Notes from Bobby G.:
After the 1993 wreck-fest of a race that was 150 laps, the tumultuous management issues at Sandusky Speedway under Mike Calinoff, and a lackluster early season of ISMA racing that saw more caution laps than racing, there was a lot riding on the 1994 Sandusky Speedway Hy-Miler Supermodified Nationals.
When it was all said and done, the race had a story book ending with Jim Shirey winning his first and only Nationals, good racing all weekend, a well-managed event by Junior Buchanan and his crew, and even though they haven’t progressed much since, it was a step in the right direction for ISMA on the marketing and promotion front.
Prior to the running of Nationals, a group of five supermodifieds put on an exhibition at Indianapolis Raceway Park. I came home from work on a Thursday with nothing else in mind other than to drink myself into oblivion as a way to forget about my divorce proceedings. I walked through the door and promptly poured a bourbon neat and sat down to listen to the messages on the answering machine. To my surprise, my good friend and mentor Mick Schuler had called and left a frantic message advising me to call him immediately.
I had it in my mind that something worse than my issues of divorce had happened, but when I got Mick on the phone, it was anything but.
“What are you doing Bob?” asked Mick. “I’m drinking and don’t plan on stopping,” I said. “Get in your car and get to IRP, the supers are running,” replied Mick.
I paused, swirled my drink and said, “Yeah, ok, buddy, thanks, but I’m not going anywhere even if you were telling the truth.” You see it was really no secret on how my life had taken a turn and I just figured Mick was calling to prop me up like he always did. Unbeknownst to me, Mick had a line on a scoop that I didn’t. ISMA really was planning on putting on an exhibition during ESPN’s Thursday Night Thunder USAC show at IRP.
“Ok, Mick, even if what you’re saying is true, I don’t have credentials and I’m not making a three-hour run to Indy just to sit in the stands even though I can get in for half-price with my Hoosier Auto Racing Fans card, only to turn around and be at work by 6, then take off and make a run to Sandusky for Nationals,” I explained.
“Look, get in the car and get going, by the time you get there I’ll have credentials through Dick,(Beebe-publisher of MARC Times Racing News), don’t worry about it because YOU have to be there for this,” exclaimed Mick.
Long story short, I got in the car and went. I remember walking through the tunnel next to Chris Economaki and asking him what he thought of the supers, to which he replied, “They are the most exciting short track cars going and I hope that this helps them gain more recognition.”
This exhibition was the beginning of what would become the East vs West Shootout at IRP in May of 1995 and was a time that I will never forget. I have Mick Schuler to thank for pushing me to go and allowing, once again, the supermodified division to take a bad time in life and make it good.
This Wing Side Up Archive Column was written for the August 2, 1994 MARC Times Racing News. We have crossed through the old address, website and phone number. BG
Wing Side Up
By Bob Gangwer
August 2, 1994 – Goshen, IN…Redemption. That’s what it feels like. The 1994 version of the Hy-Miler Supermodified Nationals at Sandusky Speedway was a true success; for ISMA, the speedway, the drivers, and the fans.
Without exception, this was the best ISMA show I’ve seen all season and there’s many other reasons besides the fantastic seat of your pants action.
After shattering every posted speed limit on the Indiana and Ohio Toll Roads, I made it to Sandusky Friday night just as the cars were lining up on the front stretch for their 40 lap feature event. Truth be told, I probably could have waited another half hour to leave the house and still not have missed any racing action.
However, I would have missed about four of those awesome Sandusky starts that get the heart beating above it’s optimum target rate.
Apparently some of the drivers decided that they were having a better time of it running under what was a most conspicuous yellow flag. After three attempts and 38 yellow flag laps, the field finally took the green and proceeded to put on the type of show that the fans have to expect of out of the world’s fastest short track race cars.
Friday Night Highlights-
Star Speedway standout Dave Simard was the class of the field from his pole position. He had over a half of a track lead when the yellow came out on lap 19. This yellow would be the beginning of the end of a fairytale race for Dave Simard.
