McKnight Outlasts Yellow Fever and Bond Goes Green at Oswego

By – Chris Porter
Photos – Jim Feeney

Canadian Dave McKnight, Jr. survived a flurry of spinning, wall-climbing, flying and sliding supermodifieds to claim victory in the Gary Syrell-owned No. 08 in the first of two 30-lap supermodified features run on Saturday night at the Oswego Speedway. On the flip-side, the second feature event went caution-free, with Mexico, N.Y.’s Bob Bond leading 27 of the 30 laps en route to his first win of the 2011 season.

Dave McKnight and crew pose after winning the first of Oswego's two 30-lap feature events

It wasn’t quite a full moon that lit brightly over the skies of the Port City, but it was full enough for many to lay blame upon the giant rock in the sky. 27 supermodifieds took the green flag in feature No. 1, but only 13 were around to see the checkered. McKnight inherited the lead after the first and second-place running cars of Joey Payne and Randy Ritskes came together on the 15th lap. The veteran driver led the rest of the way to earn both his first victory of the 20111 season and the lead on the points chase. He would later return to score a runner-up finish in race No. 2.

Listen toDave McKnight, Jr.

For Bond, starting from the outside of the second row helped put him in second place after just one lap. Two rounds later, Bond bested Stephen Gioia, III down low in turn No. 3. From that point on, he never saw the creeping wheel of another challenger. It was the first non-special event win for Bond, who’d won the King of Wings race and International Classic 200 in 2010.

Listen toBob Bond

Dan Connors, Jr. and Keith Gilliam led the field to the green to start the first supermodified main. Gilliam got the early jump, earning him the lead as the field completed its maiden lap. However, a determined Payne No. 99 shot underneath Gilliam’s No. 87 in the third turn to claim the lead the next time by.

Top three in feature #2 – 1st-Bob Bond (center), 2nd-Dave McKnight (right) and 3rd-David Gruel (left)

Payne was quick to put distance on his chasers as the field began to spread when the caution flag suddenly flew for a slow spin by Oswego Speedway’s two-seat supermodified in turn No. 1. Spinning alone at the tail-end of the field, the two-seat “ride” – which was supposed to return pit-side a lap prior – was quickly pushed back into the infield, but left a mixed taste in the mouths of fans and drivers for its quiet, but nonetheless interruption of the race.

As Payne led Gilliam, Connors, McKnight and David Gruel back to racing, Connors was taking a look on the outside of Gilliam’s No. 87 off of the fourth turn when Gilliam drifted high. With nowhere to go, Connors was promptly squeezed into the outside wall hard. His No. 01 found a bit of air-time before coming to rest just shy of the start-finish line. The former Doug Didero No. 3 suffered extensive right-side damage, but Connors was OK.

With just two laps in the books, Payne led the field back to racing, once again. As the “Jersey Jet” pulled away, Ritskes began making his early moves towards the front. Picking off Bond at the drop of the green, the Ritskes No. 88 raced two laps with Gruel before conquering the No. 50 for fourth. One lap later, he ducked under Gilliam’s No. 87 for third on the front stretch.

Payne, McKnight and Ritskes were racing away from the field when defending track champ, Otto Sitterly suddenly pulled into the pits. Sitterly’s early-season woes continued as he was forced to run Nicotra Racing’s back-up No. 6 after he and his No. 7 found the outside wall in a heat race earlier in the day.

Racing suddenly came to a halt on the 12th lap after Michael Muldoon’s No. 20 walloped the steel confines of the outside fence on the front straightaway. The No. 20 proceeded to do several spins as it skidded into the first turn. Muldoon was OK after a bone-jarring hit so severe that it that bent an angle arm supporting the wall. The same could not be said for car.

With 11 rounds in the books, Payne led McKnight, Ritskes, Gilliam and Gruel. Bond, Craig Rayvals, Ray Graham, Jr., Tim Snyder and Michael Barnes completed the top 10. Joe Gosek, Noto, Stephen Gioia, III, Brian Sobus and Shaun Gosselin rounded out the top 15.

When racing continued, Ritskes quickly swiped second place away from McKnight and wasted no time in going to work on the Strong Racing No. 99.

On the 15th lap, Ritskes made a bonsai move into the third turn underneath Payne’s No. 99 for the lead. No contact was made, but his No. 88 washed up between the turns in front of the former leader, allowing Payne to slip back underneath and temporarily reclaim the top spot. The duo raced out of the fourth turn side-by-side. Payne used as much racing room as he could to keep the No. 88 up high, but Ritskes wouldn’t back out. As the two dove into the first turn their wheels came together. Payne had continued to squeeze Ritskes up high, but the No. 88 still refused to back down. Entangled, each spun into the first turn wall.

Tempers erupted as each of their machines exited the racing surface via the hook.

After first, being very critical of the speedway for allowing the two-seat supermodified to race with the field, Payne proceeded to express his opinion of what he believed to be Ritskes’ “careless, reckless …” driving style, noting Ritskes’ history with various car owners in the past. He admitted to using more track than he normally does, but was adamant that there was no fault of his own in what resulted.

In addition, Payne added that as of how things stood on Saturday night, he had no plans to return to competition at Oswego.

Listen toJoey Payne

Ritskes says he left Payne plenty of room down low and wasn’t about to keep riding the outside wall. Lightning quick in his heat race, Ritskes did not opt to hop into teammate Andy Noto’s No. 48 in the second feature to at least salvage some points on double-feature night.

