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Wing Side Up Archive: Turmoil at Oswego Speedway, 1996 International Classic Review

Notes from Bobby G.:

There was a lot of turmoil going on in 1996. Certainly at Oswego Speedway where there was a lot of animosity in the pits among drivers and teams, and a lack of consistent officiating in the tower of power.

At home, for me, there was plenty of turmoil as well. I’ll let the cat out of the bag here. 1996 is the year my Classic attendance streak was broken. So while technically it’s been 30 years since my first, I’ve only seen 29 of them personally. Let me tell you, missing that one Classic taught me that what my friend told me jokingly some time back is true-“You can take the Bob out of racing, but you can’t take the racing out of Bob.”

This is a long read with over 1,800 words and it took up two full columns in the paper. So for some it may be a bit boring, but I’d like to think people will enjoy learning about some of the stuff about that season that has been forgotten, including the black-balling of several local journalists for reporting the facts. It seems that some things never change up on Albany Street.

This Wing Side Up Archive Column  was written for the September 3, 1996 MARC Times Racing News. We have crossed through the old address, website and phone number as they are no longer relevant. BG

Wing Side Up

By Bob Gangwer

September 3, 1996 – Goshen, IN…All good intentions are not always a means to an end. Change sometimes brings about the demise or alteration of long-standing traditions.

So, along with the change in format for this year’s 40th anniversary of the greatest supermodified race in the word, came our decision, albeit a difficult one, to forgo our 12th straight Oswego International Classic in a row.

Going into this year’s Classic, there had been an upheaval of sorts a couple of weeks before.

Who’s Running the Show?

Doug Didero, now a three-time Oswego champion, and Jeff West had an on-track argument that led to a crash and the later punishment of West with a one week suspension and a fine.

For Didero, the slap on the wrist after his slap on West’s helmet while West was still in the car, was seen by some as gross negligence on the part of the competition committee. Oswego officials apparently failed to see the act that Didero has repeatedly performed at various stages of his career. That act being the use of his Nomex gloved hands as battering rams upon a fellow competitors helmet clad head.

All this animosity led to a boycott of sorts by about 12 super drivers and many fans the following week. A scant field of 14 roadsters showed up, giving Sandusky the distinction of actually having more supers in the pits than the place that claims to have given birth to it. The drivers and owners that participated in the boycott demonstrated peacefully and refused to race unless Jeff West was allowed to run or Doug Didero was handed down the same sentence as West’s.

Oswego offered the drivers several different bargaining options, including the admittance of West and his crew into the track, (though not to race on it). However, the boycotting drivers refused to give in unless their requests were honored, and ended up sitting with their trailered supers on Albany Street.

What Rules?

Does it get worse? Yes, in our opinion it does. Many of you know the results of the Classic. If you don’t stop here and find the Oswego write-up.

According to a source close to the track and many of it’s officials, upon post-race inspection of Didero’s Classic winning, Matczak #3, the car’s front wings and rear tail section were found to be too wide. Those were two clear infractions of the rules, and of this writing, Didero’s victory stands. This decision of the rules and inspection committee,( or WAS it their decision?), has left at least one inspector, possibly three, standing with resignations in hand. We are still waiting on the full details of who these three are and what further actions, if any, will be taken by Oswego against Matczak, or, if any of the other competitors have anything to say about this.

Blame the Media-

At any rate, things are not well at the “Steel Palace” and it seems to many, not just us, that they haven’t been since Linda left and Harry died. By all accounts, crowds for the last several Classics, (we think since the mods have been gone), have been down. It could be the ticket prices, it could be the general atmosphere of discontent, it could be the unemployment rate in Upstate New York. Hell, some people even blame the limiteds, but that’s a whole ‘nother column. For sure though, it cannot be blamed on the media, which seems to be the pervading attitude of the powers that be.

Tracks get good press and tracks get bad press. To us good or bad press is press, and your name is in the paper. Even after the boycott and many loyal fans missing from the scene, Oswego had a very good turnout at the front door because of all the publicity about the boycott. Every day for a week after the fight and leading up to the boycott, the Post-Standard had a front page story dealing with the topic. Was this wrong? NO! If the overwhelming majority of the fans write in wondering why Oswego officials did not see what most everyone in the stands saw, along with those buying a Hoffman’s watched as the infraction unfolded on the concession stand monitors, is it biased for the paper to print those letters? NO! Not if they also printed the letters backing the track and it’s decision.

The thing is, Oswego says the negative press is wrong and that the reporters who write it are no longer welcome at their track, including long-standing regulars. Everybody sometimes gets their facts mixed up, and as columnists, we all have a tendency to stand up on our soap boxes. But we do report the news, good or bad, and it is not just editorial columnists that they are after. It seems that Oswego has also gone after those who are reporting what could be perceived as bad press for Oswego by the reading public, even if it is part of a two-sided story.

