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Sitterly Leads a 1-2 Finish for Nicotra Racing in Classic 200

By – Chris Porter
Photos – Jim Feeney

Growing up, every young (and young at heart) racecar driver dreams of someday making “the pass.” The scenario of coming from behind on the final lap of the biggest race, in front of a roaring crowd and claiming victory has played out in the minds of every driver at every level of racing.

On Sunday afternoon at the Oswego Speedway, a 43-year old Canajoharie, N.Y. supermodified pilot named Otto Sitterly, played out “the pass” on the track, seizing his second Budweiser International Classic 200 with an outside venture on Classic teammate Mike Lichty.

Car Owner, John Nicotra & Classic winner, Otto Sitterly share victory at Oswego

The fact that Lichty was driving a team car, negated the probability of Sitterly making a bonsai-type move that would put both of the John Nicotra-owned cars in danger. However, he wasn’t about to let the teammate factor determine the outcome.

“It wasn’t something that I’d planned for laps,” Sitterly said of his last-lap pass. “I kept trying to do the crossover, roll high into three … But, Lou Cicconi told Mike to keep the car low. I saw him tapping the rail. Mike may have kept it just a little too low for what he needed to do.”

Sitterly says he decided to give it a go on the outside rather than try another sling-shot move down low.

“That last lap, I was against the wall where the line is. When I went to roll the outside of him, I didn’t know if I was going to do a crossover or what. When I got up even with him, I said I’m going to bang this throttle one time here. I got next to him and that’s just what I did. I banged the throttle … The sparks would’ve flew before I would’ve not gassed it up. I wouldn’t have just let him go.”

Seeking his first Classic win, Lichty knew he could expect to see Sitterly making an outside bid on the final lap – especially seeing how he knew he’d accidentally left it open. However, the teammate factor played a role in how he handled the situation as well.

On the final lap, Lichty (6) would lead Sitterly (7) through turns one and two, but the tables would turn half a lap later when Sitterly passed him off of the fourth corner for the win.

“I was so conservative on the white flag lap,” Lichty said. “Going into one and coming out of two, I really pinched it low and drove straight into the corner and Otto got a nice, big run on the outside. Once he showed me a wheel, I picked up the throttle a little bit. I had all the wheel I could into it and I just drove right straight up to the fence. I’m like ‘You know what, I could run him right up to the third groove and there’s going to be one car in the fence and we’re going to come out with a win.’ But I’d rather see a one-two finish for John and everybody, you know.”

Lichty added that if it were his own car, he would’ve risked running it further up the track to defend his lead.

“We had the race,” he said. “If it wasn’t a team car, we would’ve won, because, the throttle would’ve been in it a lot sooner. And we would’ve been right into the side of him. And we would’ve had the groove coming out of four to win it. It’s a team car and my big thing is, I don’t wreck equipment. I get so mad when stuff goes wrong, my fault or somebody else’s fault. I get so disappointed. Hey, we’ll take it. I think we built a lot of ground with Nicotra and I’m happy to run the Classic next year for him.”

Listen toMike Lichty

The race may have been storybook-like, but as a whole, Sitterly’s season fell more along the lines of  turbulent rather than “dreamy.” He racked up more feature wins than his fellow competitors, yet endured some of the hardest hits. The luck factor that champions usually depend on to fall their way simply wasn’t there for the four-time track title holder in 2011, as Sitterly fell short in his bid to defend his 2010 points crown.

During this past season, controversy and conflict reared their ugly heads on more than one race night and the Sitterly-Nictora Racing team often found themselves in the thick of it. The unwelcome distractions tested Sitterly and his team, but they always persevered. Nicotra Racing’s response was often answered with a win.

A horrendous wreck on the final lap while dueling for the $10,000 to-win Mr. Supermodified title was answered the following night out with a feature win. Contact from behind that sent Sitterly spinning into the wall one week ago, ended a surging bid for victory and a possible successful title defense. It too, was answered with a win – a Classic win.

Sitterly knows the cars his team brings to the track are nothing less than the best he could ask for. That in itself makes winning the expected outcome. Heading into Sunday’s 200-lapper, it was the non-racing factors that made him wonder the outcome of the race.

“I know that we have good cars and I know what we’ve got to have at the end of the race,” Sitterly said. “My concern before this race was not like a setup or if our car is going to break. I didn’t have any of that as a concern. What I had a concern for was, and this is a credit to all of the guys around me, Mike Lichty, Ray Graham, Randy Ritskes, Joey Payne. It’s amazing that I’m saying those names, (laughs). Those guys were all good during the day to run with. If they’re listening or if anybody’s listening, that’s how I want to race. Let’s go out and race clean and have a good time. We can all appreciate each other afterwards. If you’ve got a faster car, you win. If you don’t, you might finish second, third, fourth, fifth or wherever it may be. It’s all nice to load them up and just race each other clean. And they all did it today.”

