Thursday, December 13, 2018

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By CAMDEN PROUD

Otto Sitterly is currently the most successful active Supermodified driver at Oswego Speedway as far as Classic wins and track championships are concerned and in 2018 ‘seven time’ will chase his record breaking eighth championship and his seventh with car owner John Nicotra.

If you are a regular at the Oswego Speedway, you certainly know it has been a challenging couple of years for Sitterly as the four-time Classic champion has not won a Classic or a championship since 2014.

Those are two things that never come easy, but, in fact, the Canajoharie, N.Y. driver has not even been to victory lane in a regular event since September of 2015 when Sitterly won the ‘Fall Championship’ and fell just short of the track championship to Bobby Bond.

Many fans have been curious as to what the deal is. Why hasn’t Otto won? Has anything changed equipment wise? Is he losing his touch? Don’t bet on it.

The competition at the speedway has been quite stout. It has only improved. Sitterly’s luck on the other hand, has just tended to worsen lately.

“I think the reason we haven’t had a win in a couple seasons is the combination of several things,” offered Sitterly. “A lot of it is the competition, the handicapping, things like that. There are so many good cars and now you get some of the slower guys starting in the front and the faster cars towards the back and it just stacks them up and just makes it tough. With the independent, I don’t have the grasp on that like I did on the axle. So, those few things and then something you can’t beat which is lady luck, and we haven’t had a lot of that. It seems like if there’s been any kind of skirmish the past two years I have been involved in it.”

Another factor, something that is unlike Otto, is perhaps the number of DNF’s or mechanical failures he has recorded the past few seasons. Notably, Sitterly was chief wrench on two cars throughout his 2017 campaign including that of the track championship plant for teammate Dave Shullick Jr. Shullick will this year turn to Jimmy Paternoster to crew chief the No. 2 while Sitterly focuses solely on the No. 7 machine.

“One of the other big things that has killed me the past two years is just DNF’s,” admitted Sitterly. “I’m hoping it’s going to be better this year. There is never such thing as being over prepared. Last year I had a commitment to DJ and Nicotra on their deal and week in and week out the 2 car was finished before the 7 car was finished and that’s just the way that I did it. I felt like my attention to detail last year was not there the way it should be and maybe it won’t make any difference in the world this year and that’s fine, but at least in my head I know I’m doing specifically for me and not spreading that around.”

Sitterly certainly has been successful in more or less every non-wing Supermodified event contested. He’s won the International Classic, Jim Shampine Memorial, Opening Night, the Independence Weekend Grand Prix, and put together a remarkable drive to victory in the 75-lap Mr. Supermodified event back in 2015.

After serving as a 50-lap event for the past two seasons, ‘Mr. Supermodified’ will return to the extra distance of 75 laps in 2018 and that seems to be the type of race that Sitterly thrives in. He certainly agreed.

“Any time there is a long distance race that’s good for me,” mentioned Sitterly. “If they even wanted to make it 100 laps that would be fine. I think the extra 25-laps helps to play things a little more in my favor for sure. If we had six races a year and they were all 100 lappers I would be good with that. I don’t know what it is, but it’s just the longer we go the better we seem to be, or at least I like it more. Mr. Supermodified always seems like it’s in the heat of the summer, there’s not a lot of grip and even the tires are getting a little stale for the season so their normally just is not a lot of bite for that race.”

An interesting note is the list of stats that fans are watching out for surrounding the No. 7 car this season. Sitterly needs one more win (38) to pass Greg Furlong and move into sole possession of sixth on the all-time win list. Three more top fives (130) moves Otto past Nolan Swift to take seventh on that list. One more Classic win (5) matches with Eddie Bellinger Jr. for second most all-time and he'll even have enough Classic rings to fill one hand.

But, most importantly? One more championship (8) moves Sitterly past Bentley Warren and Jim Shampine to take over sole possession of most Supermodified championships all-time at Oswego Speedway.

Believe it or not though, this isn’t really something Otto is paying all that much attention to. He would just like to win again and Sitterly hopes that is something that happens very soon.

