By – Luke Eggleston, contributing writer
Photo – Pinner Johnson
Oswego – Ray Graham Jr. has been a regular at Oswego Speedway for many years. His son, Kody, has been racing there for just two. On Saturday night, the pair raced into the a lakeside oval’s history books, accomplishing something that none of the celebrated father-and-son combinations have in the past when they finished first and second respectively in the supermodified feature.
“I’m happy…I was happy I got to ran…I’m more proud of my son. If he didn’t slip up, he would have had his first win today because I couldn’t catch him. I’ll have to thank him on the ride home tomorrow,” Ray said during his victory lane interview.
Ray and Kody Graham in victory lane at Oswego
The supermodified feature on Race of Champions Weekend ran in memory of three-time winner Richie Evans. The elder Graham grew up in nearby Fulton watching the legendary Evans. He said it was particularly meaningful to take the checkered flag on such a night.
“For me, I grew up going to Fulton…going to Fulton Speedway as a kid and so I used to watch Richie Evans and he was my favorite driver. So to be able to win in a memorial race for him, that’s a pretty big deal for me personally,” said Graham, who now commutes to Oswego County from Iowa.
Kody Graham had pole position at the start of the race and took full advantage of it, stretching a long lead over the rest of the pack.
“I don’t really believe it. I jumped out to the lead and then I was waiting for people to come by me and come by me and they never did,” he said.
Bobby Haynes Jr. started on the outside in the front row and held onto second place for more than 25 laps. Ray Graham didn’t take long to seize third place.
A caution flag fell on lap 29 when David Danzer planted his No. 52 car into the infield wall in turn four and Ray Graham used the opportunity to begin threatening the lead.
Halfway through the 61-lap race, Kody and Ray Graham ran first and second respectively, followed by Haynes in third, Joey Payne in fourth, and supermodified points leader Dave McKnight, Jr. in fifth.
Finally, on lap 36, Ray Graham used the near straightaway to catch his son, maneuvering inside when the 21 car got loose coming off of turn four.
Kody said he feared his father would overtake him much earlier on the previous restart.
“I got low coming out of four and I almost drove it right into the wall, I was just lucky to save it,” he said. I can’t believe more people didn’t get by me, so I’m pretty fortunate about that. He almost got me on the restart, but then he didn’t so I was surprised but he got me when I slipped up.”
Ray noted that he would have had trouble catching the No. 21 car without help.
“I had what I had and he had his car in the right position. It was a little loose. I see he got a little out of shape, just enough so I could get by him. But otherwise, I was giving it everything I had and I couldn’t get him,” he said.
After that, Ray Graham expanded his lead on Kody and no one in the chasing pack was close to either until Joe Gosek surged into third place and threatened to overtake second.
A caution flag on lap 48 compressed the field and allowed Gosek to overtake several cars on the restart to assume third place.
“Somehow I got a bite on the restart and got by three, four, five of them,” Gosek said.
On lap 55, Ray Graham led, followed by Kody Graham, Gosek, Haynes, and Payne.
With just two laps to go, Gosek tried to dive inside on the younger Graham in turn three. The two cars grazed each other, but Graham recovered just in time to cut off the lane and retake second.
“Joe, going into three we touched wheels a little bit but I came too far to let that one go, so I just stuck it under and hoped it sticked and it did,” Kody Graham said.
The unofficial top 10 had Ray and Kody Graham in first and second, followed by Gosek, Haynes, Payne, McKnight, Randy Ritskes, Otto Sitterly, Bob Bond, and Dave Gruel.
Having been so close so many times this season, Ray Graham said the win was the break his crew had been hoping for all year.
“We needed it. We’ve been fast all year, but we’ve had some bad luck. The crews hung with us, kept their head up. So this win’s for them,” he said.
Gosek was satisfied with the third place finish.
“Everyone’s tough out here. It’s tough sledding. Night after night you’ve got to work your tail off just to get anywhere. It’s a good run for us,” he said.
Listen to more from – Ray and Kody Graham
The heat races were marred by what appeared to be a dangerous collision in the second race. Stephen Gioia, III started on the outside of the first row and Pat Lavery on the inside of the second.. Without a lap in the books, Lavery’s No. 22 car was passing Gioia’s No. 9 when it quickly dove to the right. The collision drove Lavery’s car into the foam in turn one and the No. 0 into the outside wall on the near straightaway. The force of the impact shook the stands and tower, but both drivers emerged from their cars on their own.
The second heat race was eventually won by Payne. Ritskes won the first qualifier, while Dan Connors, Jr. pocketed the third.
Sunoco Race of Champions Supermodified 61: 1. Ray Graham, Jr. (90), 2. Kody Graham (21), 3. Joe Gosek (00), 4. Bobby Haynes, Jr. (44), 5. Joey Payne (99), 6. Dave McKnight, Jr. (08), 7. Randy Ritskes (88), 8. Otto Sitterly (7), 9. Bobby Bond (25), 10. David Gruel (50), 11. Tim Snyder (0), 12. Brian Sobus (79), 13. Michael Barnes (98), 14. Dan Connors, Jr. (01), 15. Hal LaTulip (56), 16. Jerry Curran (24), 17. Dave Danzer (52), 18. Keith Gilliam (87), 19. Guard Nearbin (78), 20. Shawn Muldoon (1), 21. Steve Abt (85), 22. Michael Muldoon (20) – DNS – Stephen Gioia, III (9), Pat Lavery (22), Joe Chillemi (14)