Passion-Driven Payne Victorious at Oswego

By – Chris Porter
Photos – Jim Feeney

Two weeks ago, Fair Lawn, N.J.’s Joey Payne all but called it quits at the Oswego Speedway following a racing accident between he and Randy Ritskes in the midst of a battle for the lead in the supermodified feature. Emotions erupted between the two competitors. However, more than anything else, the accident was more of an added frustration to personal issues Payne had been dealing with off the track. His father’s illness and Payne’s weekly travel time on the road between the Garden State and the Port City had been taking an emotional toll on the pilot of the Strong Racing No. 99.

Joey Payne and Strong Racing pose after winning Saturday night's supermodified feature at Oswego

Payne returned to Oswego’s lakeside oval on Saturday night, backed by the support of close friends and of race fans he both knew, and knew nothing about. Starting from the outside of the front row, Payne led every round of the 50-lap supermodified feature event en route to capturing his first checkered flag of the year. It was just the right prescription needed for his nearly 300-mile trip back home in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

“My dad’s been sick and that’s why I’ve been kind of down racing around here,” Payne said. “He’s been in the hospital for eight weeks and just came out, but he’s got a long road ahead of him. To get a good run, finally, and to win a race, that’s for him. I wasn’t coming this week, that’s no lie. If I can’t have somebody to drive with me anymore, I’m not coming up. My buddy Ritchie called me on Wednesday and said that he had this weekend off and he wanted to come to Oswego. My other buddy, Johnny Smith – I used to race with him – he drove us up. And here we are. We’re in victory lane . It feels good to be back here.”

Listen to more fromJoey Payne

Having taken second place away from rookie, David Danzer on the 41st lap, Ritskes set his course for the race leader. With nine laps remaining, Ritskes and his Daratt Farms-owned No. 88 trailed Payne by a full straightaway. However, with each passing lap, Ritskes grew closer and closer to a rematch for the coveted position the two had just battled for a few weeks ago.

Payne looked to have had the upper hand, as time appeared to not have been on his challenger’s side. However, on the final lap, his No. 99 came upon lapped traffic. Ritskes quickly closed in as the two raced through the fourth turn and towards the checkered flag, Payne made the decision to dart to the inside of Ritskes’ teammate, Andy Noto.  The move closed the door to any potential room the No. 88 would need to mount a pass on him for the lead, securing his path to the line.

In victory lane, the two shook hands, putting racing back ahead of their incident two weeks ago.

“I had a shot at him, but it wouldn’t have come out pretty,” Ritskes said. “We would’ve been bouncing off each other. It wouldn’t have been nice. He ran a good race. He deserved the spot. He got the spot. If we had a few more laps, it would’ve been a different story. I think we would’ve at least been able to put a challenge up. I just caught him there on turn four, so I didn’t get to try anything. Hey, once we got through traffic … we’d used a lot of car up. We didn’t have a lot of car left.”

Listen to more fromRandy Ritskes

Dan Connors, Jr. and Payne led the field to the green to start the feature event. Payne was quick to jump to the point, leading Connors into turn No. 1. Danzer, Stephen Gioia, III and Tim Snyder chased the lead duo across the line to complete their first trip around.

As Payne began to move away, Gioia was soon shuffled out of the top five – Snyder taking over fourth on the sixth lap, Iowa’s Ray Graham, Jr. breaking into the top five the next time by.

One of only two caution flags of the race occurred on the eighth lap after the last feature race winner – Bob Bond – spun his No. 25 into the outside foam. Bond’s spin was a reaction to a late, dive-bombing, but contact-free pass that Otto Sitterly had made on him as the two raced into the first turn.

The field reset and with seven laps in the books, Payne led Connors, Danzer, Snyder and Graham. Gioia, Ritskes, Joe Gosek, Shawn Muldoon and Dave Gruel rounded out the top 10. Sitterly, Dave McKnight, Jr., Pat Lavery, Craig Rayvals and Jerry Curran filled out the top 15.

As Payne pulled away on the restart, Graham moved under Snyder as Snyder was challenging Danzer. However, Snyder fought back on the outside, reclaiming the fourth position from Graham.

