On opening night, May 5th, I won my first race for “Team Tapout”, a small block supermodified team owned by my bro Jason Simmons. All of my thoughts and emotions were well chronicled in my column last week for Gater Racing News. But I don’t know how many readers of this “blog” are also regular readers of my column in the newspaper. So just in case anyone missed it, I’m going to take this one last opportunity to toot my own horn, in case you haven’t already heard enough about it. So this blog will be basically a reprint of the column I wrote the day after my emotional victory at Oswego Speedway on opening night.
That’s what happened to me on opening night at Oswego Speedway, in front of a huge crowd, that sounded pretty damn excited when I pulled into victory lane. All of the planets aligned, and I won my first Oswego Speedway Small Block Supermodified feature since 2001! And as I savor it the next day on my deck with the laptop, it just keeps getting better. So relax, and I’ll tell you all about it. (Disclaimer: if you’re not a “JayMate”, and aren’t interested in the emotions of an old timer’s win, you may want to turn the page.)
Regular readers of “Keepin’ it Real” have already heard my tale of woe. Semi-retiring and only racing occasionally the last few years for monetary and ambition reasons. While I should have just walked away once I quit full time in the mid 2000’s, I just couldn’t quite give it up. Racing is my passion, and I’ve been driving since 1979. Old habits die hard. I still kept my car, and brought it out for Classic and a couple other races every year. We all know that a half-assed program never works, but I held out hope. I kept the car, just in case, so I could run Classic every year.
When I destroyed the car in last year’s Classic, ending a string of ELEVEN consecutive finishes in the Classic (all but one in the top ten), it was a big question whether or not I’d put it back together, or call it a career. Then the business theft happened to our company (see last week‘s column), and the decision was made for me. Racecar, trailer, personal cars, other valuables - many things had to go.
That’s when my “knight in shining armor“, Jason Simmons, came along. While we had talked about him maybe buying the damaged car, we agreed to a deal for him to definitely buy the car and trailer. I wasn’t sure what his intentions were, but I knew they had to go. I kind of thought he was joking when he agreed to buy it, fix it, and have me drive it. We now know otherwise. I’m not sure how Jason and I became such good buddies in such a short amount of time, but get to know him and you’ll understand. You come across a lot of great people in a lifetime, and I’m fortunate enough to call a lot of them my friends. And Jason my man, I am so glad I met you! As I said in victory lane, “you’re the little brother I always wanted!” (Which is funny because there’s nothing little about him. He’s probably a foot taller than me.) And that’s how “Team Tapout” was formed.
So the car was taken to Mike O’Connor’s shop, stripped down, and taken to chassis builder Ray Hedger’s. Damage was repaired, and everything was freshened and put together perfectly (obviously). A Doug Holmes engine was freshened, and away we went. These guys busted their tails all winter working on my car and Jason’s others, along with Dennis Rupert’s, and I am so happy to bring the first of MANY Team Tapout highlights for the year.
On race day, we struggled with the car all day during practice. It would run great for a few laps, then die out. Changed parts, messed with fuel lines, etc. Every time we thought we found something, it would only be worse next time out. When we went out for our two lap time trial, it was great for the first lap (10th fastest), then died on the track. I was disappointed, because I knew my second lap would be a couple tenths faster. As it turned out, the inverted nature of the time trials worked perfectly, putting me on the pole for my heat. By that time we had found and cured the fuel pickup problem, and I won my first qualifying heat since Moby Dick was a minnow.
But even though the car was now fixed, the driver still was not. My one problem over the years has been finishing races as fast as I ran them, and I almost lost this heat the same way. I get afraid to screw up, and give away my speed by changing my line to protect. I lost four tenths the last few laps of the heat, which will get you beat. But after quite a scolding and pep talk from Mark, I was determined to not get in my head during the feature. He told me ten different times leading up to the feature - “don’t ****ing think!” But who are we kidding - my confidence was shot. I’ve been running average for so many years, why would I think I could do well now? Not me.
