Pair of Supermodified Rookies Bring 16 Years of Small Block Experience

By/Photos – Chris Porter

For years, the talent level of the small block supermodified (SBS) division at the Oswego Speedway had been swelling, as little opportunity to move over to the other side of the pits presented itself. However, during this past off-season, the swell finally gave way. Five of the top 13 drivers in the 2010 SBS final point standings punched their tickets for big block rides.

Finishing sixth in last year’s rundown, Guard Nearbin began his maiden campaign in a supermodified last month. One of eight rookies to have earned points thus far, the nine-year SBS vet currently sits 22nd overall in the Novelis supermodified point standings, fourth in the Rookie of the Year (R.O.Y.) chase.

Guard Nearbin's one of many former small block supermodified drivers entering the big block division in 2011

Pulling off what 2010 Supermodified R.O.Y. David Gruel did – winning a feature in his rookie season – isn’t something Nearbin’s gunning for in his freshman year. He’s fulfilling a dream every time he straps himself into the seat of his sharp-looking No. 78 super. The Superbowl of supermodified racing is what’s on his radar for this season.

“One of the goals,” Nearbin says, “I guess, is to make the Classic. That would make my year. The Rookie of the Year thing, I’m not worried about that. I’m just here to have fun. I want to run a Classic, that’s all. Hopefully, I get going good enough and make the Classic and run the whole race.”

To achieve the goal and make the International Classic 200, Nearbin admits he needs more laps. A recent Friday night test session proved valuable, as has keeping his car in one piece. He’s pleased with the progress thus far, going from upper 18-second lap times to lower 18-second lap times. Hopefully, busting into the 17-second bracket is just around the corner, as will finishing races.

One might think that after racing for nine years on the same five-eighths mile oval, there wouldn’t be much to learn when campaigning the 10th. However, supermodifieds are a totally different animal to get used to.

“The car is so much different than the SBS cars and they’re so much quicker,” he said. “It’s unbelievable, the straightaways went from being 300 yards long to 100 yards long. You come out of turn two and you’re in turn three so quick. You’ve got to hit your marks. It’s unbelievable how much faster they are. I never thought they were that much … as a driver, I never thought it would feel that much different.”

It’s a learning experience for both driver and crew. Driving for nine of them, Nearbin’s also been wrenching in the speedway’s infield for three decades, initially helping out Gary Morton in his supermodified ventures. The same cannot be said about his crew. He says that he has more experience working with supermodifieds than all of them put together.

While the crew familiarizes itself with the car in the pits, Nearbin will continue to get used to its feeling out on the track.

“It’s a learning curve definitely,” he said. “It’s nothing like an SBS car … nothing at all. Every night I’ve been learning. I’m just trying to bring it home in one piece every night and learn a little more the next week and start right up where we left off. We’re getting a little faster every night out. We’re making little steps. We’re having fun. Even my wife’s been happy with me so far this year!”

Listen to more fromGuard Nearbin

Making the journey to the other side of the infield this season is fellow rookie Brian Sobus. Coming into the year, Sobus had one race up on Nearbin … the very race Nearbin yearns to make, the Classic. Not only qualifying in his first attempt to make the 200-lapper, but in his very first weekend in a supermodified,  Sobus accomplished what many supermodified drivers with years of experience had failed to do. He landed a top-10 and finished the race.

Brian Sobus takes his very first lap in a supermodified last September 3rd on Classic Weekend 2010

The bar was set high for his 2011 rookie season, as were his own expectations. However, it took the young driver five feature events to finally finish his first race of the year. Luck has not been on the side of Sobus so far. Was last year’s Classic just a fluke? Should’ve he stayed in the SBS division? Those are the kinds of questions that have haunted the pilot of the No. 79 supermodified since the start of the season.

Fifth-place feature finishes aren’t often associated with victories, but this past June 18th, taking the checkered flag four positions in back of the race winner seemed just as good to the Liverpool native.

“Yeah, it’s kind of tough to believe,” Sobus said of his early season woes. “We did decent in the Classic and I didn’t expect it to be easy, but I expected a lot more than what we’ve had so far. I’ve been really disappointed. But to finally finish a race, to finish in the top five … now I at least feel that I can do it and I don’t feel like I’m out of place.”

The seven-year SBS vet admits that doubts began to settle in.

“After the last couple of weeks and after the first feature (June 18th’s twin 30s), I’m going ‘Do I even belong out here? Am I enough of a driver to race a super? Maybe I should just step back?’ But now that we’ve finished a race and did decent, I feel like I can at least do it now. I don’t have a big head, but at least I can start moving forward now.”

Motor gremlins have been the cause of the majority of his early race exits. They can be momentum killers and they squashed any momentum Sobus was hoping to carry over from last year’s Classic run the very first week he hit the track.

It took them four weeks, but after eliminating the worse-case scenarios, Sobus and crew discovered that sometimes it’s the little things that can bring you back to down to earth and humble you. With those initial issues hopefully behind them, Sobus is looking forward to picking up where he left off in 2010. The irony of his early-season frustrations is that in snapping the bad-luck streak with a feature finish, he accomplished his primary goal for the year – landing a top-five.

Listen to more fromBrian Sobus

“Finally, we’re getting everything together and now we can start moving forward, finishing races and do better,” he said. “That was my goal all along, to finish in the top five in a race. So, now we did it and hopefully we can just keep moving forward.”

R.O.Y. contenders Michael Muldoon (20) & Kody Graham (21)

Rookie Michael Muldoon has had a rough go at times in the Muldoon Racing No. 20

Freshman class member Steve Abt in the Stowell Racing No. 85

Rookie Dave Danzer has laid down the fastest lap times of any of his fellow rookie classmen, stopping the watches with a 17.167 in his heat race a few weeks ago

Bobby Haynes, Jr. has taken off the top wing he's used in the ISMA series to run Oswego. The non-wing rookie has been a nice addition to weekly competition at Oswego in 2011

Canadian Rod Sauter purchased the former Tim Timms No. 33 for his 2011 rookie campaign at the lakeside oval