Oswego Speedway: Sixty Years of Racing Tradition
For sixty years on Saturday nights, a sound has roared out of the north side of Route 104 in Oswego, a city on Lake Ontario in Western New York. It’s the unmistakable growl of cars going fast around a track, the sound of a culture of racing, of generation after generation of men who make fast cars and believe they can beat everyone else.
On an early August night, the rain had cleared, and it was an important night because the prize was a big check–$10,000–and that brought out many racing teams. I talked with John Richichi, of Oswego, who during the day is a nuclear plant worker, but spends 6-7 hours a day tinkering with Number 88. “We won here on Memorial Day,” he said, “so we get to start high.” That refers to where the car would begin the race in the pack of 31 entrants.
My excursion into the world of auto racing felt like a crossing over to a world I’d heard about but never experienced. Nobody I know watches auto racing, and perhaps that was why I loved it so much. Visceral, American, unabashedly patriotic, campy, sponsored by, so many descriptions of what I was seeing came at me in a 142 mph blur.
I realized how important it is to experience something far, far away from what I normally gravitate towards. The noise, the excitement, the fervent fans, the familiar way the announcer related to the crowd, and the passion of the people who build these cars and race them made it all a wonderful thing to see.
Between Memorial and Labor days, this track sees some 3000 fans each Saturday night, and devoted they are. In fact the car owner I spoke with told me that his crew of 14 people all paid $35 just to get in themselves!
The field of supermodified cars, Chevys with engines of about 475 cubic inches, began at 26, and after 49 laps was down to just 13. Throughout the race, cars had spun out and crashed into the boards, and some had flipped over others. Finally, a red-flag drawing crash totalled one car yet the driver popped out unscathed. A sigh of relief went through the crowd–no need for the ambulance that had made its way out to turn three.
There was one lap left–and in the end, the same driver, Ray Graham, who had become Mr Supermodified last year held his crown and repeated his win. He got the super sized check for $10,000 and the pride after the race of meeting his fans with a big grin on his face, and a checkered flag photo.
Up in the VIP booth, the glass enclosed seating area was lined with sponsors, and I sat next to a woman who seemed to know a lot about the race. “My two brothers bought this track last year,” she said. I had heard a car owner compliment them on how they’d cleaned up the place, built new bathrooms, and painted a bunch. Plus a little rain didn’t deter them from racing. “The other owners, hell, if it rained on a Friday they’d be cancelling…not these guys!”