But as the race wore on, and the car was SO perfect, I started to go faster. After passing Mark Castiglia and Nate Sitterly on the first and second lap from my third starting spot, I ran as hard as I could - because Mark and Corey were glaring at me from the pits. While I never felt a challenge, I knew if I relaxed for one minute, I’d be in trouble. I could feel it. When I saw Jack Patrick’s car 2nd on the scoreboard, I knew I was in for a fight. Mid-race I started to get complacent, but then the “don’t ****ing think!” gesture from Mark during a caution reminded me to pick it up.
I got over my insecurities two ways. 1. Having a car that is working perfectly builds confidence. Around lap 15 I started to believe, and by lap 20 or so I KNEW nobody could catch me. 2. Talking to myself every turn of every lap didn’t give me time to think. “Don’t pinch it. Free it up. Get on it earlier.” Jack would keep with me a little after cautions, but after a few laps, I could pull him. And as further proof that I didn’t psyche myself out - my fastest lap, a 19.437, (the second fastest lap of anyone in the feature) was on lap 27 - just three laps from the end. Nothing, even the crazy amounts of time-consuming cautions, or the phantom “vibration” in the early lap 20’s could steal my flow.
What a feeling. All these years of trying and spending and working and stressing had finally paid off. I deserved this win, and I earned it. I have put my heart and soul into this division for 15 years now, both as a competitor and a media member. Maybe that’s why I’ve had literally hundreds of positive comments, between handshakes, pats on the back, text messages, and Facebook (another positive aspect of social media). I’m definitely humbled by the support. Yes, I was able to capitalize on a good starting position, and I was glad to be in the position to do that. All of the planets aligned, and I finally got my turn. Now with such a great handling car again I DO think I can still do this. Nothing builds confidence like an opening night win. This is going to be a fun season! And even though I said just a week ago that I only wanted one more win, I guess I’ve been caught in a lie. (I also have 4 other wins, at Evans Mills, Spencer, and Adirondack, but people usually only count Oswego.) Must. Have. More.
Adding to the excitement was the fact that my father-in-law, Rusty Vincent, was there to see it. A former racer himself, I don’t think he’s seen me race since he had me drive his wife Sandy’s mini-sprint at Brewerton over 30 years ago! Rusty and Sandy loved their Oswego Speedway experience, and I bet we may have brought some new fans to the track. Thanks for the support you guys!
That win was NOT just for me though. That win was for a lot of people. It was for Jason, who has stepped up in a huge way this year for the division, and for me. It’s for Corey Norton and Mark Sledziona and Barry Kingsley who have been there for me both on and off the track for YEARS without this payoff. It’s for Mike O’Connor, Brian Dana, David O’Connor, Greg O’Connor, Stanton Taber, and Elijah Walker, who have worked so hard on this car the last several months, and have become great friends. It’s for the girls, who for some ungodly reason, put up with their men putting so much of their hearts into racing. Thank you Tiffany and Penny and Kim and Bethany and Leeanna for the great support, and letting all of the boys “come out and play”.
And this win was also for our friend Ray Gregory, who passed way last year. My buddy Ray would have been very happy to see that win, and I’m glad his kids Dan and Courtney were there to see it. Sorry I was too flustered to make that dedication in victory lane, as planned.
And mostly, thank you to my sweet wife April, who has put up with all of the highs and lows that racing has brought into our lives these last 27 years. You’ve propped me up when I’ve needed propping, and kept my head on straight. 20 times over the years when I should have quit, you acknowledged that it was not practical, but said, “I know you’d be miserable without racing”. You and I, more than anyone, will enjoy this win together for a long time.
Our season’s goals have been met in just one week. Who would have thought? Not me, that’s for sure. So I guess the only thing that’s left is to set new goals. Championship? (We are the points leader now!) 3-4 more wins? Total domination? Give me a couple weeks to stew on that, and I’ll get back to you…
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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.