“At this point it’s just like, damn, am I ever gonna win again,” Sitterly said. “The way I see it is that when it happens, it will probably just come in like four at a shot. Hopefully my next win there will be three more before you are even celebrating that you did it. That’s probably the way it will happen, but I’m just wondering when it’s going to happen. The Classic is a big one. I cherish all the wins that I have and hope to get another one and same with the championships. It’s just really hard for me to talk about those things because they are essentially a whole season away right now, but we definitely hope to be in that position.”

So, for the fans that are wondering, in Otto’s opinion, it’s not the track surface, or the traction compound, or not even completely that extra competitive field he goes head to head with each and every week. Luck plays a huge role at Oswego Speedway. Some drivers have had a lot of it lately, but for the past two seasons, Otto hasn’t had much at all.

“The track surface is a little rough, it’s greasy, but it hasn’t changed that much over the years. I’d like to see them use the traction compound all year, it definitely helps, but that’s not everything. Luck just really comes into play,” Sitterly commented. “For example, last year we had two cars out of the same shop. DJ is a great, heads up driver and I’d like to consider myself at least close, but last year I couldn’t have been more unlucky and he couldn’t have been any more lucky and I’m sure he would tell you that. He drove good, had a good car. But it’s just like dang. I’ve just had no luck. It sucks, but that’s racing.”

This season on the other hand, Otto is confident. He’s prepared. Refreshed. Rejuvenated. That preparation includes a new engine from Finger Lakes Machine, enhancements to the car, another newer Hawk Chassis at his disposal, and a whole lot of motivation for success. Sitterly is on a mission and very much wants to get back into victory lane.

“I really think this is the year, I’m pretty confident about victory lane,” Sitterly stated. “As long as any unforeseen things don’t happen, would it be absolutely impossible to not win? No. I know it could happen and it could happen easily. I just feel we should have every bit a chance at wins this year as anybody else there. Preparation wise I believe we are prepared. I have the former Moriarty 51 at my disposal if I need it and then the 7 is totally reworked. More than anything it was just an older car. It needed updates, so we did some changes that we hope are enhancements and maybe with those the car will be good enough that we can be more careful and pick and choose a little bit how hard we’re going to drive.”

Sitterly reads, sees, hears about the stats, notices the great deal of fan support cheering him on,  but Otto has never been the type of guy to pay too much attention to outside noise. He appreciates his fans though, and would love to get them, and more importantly, his dedicated Nicotra Racing team back into victory lane at the ‘Steel Palace.’

“I always put the most emphasis on winning for myself and winning for my team, but there’s a lot of fans that come over into the pit every night after the races,” Sitterly said. “I definitely want to please any of the loyal fans that I have had over years. That has always been fun.”

Racing action at Oswego Speedway begins this Saturday, May 26 with the track’s 68th annual Season Opener presented by Holiday Inn Express and highlighted by the Jim Shampine Memorial Twin 50’s for the Novelis Supermodifieds as well as the Tony White Memorial 35 for the Pathfinder Bank SBS. To purchase tickets, please call the box office at (315)-342-0646.

For more information on Oswego Speedway, be sure to visit online at OswegoSpeedway.com. You can also FOLLOW on Twitter @OswegoSpeedway or LIKE on Facebook.com/OswegoSpeedway.

About Oswego Speedway: Oswego Speedway, a sports entertainment company, is a 5/8 mile semi-banked pavement racing oval located off the shores of Lake Ontario in scenic Oswego, NY. Oswego Speedway has been a continuously run weekly racing venue since August, 1951. The premier open-wheel pavement short track cars in the world, Supermodifieds, run weekly at Oswego Speedway making Oswego the only weekly Supermodified racing venue in the world. The Small Block Supermodifieds accompany the full blown Supers on a weekly Saturday night schedule which runs from May through September. Oswego Speedway is mentioned in racing circles as the “Indy of the East,” as no fewer than a dozen past and present competitors have competed at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway including Mario Andretti, arguably the greatest driver of all time, two-time Indy 500 champion Gordon Johncock, along with former International Classic Champions Bentley Warren, Joe Gosek, and Davey Hamilton.

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