Classic Drivers Countdown: Steve Gioia Jr. Started Fast with 1976 International Classic 200 Win
OSWEGO, NY (August 20, 2015) – As the countdown continues toward the 59th running of the Budweiser International Classic 200 at Oswego Speedway on Sunday, September 6, we look back at the next historic Classic driver on our list – the first Oswegonian to win the Classic, Steve Gioia Jr.
The Gioia family had fielded racecars at Oswego Speedway for several seasons before Steve Jr. finally climbed behind the wheel of Steve Sr.’s number nine supermodified in 1973.
Right from the start the young Gioia had a feel for the Classic, nailing a tenth place finish in ’73 and backing it up with runs of ninth in 1974 and second in 1975.
Like in ’75, the story of the 1976 Classic was again Fred Graves in the Hite four-wheel drive car. But again, as in previous years, the unique machine did not see the finish.
Until Graves dropped out at lap 165, it was a three-horse race in 1976 between Graves, defending champion Gary Allbritain and Gioia.
As Graves pulled pit side with engine issues, the field now bunched up with Allbritain leading Gioia, Bentley Warren, Johnny Logan, Ed Bellinger Jr., Jim Shampine, and Chuck Ciprich.
In the closing laps of the race, Allbritain tried all he could to hold off the hard charging Gioia, but with only six laps to go – he gave way. Gioia used an outside move on the front stretch to grab the race lead and held on to become the first Oswego native to win the Classic and the youngest to do so, at just 23 years of age.
As had happened the previous season for the Classic winner, Gioia would come back in 1977 with another great run, finishing second to Warren Coniam.
Following his amazing three-year stretch from 1975-1977, Gioia would finish in the top five of the International Classic another eight times.
In 1980 and 1981 Gioia had finishes of third and fourth as Jim Shampine and Doug Heveron drove to victory. Heveron’s win in 1981 beat Gioia’s record as the youngest Classic winner, with Heveron taking the checkers at just 21 years of age.
The very next year, Gioia was in contention to win again.
The 1982 event had shaped up to be a two car battle between Gioia and rookie Mike McLaughlin with Gioia starting on the seventh.
With the two setting a torrid pace, Gioia took the lead at lap 116 and was in control until lap 145 when both he and McLaughlin were caught in an oil spill from another car, sending both into the outside wall and out of the event.
Heveron won his second consecutive International Classic win in ’82, in memory of Shampine who was killed in the Modified 200 the night before.
Gioia bounced back in 1984 with a third place effort behind Warren and Dave Shullick Sr. before finishing second yet again in 1986.
Gioia’s hot streak continued from 1987 to 1990 with finishes of fifth, fourth, sixth, and seventh.
Yet again, another International Classic victory was within Gioia’s grasp in 1992. Gioia chased down fellow Oswego native Joe Gosek who was struggling to make it to the finish with enough fuel. Try as he might in the closing laps, Gioia settled for yet another runner-up in the prestigious race.
The last top five run for Gioia came in 1994 as he took another podium result behind Bellinger and Pat Abold.
Gioia’s 11 top five finishes in the Budweiser International Classic 200 rank third all-time behind only Nolan Swift (13) and Warren (12).
To purchase tickets for Budweiser International Classic Weekend and the 59th annual Budweiser International Classic 200, call the Oswego Speedway box office today at (315) 342-0646.
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About Oswego Speedway: Oswego Speedway, a sports entertainment company, is a 5/8 mile semi-banked pavement racing oval located off the shores of Lake Ontario in scenic Oswego, NY. Oswego Speedway has been a continuously run weekly racing venue since August, 1951. The premier open-wheel pavement short track cars in the world, Supermodifieds, run weekly at Oswego Speedway making Oswego the only weekly Supermodified racing venue in the world. The Small Block Supermodifieds accompany the full-blown Supers on a weekly Saturday night schedule which runs from May through September. Oswego Speedway is mentioned in racing circles as the “Indy of the East,” as no fewer than a dozen past and present competitors have competed at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway including Mario Andretti, arguably the greatest driver of all time, two-time Indy 500 champion Gordon Johncock, along with former International Classic Champions Bentley Warren, Joe Gosek, and Davey Hamilton.