Listen toOtto Sitterly

With 35 laps to go in the 55th running of the International Classic 200, a four-car battle for the win had taken shape. Having been in command since passing early race leader, Randy Ritskes on lap the 130th lap, Iowa’s Ray Graham, Jr. was enjoying a comfortable lead over the Ritskes No. 88, Lichty’s No. 6 and Sitterly’s No. 7. Running third, Sitterly had tried to move around the No. 88 to keep pace with Graham, but to no avail.

“Ritskes was really difficult,” Sitterly said. “No discredit, a lot of credit to Randy. He knows how to run so that you can’t pass him that easily. While struggling with him through traffic … I was actually trying to get him by using traffic and I was on the bottom lane. Mike was able to get me on the outside, pin me behind a lapped car.”

With Graham racing unchallenged ahead, Lichty had used lapped traffic to maneuver his way around Sitterly on the 140th lap to take his turn at getting by the No. 88. Lap after lap, Ritskes held off challenges from the young International Super Modified Association (ISMA) competitor. Finally, with 34 trips to go, Lichty’s efforts paid off with an inside move on Ritskes off of turn No. 4.

Early in the go, Ritskes (88) and Payne (99) set the pace. Ritskes would lead for 130 laps before Graham took command.

Immediately, Lichty began to close the gap on Graham. Four laps later, Sitterly mirrored the Lichty move off of turn No. 4 to pass Ritskes for third. Ritskes tried to keep pace, but the lead trio would leave him behind.

Each looking for their first Classic win with 25 laps to go, Graham appeared to be fighting a loose No. 90 while Lichty’s No. 6 began to show a push between the turns. On the 180th lap, Sitterly shot back underneath Lichty, thanking him for paving the way past Ritskes 10 laps prior.

Lichty began to fall back a few lengths as a familiar battle ensued between Graham and Sitterly. They began to race away from Lichty and Ritskes, but were heading  towards heavy lapped traffic. Like so many times this past season, lapped traffic would soon play its part in the closing laps.

4-car battle for the win sees Graham (90) leading Lichty (6), with third place changing hands as Sitterly (7) slips underneath Ritskes (88).

On the 184th lap, the duo raced out of turn No. 2. With Joe Gosek’s No. 00 just ahead of them, Graham took the high line while Sitterly dipped his No. 7 under the No. 00. They raced three-wide down the backstretch, putting ninth-place running Gosek down a lap in the process. The lead twosome emerged in turn No. 3 with Sitterly coming away with the lead.

In the midst of lapped traffic, Lichty had closed back in on the race leaders. With 14 to go, Sitterly was running towards a brick wall of lapped cars. Lichty ducked underneath Graham for second and stayed low, maneuvering under Sitterly’s trapped No. 7 for the lead in turn No. 3. While Lichty was moving under Sitterly, Graham was taking a chance on the outside of the No. 7. A reaction to the lapped traffic sent Sitterly up the track just enough for the left-front of Graham’s No. 90 and right-rear of Sitterly’s No. 7 to touch. Contact sent Graham into the fourth-turn wall in hard fashion. His bid for Classic win No. 1 was over.

Graham and Sitterly prepare to take Gosek high and low in their first-place battle. After going three-wide down the back straightaway, Sitterly would be the new leader.

Listen toRay Graham, Jr.

Race officials determined Lichty to be the new race leader as he had inched ahead of Sitterly when the yellow had flown. Nine laps ticked away under caution, setting up a seven-lap shoot-out for the win.

At the drop of the green, Lichty hugged the inside lane, push and all. Sitterly kept pace, searching for a way around his team machine. The No. 6 and No. 7 cars dashed any hopes their chasers may have had of becoming a late-race spoiler.

Lichty held on for 6 ½ laps, taking away the inside lane and forcing any pass attempt to be ventured on his right side. At first, looking for a sling-shot/crossover move off of turn No. 4, Sitterly took his No. 7 to the outside between the third and fourth turns. Seeing no realistic shot on the inside, he made the decision to stick with the outer lane. Hanging it out there, his No. 7 was able to carry enough speed off of turn No. 4, making the pass at the exit of the turn. As the new leader, Sitterly raced the final 100 yards to the checkered flag.

