This is it - what all of us race fans have been waiting for - racing at Oswego Speedway! It all starts this Saturday, April 28th, at 1:00, when the gates at the Steel Palace will swing open for an open practice. We’ll fire up the 93, and see what she’s got! And it can’t be soon enough for this kid.
It’s been quite an emotional off-season for me, which makes this season even more important to me than most. Some business challenges and crimes against our 25 year company have effectively closed our business, thoroughly tested my resolve these last 6 months, and caused my wife April and I to take a step back and look at life through different eyes. It’s been a tough time, and there are still a lot of challenges ahead of us. We’ve learned a lot, grown a lot - and aged a few years.
The most important lesson I’ve learned through this nightmare is the value of friends and family. And I am happy to announce that we have the absolute best of both. Even at our darkest times, the support has been there, every time we needed it. If a thousand people tell you it’s going to be okay, it’s going to be okay.
Maybe that’s what makes this racing season just a little more special to me. It’s really crazy to think that at my age of 47 (the oldest guy in the division, I believe, other than Mike Bond, who has six days on me), I’m starting a whole new driving career, as a driver for Jason Simmons’ “Team Tapout” team. What I thought was a sad day, when I was forced to sell my racecar and trailer, turned into a silver lining when I was asked to drive the car for Jason.
This is no average deal. This is top shelf equipment, with all of these hard working guys, young and old, gathering around to help ME have fun. Yes, they are hoping to have fun in the process, and I will do everything in my power to make sure it is. Win, lose, or draw. It’s a very humbling experience as a driver when you step back and think about all of the people that are working for your benefit. I hope all of you drivers take the time to appreciate that, and let their help know that. I always have, and this year I will even more.
I have told Jason and April that I will work as hard as I can this year to make this deal a success. After this season, I hope to be known as more than an average driver, with average finishes. Jason has given me the go-ahead to “go for it”, as opposed to the conservative style that I had developed the last several years out of necessity because I was on a shoestring with limited shop help. In this division especially, that program doesn’t work. I’ll take some more chances, and I’ll have the equipment to back that up.
People have asked me if I’m running for the points championship this year, and if I’m going to run next year, also. Neither of those ideas are a priority. Not even really thinking or talking about them. My goal is one more win. Just one. I’m not greedy. I question how much the stress of race day will be for me at my “advanced age”. Nerves on race day have always been a problem for me, throughout my five decade driving career, my least favorite part of driving. I wonder how other drivers deal with raceday stress, especially guys on higher levels. It’s not fear of injury, but fear of not doing well. But this year I’m trying to keep it loose, and not put this pressure on myself. People that never drove racecars don’t know that feeling, and some deal with it better than others. Maybe the top guys don’t even feel that.
So this week starts the 2012 season. There’s a lot on the line for me this season, but I’ll keep it in perspective. I know I’ll have a shorter fuse on the racetrack than I did a decade ago, and hopefully that will get me fired up, which makes me go faster. I wish nothing but happiness and safety for all of my competitors in 2012.
Getting back behind the wheel is JUST the therapy I need. When that green flag flies, there is only one thing on your mind.
To my competitors: I’m going to have a lot of fun with you guys this year. Let’s keep it safe, and have a good time. May every one of you finish 2nd every week.
Now let’s go racing!
From the speedway website at www.oswegospeedway.com
OSWEGO, NY (April 24) – The 2012 season opener at Oswego Speedway Saturday, May 5 is shaping up to be one of the most anticipated dates on the northeast racing calendar, and it is only getting bigger. Oswego Speedway announced today that dirt Sprint Car ace Jessica Zemken will join Indy Car veteran Davey Hamilton as guest stars in the opening day Novelis Supermodified line-up presented by Gater Racing News and The Palladium-Times.
Zemken, who will turn 26 the day she attempts to qualify for her first Oswego feature, will be behind the wheel of the Graham Racing No. 12 machine fielded by 2-time Mr. Novelis Supermodified Champion Ray Graham. The Sprakers, NY native will become only the third woman to turn competitive laps in a Supermodified at Oswego joining Sheila Hayes and Jennifer Chesbro. If Zemken qualifies for the opening night main event she will join only Chesbro as women to take a feature event green flag in a Supermodified at ‘The Steel Palace.’
Hayes attempted to qualify for the International Classic in 1970 and 1971, but did not make the cut.
