OSWEGO, NY – It is fitting, race fans say, that the “Dynamic Duo” have streets intersecting across from the iconic Oswego Speedway. Nolan Swift and Jim Shampine competed side by side many times at Oswego’s ‘Steel Palace.’ Now they will forever more be wheel to wheel at the speedway.
Hailing from Syracuse, Swift was the first dominant force at Oswego Speedway driving his famous 10 pins, dating back to the early 1950s, securing his first Oswego Speedway track championship in the A-Modified division in 1953.
Oswego Speedway PR director Dan Kapuscinski emceed the ceremony Saturday afternoon in the shadow of the Jim Shampine Drive sign, officially designating the section of East Albany Street between Jim Shampine Drive and City Line Road as Nolan Swift Drive.
“Everybody associated with the speedway is very excited that a great group of people came together to do something that is long over due,” Kapuscinski said.
Kapuscinski never had a chance to see Swift race. “But I was very much honored to meet Nolan one time. It was several years back. “My father, Mike Kapuscinski, was a very big Nolan Swift fan and it was an honor for me to actually have that one great opportunity to meet such an amazing champion,” he said.
Swift stands as the grand champion of Oswego Speedway, with eight career track championships and six International Classics, “but more importantly he was a true fan favorite who helped cultivate the exciting and fan friendly atmosphere that the speedway has held since his retirement in the mid 1970s,” Kapuscinski said.
“We are fortunate to have with us today a whole host of people that will tell some stories about Nolan,” he added.
Robert Metcalf, a longtime Oswego Speedway fan, spearheaded the project during the 2015 racing calendar. With the help of Oswego Common Council President Shawn Walker, he secured more than 200 signatures to urge the council to pass the street dedication. The resolution passed the council unanimously.
Metcalf thanked the many people responsible for making the dedication a reality.
“I’d like to give my biggest thanks to Nolan’s daughter, Sandy Swift Downey, for donating her father’s suit, which basically paid for the sign and the pole,” Metcalf said. “When I contacted her to give this project her blessing, she said, ‘The suit belongs to the fans. This project’s main objective was to be by the fans and for the fans.’ So, Sandy, thank you for your generous donation.”
It is fitting that Shampine and now Swift have streets named in their honor next to the famed speedway, he pointed out.
Aside from Oswego, Swift captured the 1952 New York State NASCAR Championship, as well as the New York State Fair Stock Car Championship from 1956-1958, the Sandusky Speedway Hy-Miler Supermodified Nationals in 1971, and is believed to have won an estimated 250 total racing events during his career.
“He was well-established, even before he settled at this track,” Metcalf said. “Oswego Speedway is the house that Swift built and Shampine renovated. These two guys did it. The purpose of these signs is to preserve history.”
“I just want to thank my family, friends and all the fans,” Swift’s daughter said. “I have been amazed by the fans that have come out and supported this.”
She added that she was also amazed at learning things from some fans that she had never heard about. Like her dad taking his racecar – 10 pins – to a church event and letting the kids sit in it.
“Without this year that Bob started, I never would have known these things,” she said. “My father never talked about the charitable things he did with the 10 pins. The memories of the fans and the stories that they told are memories that I’ll cherish forever.”
“I know that dad and Jimmy being on the same corner is just something that is perfect. I really feel that dad and Jimmy are looking down on us from those two lawn chairs that they used to sit in and grinning because they really were great competitors but they were friends also. They really enjoyed racing one another. They trusted one another to race side by side, wheel to wheel – they had that much respect for one another,” she added.
Romey Caruso, who family owned and operated the speedway during Swift’s heyday, said Swift “was a large presence, both literally and figuratively whenever he rolled into the pits at Oswego Speedway.”
“Tall and lanky, he started his racing career relatively late by today’s standards at age 27,” he pointed out. “But anyone in the grandstands could tell he was meant to be behind the wheel of a racecar from the very beginning. Even Nolan himself, who wasn’t known for his modesty, stated after his first Classic win in 1960, ‘There are people born with a natural ability, a built-in seat-of-the-pants gut instinct. I had a feel for the car and the track … I was never over my head.’ Like so many national celebrities, all you had to say was one word – Swift – and everyone familiar with auto racing in the Northeast knew exactly who you were talking about.”
Swift was a polarizing individual, you either loved to see him win or you loved to see him get beat, Caruso said. He recalled an event after Swift retired when a fan came up to him and half-jokingly said, “I used to go to Oswego Speedway every week just to watch you get beat.” Swift’s quick response, with a wry smile, was “Didn’t happen very often, did it?”
Swift figured out the formula for Classic supremacy early on.
“He realized that the fastest car at the beginning of the Classic rarely ended up in victory lane. He learned that patience was a virtue,” Caruso said. “And, a calculated move at the right time was paramount. When Classic Weekend rolled around, you never counted out Nolan Swift no matter what the circumstance.”
He then recalled several of Swift’s Classic highlights.
“In short, Nolan Swift made the International Classic classic,” he said. “His name is still synonymous with this annual event.”
“Any time you do something like this, someone’s got to do a lot of work to make it happen,” Bill Wright said in thanking everyone for the dedication to his life-long friend.
He told how he and Swift went to watch a race when they were young, and got hooked on the sport.
Councilor Walker thanked Swift’s daughter and Metcalf for contacting him with the idea for the project.
“Shawn, on the city’s end, put in a lot of work to get this done,” Mayor Barlow said.
“We did it for Swifty,” the council president replied.
The mayor said he came to the speedway quite often as a kid.
“I understand how great a racecar driver, and a person, Nolan Swift was,” the mayor said. “Congratulations to Nolan and his family. The recent resurgences and revitalization of the Oswego Speedway is encouraging to see for all Oswegonians. The amount of people who came to see this dedication speaks volumes for the sense of community we have both in Oswego and at the Oswego Speedway with the loyal fan base that exists here.”
Others who were instrumental in the dedication process included Jason Livesey of Rudy’s Lakeside, Chuck Handley of Burke’s Home Centers, and Nick Sereno and Bob Hoefer of Lighthouse Lanes, Kapuscinski said.
Oswego’s Matthew Hubbard, who updated the current Jim Shampine Drive signage in front of the Speedway, created the all new Nolan Swift Drive artwork.
“In 2013 a rededication of Jim Shampine Drive took place and now the speedway is proud to host this year’s Nolan Swift Drive dedication,” Kapuscinski said. “The Nolan Swift Drive dedication is certainly near and dear to my heart. Everyone with Oswego Speedway is proud to help host this dedication ceremony in honor of a true Oswego Speedway legend.”