At this point, many fans were listening intently to the #77 each time it passed by them during the caution. What they heard was a missing engine. By lap 30 it was evident that Simard was having some serious engine problems, even though he still had a well padded lead over second place runner Mike Ordway.
Gradually, with the help of traffic and an increasingly slower running Simard, Ordway was able to position himself within the strike zone, and when the leaders hit heavy traffic, it was time to move in for the kill.
Ordway moved into the lead when he dogged his fellow New Englander in heavy traffic on the backstretch. Simard continued to fall by the wayside, dropping back to fourth at the finish.
Ordway held off a hard charging Doug Saunier, who was looking for his second Friday night victory in a row. Jim Shirey hauled in a third, a dejected Tim T. crew halfheartedly celebrated their finish in fourth, and Pat Abold nailed down a fifth.
Pit Thrash & Red Flag Worries
Dave Simard was one of many who experienced magneto problems throughout the weekend. Simard and crew made the necessary repairs and came out on Saturday to make the top eight in time trials.
Jim Shirey changed engines and went third quick on Saturday. Bentley Warren timed in fifth quick after he also had mag problems on Friday
Standing on the front stretch Saturday during driver introductions, there were more than a few who believed it would be impossible to run 100 green flags laps and up to 50 cautions laps without the most hated red flag refueling stop.
Those fears were not totally unfounded after a season that has seen a rash of what has to be the most undesirable event in any super show.
However, those fears were not to be realized, at least for refueling, and the fans were treated to an awesome display of driving by all the drivers in the field, most notably from those that call the Buckeye State their home.
The Nationals Play by Play-
Doug Saunier and Jim Shirey waged a torrid battle for 39 laps until Shirey moved past Saunier and began pulling away from the car that won it all last year. By lap 42 Gary Allibritain, after doing a masterful job of slicing his way through traffic, was now hounding the red #22 for second while Brad Lichty sat in third.
Two short laps later the yellow came out for a major melee in the first turn. Entering turn one the pack encountered a very slick track and the cars of Ken Bell, Gary Morton, Bentley Warren, Scott Martel, and Russ Wood were all involved. No major damage to any of the cars, but due to the moisture that was laid down for the length of the track, the red came out for a clean up.
During this time, Pat Abold, Scott Martel, Joe Gosek, Mike Muldoon, and Howie Lane all took advantage of the red to head to the pits for work on their cars.
The track went green and Jim Shirey wasn’t about to let any grass grow under his tires, but he had to endure six more yellow flags, an encounter on the front stretch with Howie Lane that nearly cost him the race, and the relentless hounding of Gary Allibritain before he could take the checkers and pull into Nationals victory lane.
Shirey’s Nationals Luck Not Very Good-
A jubilant Shirey and crew celebrated a win that has been a long time coming. In the last ten years Shirey’s record in this race hasn’t been what one would consider stellar for a driver that could rightfully call Sandusky his home track. Until this year, in the previous eight Nationals that he has competed in, Shirey’s best finish has been a third in 1986. Since 1984, he has failed to make the show twice and cracked the top 15 only once, that coming with a 12th place showing in 1985.
A 22nd in ‘87, 21st in ‘89, 16th in ‘90, 19th in ‘91, 18th in ‘92, and a 17th last year all were under par for this driver, and makes this win even more delectable.
This is what I call success, and now with a guaranteed starting spot in the Classic, Shirey will be able to concentrate more on the finer aspects of getting around the “Big O” and less about just making the show.
If my pre-race predictions were to be spoiled I couldn’t have thought of a better way for that to happen than having Jimmy move up one spot and letting Gary Allibritain sneak into second. One word? Can’t do it. It takes more than that to describe how I feel about watching Gary mash the gas in Bobby Witkum’s roadster. The man is truly one of the greats and he ranks right up there with Bentley Warren and Todd Gibson. Falling right into place as I told you they would were Bentley Warren in third, and Russ Wood in fourth.
Other than Jim Shirey and Gary Allibritain, the drive most will remember from this year will be that of Dave Simard. This was only the second Nationals that Simard has ever made. A fourth in his first one, and a fifth this year, plus his great drive on Friday night, just goes to show you how adaptable this guy is. I just wish that I would be able to enjoy his abilities more often as he a joy to watch.