“I’m really excited to get some laps behind the wheel again,” said Zemken, who tested with a wing in October at Oswego but does not have any laps in a Supermodified without a wing. “I have a lot to learn. It is going to be a totally different experience than what I am used to, but I am really looking forward to it. This is something that I have been interested in doing and my Corr-Pak sponsors, John and Wendy Brush, are really into Supermodifieds so we came to see my first race at Oswego last season.”
Even though Zemken has never run a Supermodified without a wing, she will still be in familiar territory, as the No. 12 Graham Racing car she will climb into on Saturday, May 5 is the same car she tested at Oswego back in October. However, Zemken anticipates quite a difference in feel from behind the wheel.
“I’m expecting the car to be a lot looser without the wing and without the down force which is a little more like what I am used to,” said Zemken. “It’ll be a little more out of control and not so stable, which I am expecting, so I think I’ll be prepared for it and be able to adjust to it. I’ve got some good teachers in Ray Graham and I live about five miles from Otto (Sitterly), so I’ve got some good mentors and really good people supporting me in this.”
Zemken is no doubt a tenacious competitor and has racked up quite the resume in dirt Sprint Car racing, both on the 360 and 410 levels. In 2010 Zemken won seven 360 Sprint Car A-mains in less than 12 starts and in 2011 qualified 4th fastest at the prestigious Knoxville Nationals in Knoxville, IA while taking 8th in the national All-Star Circuit of Champions standings.
The young driver looks at her pending Supermodified career in the same fashion as her dirt racing exploits.
“Obviously I don’t plan on going out there and riding around,” Zemken said, while being fitted in her Oswego opening day Supermodified ride. “I have a lot of goals set for myself, maybe a little bit too high, but that is part of being competitive and being a racer. I’m there to be competitive and I hope I learn quick, that’s for sure.”
Other than the May 5 opener at Oswego, Zemken plans on attempting another four events during the season, potentially even the Budweiser International Classic on Labor Day Weekend. If Zemken were to qualify for the most prestigious Supermodified race in the world, she would become the first female to do so.
“We’re going to take things slow and see how it all goes,” said Zemken, who will not be at Oswego for the April 28 test session but instead will run her 410 sprint car at Port Royal Speedway in Pennsylvania. “If I’m prepared and capable and everything goes good than I hope to (run Classic).”
While Zemken is eager to leave her mark on Oswego Speedway, don’t expect to see a full-time shift to asphalt racing in the near future.
“I have hardly any asphalt experience,” said Zemken. “A go-kart maybe twice and a Late Model that was older than me for maybe 20-laps. It’s going to be a totally different experience and I have no plans right now to completely leave the dirt or do anything other than this, but you never know, we’ll see where things go.”
Oswego Speedway events run May through September on most Saturday nights, culminating with the Fall Championship 75 on September 15th.
The annual Speedway open practice is scheduled for April 28th.
Advertising opportunities with the Speedway are still readily available. If you or your business would be interested in marketing with the Speedway please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
I spoke with Bobby Bond last month about this year’s plans at Oswego. A lot of speculation has been going around about just where he will be running in 2012, whether it is Oswego, or the ISMA circuit. The answer: “no full season anywhere“. Sounds to me like apathy is kicking in for Bobby, who is “losing interest in working on it, that’s for sure”. A season of struggles will do that to you, which is what happened for Bob in 2011.
—- “I was really disappointed with those tires last year”, said Bob, theorizing that the inconsistency in the Hoosier Tire that was used last year contributed to his lack of success. After such a great season in 2010, which included prestigious wins in the King of Wings AND Classic, the breakout 2011 season never happened. “We just couldn’t do anything”, said Bond, but also adding. “or maybe it was the driver”.
—- Some changes to the car were planned for the season, but were cancelled when it was announced that a new left rear tire would be announced for 2012. “Maybe the track talking to another tire manufacturer woke Hoosier up a little”, which may lead to a little better tire in 2012. “It probably will.” But for right now, no definite plan is set. He’ll be racing, but he’s unsure where and when. There are a couple of ISMA shows that he would like to run, and he’ll certainly run Oswego at some point, which is about 5 miles from his home.
—- Will he find some ambition when it gets closer, and actually run the full season at Oswego after all? That remains to be seen. I know how racers are. And maybe this unseasonably warm spring will get Bob and the guys fired up. “Whatever Larry and Ed want to do”, said Bob, referring to long time right hand men Larry VonHoltz and Ed Matteson. But I don’t know if it’s that simple, because sometimes one wants to race at Oswego, and the other one wants to race ISMA. Stay tuned.
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As a driver/owner in the Limited Supermodified division, JJ Andrews covers mostly Oswego Speedway events, from a driver's point of view.