OSWEGO, N.Y. – Story and Photo By Race Chaser Online Senior Editor Tom Baker –
This article kicks off Race Chaser Online’s Special Collection of Classic Countdown Stories leading up to the 2015 Budweiser International Classic Weekend at Oswego Speedway September 4-6. We hope you enjoy this look back at the track’s 65th Anniversary celebration, which took place two weekends ago on Saturday, August 8th, and get as excited as we are to have Senior Editor Tom Baker and Northeast writers Kyle Magda and Steve Ovens all on top of Classic Coverage this year at “The Big O”.
Baker talks about the special Anniversary celebration from his perspective in this “Classic Countdown” kickoff.
For about twelve hours on Saturday, August 8th, the intersection of past and present at the famed Oswego Speedway was a magical place to be. The “Home of the Supermodifieds” celebrated its 65th Anniversary in grand style, with a $5.00 admission price and the return of some of the brave men who raced there over the past six decades to liven the party.
As a kid who grew up in Central New York’s “Port City” in the 1970’s and took in my first Supermodified race at the track at age 5 in 1973, I watched wide-eyed every Saturday night as men with last names like Swift, Shampine, Bellinger, Mackereth and Gioia battled fiercely in exotic cars that had started many down the path toward Indianapolis.
Today, second and third generation racers are not unusual at the Speedway, and many employees have been around there for many or all of the six decades of racing. Even track owners John and Eric Torrese have both raced there, as had their father, John Torrese Sr., now affectionately known as “Pops”.
On Saturday morning, a group of dedicated long-time race fans, headed up by Jim Liccardi and Jim Ferlito, once again organized a reunion of some of the track’s early heroes, with the total passion and cooperation of Bob Hoefer and his staff at Lighthouse Lanes, a bowling alley on Speedway grounds.
Hoefer, himself a long-time race fan, owns a Supermodified that currently races at the track with Pat Lavery at the wheel. I had the humbling pleasure of emceeing this event, basically a “meet and greet” that featured former speedway champions Todd Gibson and Bentley Warren (two drivers who walked that path to Indy) as well as storied names such as “Stormin Norman” Mackereth, Mike Rizzo, Jim Thompson, Jamie Moore, Steve Gioia, Jr., Fred Gormly, Darrell Peckham and many others.
Several cars which had competed in the past and had been restored, were on hand as well, including an early Nolan Swift “10-pins” Modified (pictured here) and Jim Shampine’s legendary radical offset 8-Ball Supermodified that revolutionized the division in in the late 1970’s.
For those fans of my era, it was a relaxing and enjoyable way to just sit down with our childhood heroes and flash back to the “salad days” of the track long known as “The Indy Of The East”.
Later in the afternoon, the focus moved up to the top of the hill and the “fast 5/8 of a mile” where the largest crowd the “Steel Palace” had seen in years gathered for a night of action that saw the return of “Semi-Final” races for the Supers and a 45-lap feature, just like the good old days and a full night of action for the competitive Small Block Supermodified class as well.
The cars are different now, more like IndyCars than ever, with their aerodynamically designed nose wings and tail sections, but some of the names are the same.
Stephen Gioia III now drives the infamous “Gioia 9” and colored part of his tail section red to celebrate another anniversary that occurred on Saturday, the 40th anniversary of his father (Steve Jr.) getting his first win at the track.
Eddie Bellinger, Sr. was a winner at the track in the early days of Modified coupes and coaches. His son, Eddie Jr., was and still is one of the track’s most beloved champions of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.
Now it’s Brandon Bellinger, son of Eddie, Jr. who drives the “yellow 02” and who nearly pulled off his first feature win ever until leader Michael Muldoon (son of former speedway champion Mike Muldoon and grandson of popular racer Jim Muldoon) and he apparently brushed together off turn four in traffic, causing Brandon to slow and drop back.
It wasn’t the first time a Muldoon and Bellinger had “become involved” fighting for a win. Their two fathers, Mike and Eddie, got together running for a Classic win in 1997 and Indy Car star Davey Hamilton, running a Muldoon team car, ended up winning that race.
Oh, and the icing on the cake…Mike Muldoon bought his first super in late 1982 from…wait for it…Eddie Bellinger, Jr.
But I digress.
Michael Muldoon went on to win his second feature of the year (his first was a “dead heat” with current Speedway top shoe Otto Sitterly), beating out young rising star Brian Sobus and 58-year-old Joe Gosek, who worked on the Gioia crew as a youngster and got his start driving the team’s backup car in 1980.
Mike Bond destroyed the field in the Small Block Supermodified (SBS) feature, beating defending SBS track champ Andrew Schartner by over 2 seconds. Andrew was a half-straightaway better than the rest of the field, but Bond was over a straightaway better than all of them on this special night.
It was a night that was bigger than the racing itself. It was a night to remember when. It was a night to honor some of the most prolific short-track competitors in history. It was a night to be amazed at some of the new faces (including those with “old” names) and be excited and hopeful about the future, including the 200-lap Classic to come on September 6th.
It was a night to show off one of the most famous short-tracks in the nation to thousands of new fans and give them the unmatchable taste of a Hoffman Hot Dog, the scent of methanol filling the warm summer air and the sight of the fastest, most exotic short-track cars on the planet doing battle at speeds under 17 seconds on a 5/8-mile track (over 140 mph average).
Despite two hiccups (one for a lighting issue and one when the track’s 2-seater Supermodified, giving a lucky fan the thrill of a lifetime running behind the field in pre-race warmup laps, developed a gear-oil leak causing the track to have to lay down speedy dry to clean it up), the racing was done by 11pm.
Some lucky fan walked off with a 50/50 prize of over $3000 dollars (second prize was a $1000 gold diamond Supermodified necklace courtesy of a local Jewler), and the celebration moved to the pits and the track’s new 16×9 big screen installed over the tech barn where “watching racing” once again became the focus as some of us “die hards” hung on into early Sunday morning, looking back, looking forward, not wanting the glorious day to end.
Note: This past weekend, Brandon Bellinger got redemption by holding off Otto Sitterly to finally get that first ever Supermodified victory, adding even more excitement to the month of August as the infamous “Bellinger 02” returned to victory lane for the first time in quite a while.
Michael Muldoon “winnerview” –
Second Place Brian Sobus –
Third Place Joe Gosek –