.  To order tickets over the phone be sure to call (315) 342-0646.  Box office hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Three day adult general admission passes are $104, while reserved three day admissions are $115.  Three day kids’ admission, ages 6-16, is $35, while children ages 5 and under are FREE for the weekend.

Individual day general admission prices are as follows: Friday – $25, Saturday – $42, and Sunday – $52.

Oswego Speedway events run May through September on most Saturday nights, culminating with the Fall Championship 75 on September 15.

For more information on Oswego Speedway be sure to visit www.oswegospeedway.com.  You can also LIKE the (Official) Oswego Speedway page at facebook.com/OswegoSpeedway, or FOLLOW on Twitter @OswegoSpeedway.  To purchase tickets or order merchandise please call the Speedway box office at (315) 342-0646.