The Oswego Speedway opened its gates for the first time in 2018 last Saturday night with a trio of Memorial Day Weekend feature events in honor of fallen racers, Jim Shampine and Tony White.
Just as a bride commands the attention at a wedding, so does opening night at the Steel Palace to supermodified fans. In fact, the 68th season-opener offered up “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed and Something Blue.”
“Something Old” – It’s been said many times that winning a championship is easier than successfully defending one. Both of Oswego’s 2017 title holders kicked off their defenses with feature wins, laying down the gauntlet to their respective division challengers.
Defending Novelis supermodified track champ, Dave Shullick, Jr. raced to victory in the first of two, 50-lap Jim Shampine Memorial main events. Starting from the outside of the third row, Shullick would vault into the third position on the first lap. Two rounds later, he‘d slip under Otto Sitterly’s No. 7 before using a sling-shot move off of the fourth turn to take the early lead away from Dave Danzer on the sixth lap. Shullick would never be challenged going forward.
2017 Pathfinder Bank small block supermodified champ, David Cliff, raced the Tim Barbeau-owned No. 50 to the checkered flag in the Tony White Memorial 35. Cliff would originally start back in the fourth row, but after an opening lap accident between a trio of cars in front of him, he would find himself starting in fifth. By the second lap, Cliff had his FFB chassis in second place.
Just a few trips later, the three-time track champion would maneuver his way around Jack Patrick’s No. 9 to take the top spot. By the 15th lap, Cliff commanded a 20-car length lead. He would survive a few restarts and see no serious threat to his lead the rest of the way.
“Something New” – In the second Novelis supermodified main, Rowley, Massachusetts ISMA invader, Chris Perley earned career-win No. 1 in a non-winged supermodified. Perley would inherit the lead on the eighth lap after early front man, Joe Gosek, lost a wheel while racing through the fourth turn.
Perley would lead the rest of the way, but not with out serious late-race challenges from Keith Shampine and a surging Sitterly. It may seem strange for a 73-time ISMA feature winner’s victory to be described as a surprise, but even the pilot of the Vic Miller-owened No. 11 was a bit taken.
“I’m overwhelmed to win without a wing, Perley said in victory lane. “I just can’t believe it. “I never dreamt that I would win this quick in this car. I seriously was hoping for a top-five in one of the races, that’s it … I would’ve been happy. Shampine showed me a wheel underneath … I can’t believe he didn’t get me back. I just tried to not spin out, not do anything stupid and ran my ass off.”
New England ISMA invader, Dan Bowes was a pleasant surprise addition to the Novelis supermodified field. Bowes finished fourth in points with ISMA in 2017 and will be a regular again on the tour in 2018. While prepping the car for the upcoming ISMA season, he says the team was just tossing the idea around of going topless at Oswego sometime. They built a body during the snow-covered months and waited for an opportunity to fit a trip to the Port City in their schedule.
Having already found success in DIRT sportsman and kart racing, 16-year old Tyler Thompson made his debut in the Novelis supermodified division. Driving one of the former Ray Graham, Jr.-owned cars – now owned by Tyler’s father, Jason Simmons, Thompson found himself posting sub-17 second laps in the No. 98, finishing 18th and 11th in the two, 50-lappers.
Fresh faces are always welcome in the big block division, especially talented ones. Thompson will be competing for Novelis Rookie of the Year honors with two-time Kartway Classic champion, 19-year old Nathan Schultzkie.
“Something Borrowed” – Schultzkie’s No. 26 Novelis supermodified would find the third-turn wall prior to the heat race action on Saturday. The team was left with a crushed rear wing after the accident, but the Danzer Racing team stepped in and helped mount a spare wing of their own for the team to borrow for the evening.
Schultzkie would later “Tweet” – “Thanks so much for all the help last night especially from the Dave Danzer crew. We learned allot, as well confirmed the Supermodified family is incredible!”
Seven-time Novelis supermodified track champion, Sitterly tested his Nicotra-owned No. 7 for countless laps the night before the season-opener. However, when it came time to go racing, Sitterly hopped aboard the car prepped for Joey Moriarity.
Seeking his first win since September of 2015, Sitterly insisted it’s still business as usual when he hops in behind the wheel. Two top-five finishes on Saturday night has him tied with Michael Barnes for second in the points chase.
“Something Blue” – It would be easy to go with Shullick and the Nicotra-owned, feature-winning blue No. 2, but not everyone’s opening night went as expected. In fact, there were quite a few teams feeling blue by the end of the evening.
Small block supermodified pilot, James Babcock had his No. 15 suddenly snap around as he raced out of the fourth turn in the SBS feature. The car clocked the inside hub rail flush with its right side – front and back wheels hitting the same time. A little shaken after the impact, Babcock is on the upswing and is hoping his car will be ready to hit the track on June 9.
“I’m 90% better than I was the day after the wreck,” Babcock said. “I was really sore and have bruises on my right side. I really felt I had the best car I’ve ever had there. It handled great and our times were pretty good too.”
Babcock says that if Oswego were running this weekend, he‘d have “zero” chance of racing. It will need the full two weeks to be race-ready.
“The car has quite a bit of damage on the right side,” he said. “It’s already stripped down. The frame’s bent a little bit too.”
Dalton Doyle is another driver who was feeling pretty blue by night’s end. Doyle says that after making gains on the car all day, they were really looking forward to the feature. With an inside starting spot in the second row, things were looking even better. However, his luck took a turn for the worse as soon as the green flag fell.
“The No. 22 left the inside open for me,” Doyle said. “As I was making my way by, I understand he ran up the track and got into the No. 00 … which must have been the cause of the wreck. He ended up running us both down into the hub rail which didn’t treat the car so well.”
Doyle’s another driver who will be making use of the week off.
“It tore the frame up in a few spots and cleared the left-front suspension off the car, as well as a lot of the body. It was a pretty good shot. However, I feel fine and have made a lot of progress getting the car ready for next weekend. It was a tough pill to swallow.”
Even before the evening’s events began, Joe Gosek was behind the eight-ball. The last to arrive, the team quickly discovered a broken caliper after rolling their No. 00 out of the trailer. As quickly as it rolled off, it was rolled up onto a flatbed and taken back to the garage for some welding work.
Having already missed practice, the No. 00 made it back in time for Gosek’s heat. He’d finish fifth in his qualifier and managed a seventh-place run in the first feature. Things were looking up as Gosek would find himself starting on the front row for the second feature.
He would put his No. 00 atop the field at the drop of the green. However, on the eighth lap, the right-rear wheel suddenly broke away after losing its hub, leaving his super to spin-out heading out of turn No. 4.
Dave McKnight, Jeff Abold, Dan Kapuscinski, Mike Bruce and Mike Bond were some of the others singing the blues on Saturday and will be looking for a change of tune the next time they hit the track.
Concord, North Carolina’s Keith Shampine can tie all of this together. In fact, he and Kelly tied the knot in April. Last year’s winner of the Shampine Memorial race (his first feature win), Shampine comes into the this season primed to contend. Pocketing a second feature win, earning a third-place finish in last season’s final points standings and planting the Chris Osetek-owned (and built) No. 55 on the pole for the International Classic, expectations are quite high for 2018.
Having earned two podium finishes on opening night, Keith Shampine has put the family name atop Oswego Speedway’s supermodified points standings for the first time since his uncle Jimmy’s track championship season in 1979.