OSWEGO, NY – A night that began cold and damp, ended hot and heavy this past Saturday at Oswego Speedway.
With bone-chilling temperatures in the air and a threat of rain for most of the day, Oswego Speedway held out and produced a night that many will remember for some time to come as a part of the Mitchell’s Speedway Press/CJ Ferlito Aggregates 52nd annual Novelis Supermodified ‘Kick-Off.’
After starting out somewhat calm and conservative, Saturday night’s 75-lap Novelis Supermodified season opening main event quickly escalated into a four-car battle for supremacy around the 60-lap mark.
Former IndyCar veteran Davey Hamilton held the point as the race wound down after taking the lead from early race leader Brandon Bellinger at lap 15, pacing a three car line of chasers including Dave Gruel, Michael Barnes, and Otto Sitterly.
Sitterly, who started the event back in the ninth position, was relatively quiet for the majority of the race. After the halfway point however, the No. 7 machine came alive and the defending Speedway champion began to make quick work of his competition on the way to the front of the field.
At lap 63 Sitterly dove to the inside of third place running Barnes into the first turn to move into a podium position, setting his eyes next on the back bumper of the Gruel No. 50. From there, an already eventful evening ramped up even further.
In just a few laps Sitterly had set-up Gruel for another low side attempt into turn one, and on lap 66 committed to the low side of Gruel just passed the start finish line. The two drivers touched in the first corner with Gruel spinning off to a stop between the first and second corners.
The Sitterly No. 7 continued on.
Both Sitterly and Gruel would be called to restart at the tail of the field.
The following few caution laps would prove dramatic, with both Gruel and Sitterly jockeying around each other, and ultimately seeing Gruel make contact with Sitterly’s left front wheel.
If that weren’t enough Sitterly would then pull his car to a halt on the front straight, exit the machine, and walk back to his pit area dropping himself out of the event.
Saturday night was not the first occasion of a driver displaying his emotions on the Speedway’s historic main straight away.
One instance saw Nolan Swift park his racing machine on the front stretch, only to have the car towed back into the pit area.
Hamilton, Sitterly’s teammate, would go on to the night’s big win over Barnes and Dave Danzer.
Sitterly would end with a DNF 12th place finish, while Gruel crossed the line 10th.
At race’s end Gruel was available for comment, and was not at all pleased with Sitterly’s attempt.
“I didn’t see anything until we actually made contact,” Gruel said. “It was that bonzai deal, he’s done it to a lot of cars, and he’s done it to me a couple times and wrecked me a couple times doing it. I have given him all the chances in the world and I just want him to race clean with me. I didn’t see him until we made contact and that says to me that he wasn’t far enough in there.”
Saturday’s incident was not the first time Gruel and Sitterly have come together during hard racing. In June of last year the two touched in Oswego’s third corner sending Sitterly directly into the third turn wall, ending his night.
During the 2012 Fall Championship the two drivers again brushed wheels in nearly the same fashion as this past Saturday night, with Sitterly pulling in low on Gruel into the first corner. Each car washed up and out of the racing groove, but continued on with no incident.
When asked about their previous altercations, Gruel was very matter of fact.
“Yeah (we’ve talked) and the funny thing is that it is always my fault,” Gruel said on Saturday night. “If it’s a racing deal that is one thing, but when somebody blatantly drives into the side of you and then blames it on you, I just don’t understand it.”
After reaching out to Sitterly on Monday, the defending Novelis Supermodified ‘Kick-Off’ winner had no direct comment on Saturday’s incident.
However, Sitterly has previously addressed his mindset in similar situations when asked about his aggressive driving style during his April interview for Oswego Speedway’s Shop Talk.
“When somebody just slips a little out of four and you know you’ve got the pedal down and you beat them into that first turn and hit you hit your spot first, he’s got to back off,” said Sitterly. “If not, then there’s probably going to be contact. Even if you slide out of your line a little bit, you have made your move and beat them to the mark where everybody knows. If he doesn’t back off, or you slide out of your line a little bit, it is unfortunate. The cars are so very close.”
While Saturday night’s incident will be chalked up in most people’s eyes as the product of good hard racing, video of the incident will be available on Inside Oswego Speedway at the Speedway website for fans to formulate their own opinion on Tuesday.
One thing is certain however, the competition level at Oswego Speedway continues to climb, with every inch of racing real estate becoming more valuable and hard side by side racing becoming common place.
The next chance for fans to see the wheel to wheel action produced at the ‘Steel Palace’ will be May 25 with the running of the Helena Chemical Company Memorial Weekend “Triple-Header.”
The Race of Champions Modifieds will join the Pathfinder Bank SBS Series and the Novelis Supermodified division for 185-laps of main event action featuring the Jim Shampine Memorial 75, the Richie Evans Memorial 75, and the Tony White Memorial 35.
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