Contributed by Tony Martin
Two of the nation’s top supermodified shoes fought for the lead at the 3/8th’s mile West Virginia International Speedway in 1964 with Columbus, Ohio’s Bob Smith (Lawless #66) prevailing over Grayson, KY’s Wayne McGuire ( #41) in the Wynn’s Invitational. McGuire was the winner of this event the previous year.
Ironically, as you will see later in the story, both of these drivers thought they were winners of the famed Oswego (N.Y.) Speedway International Classic, only to be relegated backwards in the finishing order after a recheck of the scoring.
McGuire won countless races up and down the Ohio River. He traveled great distances, chasing the big purses as advertised in “National Speed Sport News” and went to victory lane in many of them. He always seemed to do well in the longer distance races and won two 400 lap shows in Memphis and the International 500 at the Louisville Fairgrounds His famous #41 was called “the finest supermodified ever built” in an “Open Wheel” magazine article. He led the last race of his career, before blowing up his 421 cu. In. Pontiac engine in the 1967 World 300 at Mobile,Al the week before suffering career-ending head injuries in practice at Ohio’s New Bremen Speedway.
“High School Kids”
Wayne felt that the 1964 Oswego Classic was his after starting on the front row with Sam Sessions and never being passed in the event. This race was delayed by six hours due to rain and heavy winds and once it got started, it was a show that saw Sessions being scored as leading the first 89 laps. Kenny Fisher was then scored as leader for the next 28 laps and finally Nolan Johncock took over in what was scored as first place.
In the last results McGuire was shown behind Johncock, Fisher, Norm Rust, Jack Nichols, Harry Jones, Todd Gibson, Ed VanderLaan and Bobby Pierce. It was something that McGuire never forgot and he later said that the scoring was done by “a group of high school students” and an error in scoring is what relegated him to ninth behind winner Nolan Johncock and the others.
Bob Smith Feels McGuire’s Pain
Bob Smith could be considered one of the legends at Oswego Speedway. He’s listed as winning 8 times and finishing in the top five 16 times during what was the formative, rough and tumble early years of this race track.
In the 1965 International Classic race, things didn’t fare better for McGuire nor Bob Smith. Ron Lux was by far the favored driver to win after having sealed the track championship that season, but from the start of the race Lux had to contend with Smith. Nolan Swift, racing in the top five hit the wall after blowing a tire as he rounded turn two. At that time Smith made a pit stop. Here’s where everything got messed up. Cars dropped out, made pit stops and the running order became a bit confusing.
Lux was one of the racer that had to pit for fuel and when he did he went down several laps. After charging back to the front and passing everyone on the track, Smith, and most of the people in the stands, felt like the driver of the Lawless Chevy was now the leader. Smith was so sure of leading that when the checkered flag fell he pulled directly into victory lane thinking he had won.
Alas, after the score sheets were checked, it was determined that Smith had lost a lap during his pit stop and two hours after he thought he had one the first International Classic to go 200 laps, was relegated to third place behind fellow Buckeye Gordon Dukes and second place finisher Jim Gresley. Ironically, McGuire, who the year before had thought he had won, finished in fourth right behind Smith at the line and recorded his only top five finish in the Classic.
Smith would come back in 1966 to win on opening day and end the season as runner-up in the points to track champion Nolan Swift and while he recorded eight career victories at Oswego, he would never again race into the top five at the International Classic. He would later lose his life in an automobile accident.
Fred Gormley, sponsor of Steve Miller’s beautiful ‘Sweet 16’ supermodified, is also the proud owner of both the McGuire #41 and Lawless #66. There is some question at to whether or not the Lawless car may be the “stagecoach” type car campaigned in earlier years to this one. Either way, Fred has two pieces of history driven by racers whose lives intertwined many times and that played an important part, not only in the Oswego Speedway International Classic 200, but more importantly, the early formative years of supermodified racing.
Tony Martin brings a wealth of Ohio and southern supermodified knowledge to the division. He has published a book about his adventures as a supermodified fan and historian entitled “Echoes of Thunder in the Hills.” It is a treasure trove of photos documenting the birth of the supermodified division as well as many other historically significant race cars. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this a future articles by Tony. Leave us a comment below and share the story with friends using the buttons below the post.