What will become of this all? We don’t know. We wish we had the answers because it seems to us, even as relative newcomers, (hey 12 years of talking about Oswego doesn’t hold a candle to 2 or 3 decades), we’ve noticed a change for the worse. Will we still continue to love Oswego? Well, yes, because there just isn’t another track that can lay claim to running our favorite division regularly. Even with all the tarnish of late, it is still the “Big O.” Maybe that’s the problem. We, along with many others, don’t want to throw out the dead roses just yet, but you can only stand to look at withered flowers for so long before you pick some fresh ones.

Super Shorts:

Saturday night Chris Perley trashed the field for the second year in a row in the ISMA SuperNationals. Randy Ritskes, (did we speak too soon of the Shea team’s demise?), too second followed by Bentley Warren, (in the Tim T. torpedo), Joe Gosek, and Mike Ordway. Ohio hotshoe Joe Grunda elected to take home the B Main cash instead of taking the transfer to the A.

Eddie B. drove the back-up Vic Miller car Saturday night. Willie Stutzman made the A main Saturday night but compacted the first turn foam in his heat on Sunday and failed to make it into the Classic again.

53 cars were set to time trial  Sunday and Doug Didero topped them all with a N.T.R. of 16.681.

Davey Hamilton and Mike Muldoon also broke the old one. Muldoon and Hamilton were teammates on Sunday. Hamilton made the best of any advice his partner and defending Classic champ may have given him. AJ’s main man led 106 laps before pitting. He lost some of his luster after the stop, but still managed to get back up to fourth, when he and Danny Soule came together. Muldoon pitted right after Hamilton but ended up with the same fate on lap 120 after charging back through the field.

Soule led a good part of the race after Hamilton’s stop, and many were rooting for this likable underdog. Soule elected not to pit and started to fall back as Russ Wood and Didero got y.

None of the Dunigan cars pitted until Dave Simard spun and had to go in to replace a tire. Two of the three Auto Palace machines finished the 200 laps in the top five. Wood was second and Ordway took fourth.

Scott Martel returned to the number 14. He stayed out of trouble all day and wound up a more than respectable fifth.

Gary Morton was in the Pat Strong Plum Krazy 99 Sunday and led a few laps. He ended up sixth.

Pat Abold finished a well-run third. West coast shoe Dan Hayes was slated to drive the Abold back-up but a bad accident a couple of weeks back left Hayes with a multitude of injuries, including a badly broken arm. Paul Durant, Rebel Jackson, Jr., even Tony Stewart were all rumored to be possible replacements for Hayes, but the second car sat empty.

Doug Saunier made a return in the former Abold Hyder Hawk with Dick Fuller’s STL sponsorship on board. Saunier’s Classic bad luck continued and he failed to make the show.

Gene Lee Gibson was supposed to have had his own car there, but broke at Sandusky for the second week in a row and a week before the Classic. He has parked the car in disgust. Gibson was tagged for the Joe Gosek ISMA car but ended up in the STeve Miller/Mark Hartman “Sweet 16>” He also missed the show.

Denny Fisher, Troy Vaccaro, Gary Allibritain and Garry Evans, (all Sandusky regulars), all missed the show. Dave Shullick came home seventh, Jim Shirey didn’t show in the Boisevert 66. It is said they are in the process of building their motor program, possibly with a Victory, i.e. Myles engine. Doug is basically done and father Armand wants Shirey in the seat.

Andy Mackereth was again behind the wheel of the Ralph Wissing #4. Andy pulled down a fifth in the “Killer B,” and will be at Jennerstown for the ISMA Classic. Father Norm Mackereth was very honored by his induction into the 3rd Turn Inn. He signed autographs, T-Shirts, bras, panties, and bodies;nothing out of the ordinary for “Stormin’” Norman Mackereth.

Joey Payne had to use his guaranteed starter place and Hal LaTulip used a Oswego Speedway provisional to make the Classic. Payne came from 25th to ninth, LaTulip got black flagged.

Dave McKnight, Jr., after an amicable parting with the Mucci Motors team, drove for fellow Canadians Brad, Den and Mike Lichty. After running O.K. Saturday night with the wing, Dave had the dubious distinction of being the first one out of the Classic when something broke and he ended up in the wall. The Mucci car didn’t show.

Maybe it was a hub that sent McKnight sliding. If so, he wouldn’t be the only one with that issue. Dan Soule broke one Saturday night in hot laps but fixed the car and made the race. Joey Moriarty clobbered the wall Sunday after breaking a hub. He didn’t make the race.

Tim Snyder won the always exciting Bud Light “Killer B” on Sunday.

Surprise of the weekend? Greg Furlong’s time trial run of 17.361 for a solid Classic starting spot. Reminds us of Snyder a couple of years back.

Bentley Warren blew the engine in the Matczak “Polish Cannon” back-up during the Classic. ’tis said it’s the first engine Skip and Lois have lost in a while. Remember when the “Polish Cannon” team wondered when they’d ever get one to stay together?

That’s it for now. Mail still reaches us at 1111 W. Wilkinson, Goshen, IN 46528. We’re usually here to answer the phone when you dial (219) 533-1693. We missed the Classic this year, but we’re still “Wing Side Up and Wheels to the Ground.”

Do you remember the 1996 boycott? What side of the steel walls were you on? Leave a comment below to share those memories with everyone.



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