Listen toRandy Ritskes

The ensuing restart saw McKnight in control. Gruel, Gilliam, Bond and Rayvals held the new top five.

However, the mayhem continued with a multi-car accident on the backstretch. Barnes, Rayvals, Sobus, Danzer, Steve Abt and Snyder were all involved with the latter two taking flight. Snyder’s No. 0 climbed to the top of the fence before slamming back to earth and Abt’s No. 85 flew into the scene, ramping off of Danzer’s No. 52. Heavy damage was the result all along the back straightaway. All of the drivers were OK.

Gruel took aim at the lead on the following restart, but McKnight held on. Though, McKnight was able to put a quick 10-car cushion on Gruel in short time. Graham leapt into the picture, pressing Gruel for second. Further back, Gosek was starting to make a late-race run, bettering Gilliam for fifth.

Gosek then bested Bond on the outside for fourth, before winning away third and then second from Graham and Gruel on the 22nd lap. However, Gosek was running out of time as the laps were winding down and McKnight held a commanding full straightaway lead.

Dave McKnight stands atop the cage of the Syrell No. 08 after winning at Oswego

McKnight approached lapped traffic with five to go. Unlike earlier in the season, he was able to navigate through it with success. Gosek would not get the yellow flag needed to close up the field as McKnight cruised on for his first win of the season.

Behind the Canadian, Gosek, Gruel, Graham and Bond rounded out the the top five.

The difference between the first and second features was like night and day as flagman Bruce Lee never needed to draw the yellow flag from his holster in the second 30-lapper. Gioia nabbed the early lead from Noto at the start of the race, leading Bond and Gruel across the stripe to complete lap No. 1.

Bond raced with Gioia for two laps before pouncing on the No. 9 in the third turn of the third lap to take command. Other than lapped traffic, it was Bond’s last pass of the race. McKnight mirrored Bond’s move on Gioia on the fifth lap. Bond and McKnight then proceeded to check out from the rest of the field.

After hounding the No. 9 for six laps, Gruel slipped underneath Gioia on the 12th lap for third. As his No. 50 eased away from the main pack, Gioia was left to fend off Graham, Sobus, Gosek and Jerry Curran for fourth.

By the 20th lap, Bond held a 15-car advantage over McKnight’s No. 08. In turn, Gruel trailed McKnight by half a lap. Gioia continued to hold on to fourth until the 21st circuit, when Gosek flew under him in turn No. 3.

Up front, Bond hit lapped traffic with six trips to go. Stuck behind middle-groove running Bobby Haynes, Jr. and Shawn Muldoon, McKnight quickly closed in on the race leader. However, when Muldoon put on the binders to pull pit-side, Haynes slowed as well, allowing Bond to clear the two. As quickly as McKnight had closed in on Bond’s No. 25, Bond was able to resume his commanding lead.

Behind them, Gosek caught Gruel with three to go. The two diced the final few laps, but Gruel held on to collect his second third-place finish of the evening.

Listen toDave Gruel

After running into trouble in his heat race, Gosek made his way into the feature via a win in an 11-car consolation race. Nonetheless, he managed to earn a second and fourth on the night.

Listen toJoe Gosek

Sobus was able to finish his first feature race of the season, landing his No. 79 in fifth. It was a much-needed confidence booster for the rookie driver.

Listen toBrian Sobus

Feature #1 Finish: 1. Dave McKnight, Jr. (08), 2. Joe Gosek (00), 3. David Gruel (50), 4. Ray Graham, Jr. (90), 5. Bob Bond (25), 6. Pat Lavery (22), 7. Keith Gilliam (87), 8. Andy Noto (48), 9. Stephen Gioia, III (9), 10. Shaun Gosselin (26), 11. Bobby Haynes, Jr. (44), 12. Rod Sauder (33), 13. Otto Sitterly (6), 14. Michael Barnes (98), 15. Dave Danzer (52), 16. Joey Payne (99), 17. Randy Ritskes (88), 18. Craig Rayvals (94), 19. Tim Snyder (0), 20. Brian Sobus (79), 21. Shawn Muldoon (1), 22. Michael Muldoon (20), 23. Steve Abt (85), 24. Guard Nearbin (78), 25. Jerry Curran (24), 26. Dan Connors, Jr. (01), 27. Kody Graham (21)

Feature #2 Finish: 1. Bob Bond (25), 2. Dave McKnight, Jr. (08), 3. David Gruel (50), 4. Joe Gosek (00), 5. Brian Sobus (79), 6. Keith Gilliam (87), 7. Stephen Gioia, III (9), 8. Ray Graham, Jr. (90), 9. Shaun Gosselin (26), 10. Pat Lavery (22), 11. Dave Danzer (52), 12. Otto Sitterly (6), 13. Jerry Curran (24), 14. Michael Barnes (98), 15. Joey Scanlon (88), 16. Bobby Haynes, Jr. (44), 17. Rod Sauder (33), 18. Shawn Muldoon (1), 19. Andy Noto (48), 20. Hal LaTulip  (56), 21. Tim Snyder (0), 22. Guard Nearbin (78), 23. Kody Graham (21)

12-lap heat race wins were collected by Connors, Rayvals and Gilliam. Gosek won the 10-lap consolation race.