Up front, Payne began to approach lapped traffic 15 trips into the race. Connors trailed the race leader by five lengths as they both entered the would-be crazy maze that ended up making or breaking the race for many of the drivers.

After navigating his way through the first group, Payne’s lead had tripled. Payne hit heavier traffic on lap No. 25, but continued to slice and dice his way through the rear of the field as if being pulled through the course by a string.

However, the same could not be said for Connors. Losing sight of the race leader, Connors soon fell into the grasp of rookie hot-shoe, Danzer. In the heart of three-wide traffic, Danzer and Snyder bested Connors for second and third. Fighting to not lose momentum, Connors looped his No. 01 between turns three and four, collecting Michael Barnes, driving the Strong Racing No. 98.

Losing nearly a half lap lead, Payne led the field back to racing with 15 laps to go. Danzer, Snyder, Ritskes and Sitterly held the top five. Graham, Gruel, Gosek, McKnight and Lavery completed the top 10.

Gruel and Graham pinned Sitterly on the restart, moving into fifth and sixth. However, having already suffered front-end damage from earlier racing contact, Graham’s No. 90 finally succumbed to his cars’ increasing handling issues and pulled pit-side.

Payne held a 12-car advantage over Danzer, who found himself fending off challenges from Snyder and Ritskes for second. That challenge was lost on the 41st lap as Ristkes slipped past both Snyder’s No. 0 and Danzer’s No. 52. Just behind them, Sitterly busted back into the top five, taking back fifth from Gruel.

Pulling away from Snyder, Ritskes set sail for Payne. However, time was running out. Ritskes would cut into Payne’s lead with every lap recorded, but the race was Payne’s to bring back to Fair Lawn. He took the checkered flag, becoming the sixth different driver in as many races to claim victory in Oswego’s supermodified division this season.

Finishing behind Ritskes, Snyder was able to rebound from a nasty crash two weeks ago to claim third.

Listen toTim Snyder

Sitterly was able to pick off the rookie in the closing laps, earning the Canajorharie, N.Y. native a fourth-place finish.

Listen toOtto Sitterly

For the second time in as many races, a rookie driver touted a fifth-place feature finish. Having earned his first heat race win of his young career earlier in the evening, he later pocketed his first top-five run.

Listen toDavid Danzer

Gosek, Gruel, Lavery, Bobby Haynes, Jr. and Curren finished in positions six through 10.

Feature Finish:
1. Joey Payne (99), 2. Randy Ritskes (88), 3. Tim Snyder (0), 4. Otto Sitterly (7), 5. David Danzer (52), 6. Joe Gosek (00), 7. Dave Gruel (50), 8. Pat Lavery (22), 9. Bobby Haynes, Jr. (44), 10. Jerry Curran (24), 11. Dave McKnight, Jr. (08), 12. Dan Connors, Jr. (01), 13. Michael Muldoon, Jr. (50), 14. Andy Noto (48), 15. Steve Abt (85), 16. Hal LaTulip (56), 17. Kody Graham (21), 18. Ray Graham, Jr. (90), 19. Michael Barnes (98), 20. Stephen Gioia, III (9), 21. Shaun Gosselin (26), 22. Craig Rayvals (94), 23. Keith Gilliam (87), 24. Shawn Muldoon (1), 25. Bobby Bond (25)  *DNS: Guard Nearbin (78), Brian Sobus (79), & Bob Bogwicz (09)

*12-lap heat race wins went to Payne, Snyder and Danzer. Kody Graham pocketed the 10-lap consolation race.

*Sobus qualified for the feature in his heat race, but was involved in a post-race accident between turns one and two with Gioia, suffering a broken axel.

*Bogwicz crashed his No. 09 into the fourth turn wall at the drop of the green in his heat race, after fellow fifth-row starter Abt got loose aside him.

*Guard Nearbin was involved in an accident in the consi, catching a wheel from the spun Abt No. 85.

*Unofficially, championship points leader McKnight continues to lead over new second-place point man, Gosek. Gruel, Ritskes and Sitterly round out the top five.