Owner of the No. 6 and No. 7 supermodifieds, Nicotra said he wasn’t nervous about what might have happened if his two drivers had thrown a little more at each other. With his third car, driven by Chris Perley, finishing in sixth, he says he was just happy all three of his cars could be rolled on the trailer, let alone, landing in the top 10.

Listen toJohn Nicotra

Ritskes backed up a runner-up finish in the points chase with a third-place run in the Classic, leading 130 laps. Ritskes was one of only three drivers in the top 10 who earned top-10 finishes in last year’s race as well.

Listen toRandy Ritskes

One week ago, Dave Danzer racked up his first feature win, putting an exclamation point on his Rookie of the Year crown. Adding more accomplishments to one of the most successful supermodified rookie seasons ever, Danzer earned Classic Rookie of the Year honors with a fourth-place run.

Listen toDave Danzer

New Hampshire resident, Tim Snyder, ran strong all day long, bringing the “Zero Hero” team a top-five Classic run.

Listen toTim Snyder

Snyder (0) finished the day fifth, while Perley (5) would pilot the Nicotra No. 5 to a sixth-place finish.

Finishing behind Chris Perley – who drove the third Nicotra Racing team car to a sixth-place finish – Oswego rookie Bobby Haynes piloted his No. 44 to an impressive seventh-place finish.

Listen toBobby Haynes, Jr.

Finishing behind 2011 track champ Joe Gosek, Brian Sobus landed his 11-year old C & C chassis No. 79 supermodified in ninth place. It was his second top-10 finish in just two Classics.

Listen toBrian Sobus

Vickery, Ohio’s Moe Lilje rounded out the top 10.

On Friday night, Shaun Gosselin competed in his first winged supermodified race, impressing many. Saturday, he struggled in his time trial run and was forced to run Sunday’s B-Main.

Qualifying third, Gosselin earned himself the 31st starting spot on the grid. By the 66th lap, he’d advanced his No. 26  18 positions. The second-year driver would climb as high as 11th before falling out on the 184th lap.

Listen toShaun Gosselin

Having run second to Ristkes through the first half of the event, Joey Payne’s No. 99 began to slip and slide its way back through the field. Once taking advantage of a caution period to pit for fresh rubber, Payne came back out on the track and raced his way up to eighth place before losing the rear-end on his No. 99 with six laps to go.

Listen toJoey Payne

Driving in the International Classic for the first time, Johnny Benson, Jr. was finally able to compete in the even his father won in 1966. He wasn’t able to equal his father’s accomplishment, but he did much better than dad did in his maiden Classic voyage, finishing 13th to his father’s 30th-place finish in 1964.

Listen toJohnny Benson, Jr.

Friday night, Joey Scanlon scored his best Oswego finish with a third-place run in the winged supermodified portion of Classic Weekend. Deciding to take the wing off and stick around for the 200-lapper, Scanlon found himself in victory lane in the B-Main.

Listen toJoey Scanlon

2011 International Classic top three – Sitterly (1st-center), Lichty (2nd-right) & Ritskes (3rd-left)

55th Annual International Classic 200: 1. Otto Sitterly (7), 2. Mike Lichty (6), 3. Randy Ritskes (88), 4. Dave Danzer (52), 5. Tim Snyder (0), 6. Chris Perley (5), 7. Bobby Haynes, Jr. (44), 8. Joe Gosek (00), 9. Brian Sobus (79), 10. Moe Lilje (2), 11. Jerry Curran  (24), 12. Brandon Bellinger (02), 13. Johnny Benson, Jr. (74), 14. Joey Payne (99), 15. Ray Graham, Jr. (90), 16. Shaun Gosselin (26), 17. Pat Lavery (22), 18. Dave McKnight, Jr. (08), 19. Michael Muldoon, Jr, (20), 20. Bobby Bond (05-B) 21. Kelly Miller (81), 22. Stephen Gioia, III (9), 23. Mike Bond (25), 24. Gary Morton (70), 25. Craig Rayvals (94), 26. Michael Barnes (98), 27. D.J. Shullick (15), 28. Shawn Muldoon (1), 29. David Gruel (50), 30. Tim Jedrzejek (32), 31. Jeff Abold (05-A), 32. Joey Scanlon (86), 33. Hal LaTulip (56), 34. Kody Graham (21)

Bud Lite B-Main: 1. Scanlon (86), 2. Miller (81), 3. Gosselin (26), 4. Bellinger (02), 5. LaTulip (56), 6. Joe Chillemi (14), 7. Guard Nearbin (78), 8. Gruel (50), 9. Rod Sauder (33), 10. Lou LeVea (61). DNS –  11. Dan Connors, Jr. (01)