For ISMA the success can be measured in the fact that they proved to many that the lame showings lately have been flukes and that the supers do indeed put on a whale of a show. As far as I’m concerned their success can also be measured with the fine press kit I received and the fantastic souvenir trailer parked outside the main entrance both days.
The press kit tells me that ISMA is finally getting off the rocker and stepping into the fast lane of promotion and marketing. The information contained in the press kit is a valuable source of knowledge to me as well as my fellow super followers whom also write. It is especially good for those in the media who have never seen these breathtakingly beautiful, yet very complex machines. Let’s face it, these ain’t no door slammin’, fender smashin’ street stockers. In the same respect, (well kinda), neither are they anything like their distant cousins the sprint cars. Keep up the good work ISMA, your new look is impressive.
For Junior and crew, the success was measured by the smiles on the drivers faces, the attitude of the ISMA people, and the packed grandstand for both nights. Congratulations Junior, you kept on plugging, never gave up, and put on two great days of racing and it didn’t go by unnoticed. You and your staff are to be commended.
The IRP Test Session:
For me this great weekend of racing got off to a totally cosmic experience on Thursday. Against all advice from those wiser, older, and most assuredly more sane than myself, I took Mich Schuler’s advice and I boogied down US 31 to the state capitol. There I had the great fortune of witnessing the return of the roar that only a super can produce at the awesome Indianapolis Raceway Park.
I was in total ecstasy when I saw the cars of Pat Abold, Bentley Warren, Mike Ordway, Dave McKnight, Jr. and Russ Wood sitting in the pits as I walked out of the turn four tunnel. What a sight to behold. Five gleaming, sparkling supers waiting to take it to the limit in front of a throng of Thursday Night Thunder fans.
Disappoint those unknowing and skeptical sprint car folks, the supers did not. After signing autographs, then waiting out the sprint car heats, my heroes buckled in and went about turning the still Indianapolis night air into a giant mass of raw, roaring, reverberating horsepower.
For 12 laps the fans that were still seated were on the edge of their seats while the five ISMA stars diced and dueled to a staged, but nonetheless, exciting photo-finish.
Once the scream of the engines became idle it was the fans in the stands who pierced the night with their rousing standing ovation. The fans though weren’t the only ones impressed by the supers. The USAC drivers showed more than just a passing interest. Of course several on hand know firsthand how awesome these roadsters are. Namely Mike Bliss who would go on to win a record fifth out of six sprint car races at IRP this evening.
When I caught up with Mike, the former northwest super driver said that he would not pass up the chance to pilot a competitive super at IRP if given the opportunity. Would you bet against the guy who has practically owned IRP this season? Would be tough wouldn’t it?
Yes, the supers will return to IRP, quite possibly yet this season on the date originally held back for Cavalcade. We will definitely keep you posted on this deal.
Well faithful, I must be leaving you for another week, but before I do I have to tell you what a treat it was to see Dean Best at Sandusky. I always considered Dean one of my favorite drivers in the Tri-SAC days but never really got to meet him.
Saturday, Rich Lesiecki introduced me to Dean. A gesture which I’ll be eternally grateful for. I sure am lucky to have so many living legends as heroes and to actually say I know them or have shaken their hand. Is this sport great or what?
I’m slowly recuperating at
1104 W. Wilkinson, Goshen, IN 46526 from a most excellent weekend.
Happy birthday wishes to Jenny Frost, who blows out nine candles on the fourth. Also South Haven’s super authority and fellow worshiper, Mark Seiler who joined the over the hill club this past Sunday. After deciding that being the president of more than one club at a time was just too much, Mark celebrated his 40th in style by stepping down from the “Say No to Johnny’s Club” and sucked the suds with the rest of us at Johnny Angel’s. You’re no longer a virgin, keep on pluggin’ bud, and “Keep It Wing Side Up and Wheels to the Ground.”
Were you at the 1994 Hy-Miler Supermodified Nationals? Did you get to see the ISMA exhibition at Indianapolis Raceway Park? Leave a comment below to share those memories with everyone.