Tom Time Blog: My Five Favorite Classics Part 2 — It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over

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OSWEGO, N.Y. — Blog By Race Chaser Online Senior Editor Tom Baker — Snyder Racing photo — This is the second of a two-part blog focusing on the Budweiser International Classic 200 at the Oswego Speedway, which will be run this Sunday.

I’ve been to almost every Classic since 1974, with the exception of a few of the post-2000 races that I had to watch live on the Internet because I wasn’t able to be in town to see them in person.  That means this is my 40th Classic race!

This race is the short-track version of the Indy 500, and for me it’s a yearly event to look forward to above all others.  Once you’ve seen one in person, you want to keep coming back.

There is a prevalent theme woven throughout each of these races I’ve chosen.  Late-race drama.  I’m a huge fan of the unexpected, and of the “fairy tale ending”.  It’s always fun when someone wins that was not favored, or when two or more cars battle it out to the flag.

I tend to remember these types of races more, and the Classic has proven over and over to be a race of endurance, strategy and being in the right place at the right time.

I am presenting my five favorite classics in chronological order by year.  It doesn’t mean the first or last one was my “favorite”, it’s just a way of helping you follow along a little easier.

I also don’t intend to say these were the “best” ones, because that is subjective.  But, for me, they were probably my most memorable.

You can read more details about all of these races, and the entire first 50 Classic races, in the book “50 Years: Oswego Speedway International Classic” by George Caruso, Jr. and Carol D. Haynes, available at the track or by contacting Speedway Press in Oswego.

I found this book to be invaluable in helping me fill in the details in some of the races, which have become lost in my aging brain!

Grab a beverage, sit down and let’s walk down memory lane with the last two of my five favorite classics!

1998 – Bentley, Unexpected – Right up until a week or two before this race, Bentley Warren was not necessarily expected to compete.  He didn’t have a full-time Oswego ride that year, and nobody knew for sure if one of the most popular drivers in track history would be in the lineup.

Enter Jeff West.  West, a local racer who I actually attended High School with and who had put Bentley in his backup car a time or two in the past when Bentley’s ride of the day broke down, called Bentley and offered that same No. 1 car for the big dance.   At first, the legend demurred.  Then, after calling a few others to verify that the car was indeed competitive,  he decided to go for it and accepted the offer.

In he comes from Maine, on his Harley, with the most ghastly set of fake teeth you’ve ever seen.  Ever the clown, Bentley became “Lemony Snickets” and had a field day joking it up with friends and competitors.  He qualified 14th in a race filled with stars including Indy 500 veteran (and now IndyCar team owner) Davey Hamilton.

Bentley took it easy early in the race, in his usual car-conservation mode.  He had already won the race five times, and he he understood that saving something for the end is key.  One by one, his competition fell away.  Doug Didero, Tim Gareau, Mike Ordway, Jeff West and others all experienced either damage or mechanical issues, forcing them to pit and elevating Bentley’s position on the lapboard a little at a time.

“It ain’t over til it’s over”.

With 40 laps left in the race, Bentley trailed leader Mike Muldoon and second place Randy Ritskes.  I remember thinking around that time in the race that Bentley was getting faster when others were getting slower.

Muldoon’s rear end let go on lap 175, giving the lead to Ritskes in the Ed Shea owned Super.  Shea had never won a classic, so this would be a nice ending to an exciting race if Randy could hold off the veteran Bentley.

Suddenly, The No. 37 of Ristkes began to run out of fuel.  Inside of 20 laps to go, Bentley pounced, driving right around him to take over the lead!  But he was about to have a power trio of racers at his back bumper.

First it was one of Ohio’s all-time best, Dave Shullick.  Shullick looked inside and outside, but couldn’t find enough power to go around the top.  Bentley was giving no quarter down low.  Davey Hamilton had come back through the field after pitting for tires and took over second.

Davey would say later that he didn’t know it was Bentley in front of him.  He thought it may be a lapped car.  He was about to do something drastic – this was Classic after all – but he didn’t.  Doug Didero was right on his tail, challenging for second, so that kept Davey at bay.

Coming to the checkered flag, the crowd went ballistic as Bentley Warren sped across to win his sixth classic.  The win tied him for the most Classic wins with retired veteran Nolan Swift, who promptly told the throng of media after the race that he was going to the gym to get in shape for a comeback.  It was a poignant moment for both Bentley and Swift, who together had now accounted for nearly 1/4 of the total Classic wins.

It was the type of “Hollywood ending” that we all like to see from the Classic race.  The unexpected.  Like Nolan Swift rebounding from two laps to win in 1972.  Or Bobby Bond winning his first classic race a few years ago when so many others ran out of fuel.

Late race drama makes this race memorable.  1998’s ending was surely dramatic, and popular.

It was also Bentley’s last non-winged Oswego Speedway Supermodified victory, at least to-date.  He’s now 73, and just came out of retirement several weeks ago to run an ISMA Supermodified race in Maine.  Stay tuned!

2001 – Tim Snyder’s First Oswego Feature Win…the Classic! –  Steve Gioia was the first ever “local” driver to win the International Classic.  That happened in 1976.  Tim Snyder, though his work now took him out of state, was still a native Oswegonian and a racer who grew up watching drivers like Gioia (who drove his last Classic for Snyder’s team back in 1998 when Tim couldn’t make it back for the race) make the “fast 5/8-of a mile” oval the only place to be on Saturday nights.

This was his third classic race as a driver.  The past two seasons, he’d been involved in accidents on lap 17.  His first goal this year – make it to lap 18.

Once that was accomplished, he settled in and concentrated on watching veteran drivers around him and just learning how they were getting through the grueling race.

By the halfway mark, Mike Ordway and Joe Gosek ran first and second, with Snyder in third.  Ordway, in the famous Clyde Booth No. 61 (the car that started the “aero-super” revolution in the later 90’s), was still searching for his first Classic win, and Gosek wanted another ring to add to his finger.

Just like in 1998, the Classic proved to be a race that is not always won by the fastest car.  It’s a combination of luck, skill and mechanical perfection.

“It ain’t over til it’s over”.

Luck was no lady to Ordway that year.  He ran out of fuel.  She wasn’t much nicer to Gosek.  The motor in his Muldoon No. 35 went sour.  Snyder found himself in the lead with just nine laps left!

Also like Bentley’s last win, Snyder had no easy time of it.  Greg Furlong was on his trail, looking to win his third straight classic.  Furlong passed Snyder in traffic on lap 194.  But Snyder was not going to be denied!

On lap 198, Furlong went to the outside to pass some slower cars and got loose, allowing Snyder back underneath.  Furlong tried bringing the car back to the bottom but Snyder was there and they touched wheels.  Furlong had given it all he had but it was not enough.

Tim Snyder finally got his first Oswego Speedway feature win, and it was in the granddaddy of them all…the International Classic!

Will this year’s Classic have the late race, inside-the-last-twenty-laps-drama that these races have had?  That remains to be seen.  One thing’s for sure, though.  There will be thousands of people in the grandstand, in the pits and in the VIP boxes who will be watching intently, waiting to see who will be wearing the wreath, the ring and the other spoils of victory in the “Indy 500” of Supermodified racing.

It ain’t over til it’s over.

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