Supermodifieds have been called the best kept secret in motor sports. The history of the class is both glamorous and tragic. Decades ago, supers enjoyed tremendous popularity in Washington, Oregon, Texas, Louisiana, Ohio, New York and all over New England. These days, however, Oswego Speedway is the only racing facility where supers still compete on a weekly basis. So what happened? Most notably, the class evolved so quickly and so radically that they nearly put themselves out of business.
Today’s supers are generally constructed with an aircraft-quality chromium-molybdenum tubing frame and a fiberglass and aluminum body. The front-mounted engines are offset 18 inches for a maximum 67% left-side weight (up to 70% in some areas). The V8 engines burn methanol fuel and generate over 800 horsepower. How is that possible? First, the big block engines are bored out to 468 cubic inches. This allows for larger pistons and greater compression. Second, specialty aluminum cylinder heads and light weight components take the place of standard engine parts. What you gain in power and performance you lose in durability. A supermodified engine must be replaced every 2,000 laps (roughly 1,000 miles). Supermodified engines also feature huge top-mounted fuel injectors. The fuel pumps fast and burns fast which translates to big time power. Like sprint cars, supers have no starters, batteries or transmissions, making them incredibly light. They are thought to be the fastest short oval track race cars currently in use. But the supermodified rule book wasn’t always as rigid. In fact, in the 1970’s, there was barely a rule book at all. That made for some exciting innovations. Cars changed so rapidly the competition was unable to keep pace.
So that’s a bit on the rich and extraordinary history of the Oswego Speedway, but it still doesn’t address the initial question. What’s it to me or my book? For starters, Cash Douglas, the troubled and largely misunderstood “A Shot at Redemption” protagonist, is a pretty down-to-earth guy and I knew I needed a small town setting to best tell his story. As for why I decided on Oswego in general and the speedway in particular, there were several factors and all rather personal.
I am a graduate of the State University of New York at Oswego, and I spent several summers penning articles for the speedway program. I’d been a big fan of the sport already, probably because my father has been announcing races at Oswego for better than five decades. By all accounts, he is the longest tenured announcer at any weekly track in the country. Given all that, putting Cash behind the wheel of a super seemed only natural. That still left me the challenge of describing something most people have never heard of. I hope I did a satisfactory job. If, however, I fell short in some areas, perhaps this will help. I had the unique opportunity to experience a supermodified for myself in the summer of 2012 and I brought an in-car camera along for the ride. Buckle up and take a look.
You surely noticed that the super I rode in has no wing. That’s long been one of the trademarks of the Oswego Speedway. However, winged supers still roar into town a couple times a year. The garage-door-sized, top-mounted wings create two thousand pounds of additional down force which translates to unbelievable cornering speed. Cash Douglas finds that out the hard way when, at the end of chapter 1, he loses control and crashes hard into the wall. Click here to read the whole chapter. And when you’re done, you might enjoy a nice ride along with Dave Shullick, Jr. as he puts on a show at Sandusky
The modern rule book for supermodified racing is pretty cut and dry in terms of what builders/designers can and can’t do. That certainly wasn’t always the case. In fact, years ago, the one thing the class was best known for was frequent and radical changes. In 1971, Bill Hite introduced a rear engine four wheel drive supermodified. It won anytime it didn’t break. Ken Reese designed what came to be known as the 3 to 1 super with three of its four wheels located on the right side of the car. Looking like something out of a Batman movie, it was first tested at Sandusky with Tim Richmond as the driver. He set a new track record and the car was promptly banned. Joe Magari built a super powered by two 100 horsepower Johnson outboard engines. It never ran especially well and was eventually retired. And Jim Shampine, the biggest innovator the sport has ever known, introduced an offset rear engine car many thought was unbeatable. It too was banned.
Despite a drop off in popularity over the past few decades, there is still a certain mystique about supermodifieds especially at Oswego, the only track in the country where they run without a wing. I’m very happy to say that Oswego supers are enjoying a nice resurgence which began when John and Eric Torrese purchased the track prior to the 2011 season. Car counts are up. Competition is hot. The grandstand is once again full. Be sure to stop by if you’re ever in the neighborhood on a Saturday night.
If you’re still curious about supermodified racing, click here for more info.