After a bout of poor luck to start the 2012 Novelis Supermodified season at Oswego Speedway, luck finally turned to the side of Randy Ritkses during the Davis Bros. Inc. Grand Prix 75 Saturday night.
Driving the Darratt Farms No. 88 Supermodified, Ritskes inherited the lead from a fuel-starved Ray Graham on lap 72 and then managed to nurse his own mount across the line on his final drop of methanol to claim the ninth win of his career at the Steel Palace.
As Ritskes weaved his car back and forth trying to savor every last drop of fuel on the race’s final circuit, Brian Sobus closed in driving the No. 60 but came up just short, possibly finishing just one lap shy of his first career Supermodified feature win.
Joey Payne, Shaun Gosselin, and Mike Barnes completed the Top 5 order in the 75-lap feature event.
“Just before the last caution we were out of fuel,” said Ritske. “It was really dying coming out of three and four so I started shaking it and running half throttle to try and save as much fuel as possible — and it lasted.”
Ritskes was elated to be able to turn the tide after a very rough start to the season.
“We’ve had such a terrible year, this is so nice to have,” said Ritskes. “This all proves how great of an owner I have in Randy Darratt. I got really down, not on the team, I just got down on the situation and he (Randy Darratt) is the one that turned it around. He said, ‘We’re not quitters. We aren’t going to quit on you’ and we did it. He is a great leader.”
Gosselin and Graham started the 75-lap Davis Bros. Inc. Grand Prix from the front row, bringing the field to the Cam’s NY Pizzeria green flag and it was Graham immediately shooting out to the early race lead in the No. 90. Behind the wheel of the new Xtreme Chassis design, Graham showed his might in heat race competition with a time of 16.488 seconds at 136.463 mph and no doubt intended to continue that streak in the main event.
By lap 15, Graham had built a full straight away lead on the remainder of the field and looked to be in a class of his own leaving the battles behind him.
With Graham well out in front, Ritskes and Otto Sitterly began moving their way through the field to try and put themselves in striking position. By the race’s 20th circuit, Ritskes managed to move past Gosselin for second while Sitterly picked his way to fourth in the order ahead of Jerry Curran.
After several weeks of early cautions in Supermodified main events, Saturday night’s first caution flag would not be waved until lap 24 as Clayton Brewer spun the Jake’s Automotive No. 23 in turn four. With the yellow lights on, Graham’s dominating lead was erased allowing Ritskes to close on his back bumper for the restart.
Graham and Ritskes led the field back to green with Gosselin, Sitterly, Curran, Bobby Haynes, Sobus, Payne, Dave Danzer, and Jeff Abold in tow.
As the field roared to life out of turn four, Graham again showed his might in the No. 90 and in just eight laps once again mounted a full straight lead on runner-up Ritskes.
As Graham continued to pull further into the lead, lapping slower race cars at will, Sitterly again began to climb up the order. On lap 34 the No. 7 of Sitterly dove under Gosselin for third down the front straight and then began to draw in on Ritskes.
Sitterly would manage to work his way past Ritskes for second on lap 54 followed by a lap 63 caution, which would come out for Joey Payne and Kelly Miller as the two made contact in turn three with Payne trying to put a lap on the Miller No. 81. As a result, the many fans in attendance would now be treated to yet another Graham vs. Sitterly battle.
With just 12 laps to go, the Top 10 order showed Graham, Sitterly, Ritskes, Gosselin, Sobus, Haynes, Curran, Pat Lavery, Dave Gruel, and Barnes.
Graham had managed to build such a lead that on the lap 63 restart several lapped racecars sat between himself and Sitterly. One of those lapped machines happened to be the son of the race leader, Kody Graham.
As the field came out of turn four and the green lights turned on, Kody Graham tried to make a move on another lapped car for position and in doing so lost the handle spinning around in front of nearly the entire field.
Trying to avoid the spinning Graham No. 21, Sitterly moved to the low side, but could not move low enough. Sitterly’s right rear tire made contact with Graham’s right rear causing the No. 7 to spin and collide rear first into the inside hub rail.
After making contact, Sitterly’s car flipped up and over on the roll cage coming to a stop at the start/finish line.
With the red flag in the air the Speedway track safety crew quickly made their way to Sitterly, who was awake and alert but was temporarily trapped inside the race car.
After a few tense moments, Sitterly was eventually freed and able to climb out of the crippled Nicotra Racing ride.
“Everything is so tight in there,” said Sitterly immediately after climbing out of his car. “I wanted to jump right out and I am not that big of a guy, but you just can’t physically get your legs out from all the stuff that’s in there. It started to get hot in there when all those fluids came rushing out. I don’t know what they were, but the vapors were getting pretty hot.”
Sitterly would be credited with a 16th place finish overall, losing several points yet again to championship runner-up Lavery.
With Sitterly out of the event, Graham would now lead Ritskes, Gosselin, Sobus and Curran to the stripe. On the restart, Graham again blasted away while Curran battled Sobus for the fourth spot, but Curran would eventually spin the No. 24 down the back straight in the heat of battle.
After yet another late race restart, the Lavery No. 22 again started to make high side moves, working up and around Sobus. With Lavery on by, Sobus and Payne began to battle until Sobus lost it and did a complete 360 to keep going on the speedway. A precautionary yellow would wave with only three laps to go and under that caution both Lavery and Graham would sputter to a stop out of fuel.
With no methanol left in the tank, a sure victory for Graham was washed away, leaving Ritskes as the race leader. Graham pulled head first into the pit area after running dry, ending the night 13th. Lavery was able to get back in action without losing a lap.
With just three laps to go, Ritskes, the new race leader, jumped to a healthy lead on Sobus, Payne, and Gosselin. That was until Ritskes too could feel the fuel slipping away in the No. 88.
As Ritskes began to shake the car, side to side, in an attempt to gather more fuel, both Sobus and Payne closed in. As the final two laps clicked away, Ritskes was able to hold on by a mere tenth of a second over the Sobus No. 60 for the Davis Bros. Inc. win.
“Randy pulled away and left me there on that last restart and then all of a sudden a lap into it I started gaining on him,” said Sobus, after his career best runner-up finish. “I could see him swerving back and forth on the straightaways and I knew what that was all about, but unfortunately we just needed one more lap.”
Payne, who ended the night with another podium finish, was pleased with his performance from a championship perspective.
“It feels good to be up here,” said Payne of his podium performance. “I’ve driven this car (Muldoon No. 20) six times now and every week we keep gaining in the points. For a deal that was supposed to be week to week and just a couple races, we’re in the fight for a championship now.”
Gruel, Curran, Lavery, Joe Gosek, and Abold completed the Top 10 in the Novelis Supermodified feature order.
After two DNFs in a row for Sitterly, his once sizeable point lead is now down to just six points over Lavery. Payne now stands just 10 points out of the lead in 3rd ahead of Sobus and Gruel in the Top 5.