SHAMPINE: Caruso’s ‘Crazy Idea’ Has Become Supermodified Gem
Oswego (N.Y.) Speedway’s Mr. Supermodified race, which kicks off this Saturday at the fast five-eighths-mile oval, marks the second-most prestigious race of the non-winged supermodified season and the beginning of the run to the richest super race the season, Oswego’s International Classic 200 on Labor Day weekend.
The Mr. Supermodified race began in 1987 as the brainchild of then track co-owner, George Caruso, Jr. The winner’s share of the purse was a cool $10,000, an approximate 80-percent increase from the amount to win a regular weekly Oswego feature.
To make things more interesting, the rest of the purse remained the same as a regular feature, meaning the difference between winning and finishing second was about $8,500. The concept is exactly the same today, and Caruso admits speedway officials had their doubts before the first Mr. Supermodified race pushed off before a huge crowd at the lakeside oval.
“I never saw a good idea I didn’t want to steal,” Caruso, who is now retired, said with a laugh. “Lebanon (N.Y.) Valley Speedway and Howie Commander, who I think was one of the best promoters of all time, was running this Mr. Dirt race that paid $10,000 to the winner and regular money to second on back. It was a huge success there and I wanted to try it.
“Everyone thought it was a crazy idea and would never work. People kept telling me we’d pile all the cars up and it would be a disaster. We were all nervous, especially me, but the first race was outstanding and it’s been a terrific annual event since.”
Ohio’s Gene Lee Gibson won the first $10,000 prize after Bentley Warren and Doug Heveron crashed while racing side-by-side for the lead after a lapped car blew its engine and put down oil on the track. Gibson’s win came in a new Graves Racing house car built by the Graves family, which includes Fred, Ron and Andy, each of whom have gone on to a successful career in NASCAR.
Graves chassis were the story in the late 1980s and early ’90s and they still run competitive in the winged and non-winged supermodified ranks today. But recently Hawk Jr. Chassis, built by Oswego resident Joe Hawksby, Jr., have dominated the Mr. Supermodified race.
Greg Furlong won nearly every race in 2005 at Oswego in a new Hawk chassis, an accomplishment that included the Mr. Supermodified race. Two-time defending track champion Otto Sitterly wheeled his Hawk to the $10,000 victory in 2006, while Furlong won again in ’07. Bob Magner has triumphed in the last two Mr. Supermodified affairs in a Double Deuce Racing Hawk.
Sitterly is the favorite heading into the 24th annual Mr. Supermodifed 50-lapper. He won the first four features of the season and he’s looked average on only one night this year, when Ray Graham, Jr. and Jeff Holbrook prevailed in a July 3 doubleheader.
Sitterly has had his choice of John Nicotra’s Hawk Jr. and Xtreme Chassis mounts in 2010, and the Canajoharie, N.Y., driver continues to run with the proven Hawk car and saves the Xtreme for Davey Hamilton when he comes to town.
But Sitterly will be looking at another mid-pack starting spot in this weekend’s feature, something that aided rookie Dave Gruel to the win July 17 as Sitterly finished second and clearly ran out of laps in the regular 45.
Top Oswego runners, including Joe Gosek, Joey Payne, Dave McKnight, Pat Lavery, Keith Shampine, Graham and Holbrook, all have legitimate shots at the big payday. Each has been fast week in and week out at The Big O, but only Sitterly has proven he can pass his way to the front when not starting there.