Canadian Mike Lichty opened up the International Super Modified Association’s (ISMA) 2016 season on Saturday night, winning the 50-lap Jack Murphy Memorial at the Oswego Speedway. It was the 10th-career win on the ISMA circuit for the Innerkip, Ontario resident - his fourth at the lakeside oval. Having started eighth on the grid, Lichty and his Reed’s Salvage No. 84 would take the lead away from Ohio’s Trent Stephens on the 17th lap and leave his chasers to tussle for second place. Unlike last year’s heartbreaking defeat - losing the lead on the final stretch of the last lap, Lichty would hold strong throughout, never being seriously challenged.
The 2012 series champ and runner-up in last season’s title hunt, took full advantage of an open practice session on Friday evening to ready the car for Saturday’s racing. While doing so, he laid down an “unofficial” new track record time. He backed up the performance during Saturday’s time trial session with an even faster and official lap time of 14.730 seconds.
“The whole weekend went well,” Lichty said. “Obviously, we knew were going to unload and have good speed out of the car like we did in previous years. It was kind of nice to make some laps yesterday and kind of feel out, shake down the car for the first time. We definitely wanted to back it up during qualifying and we did. The heat race went well and the feature obviously went well too. There were a couple of different things I think we could’ve done differently for the setup for the feature, but all in all, we came out on top.”
Dan Bowes would snag the lead away from Tim Ice at the drop of the green to start the Shea Concrete and Corr/Pak Merchandising sponsored event. Stephens, Ice, Mike McVetta and Chris Perley would chase Bowes across the checkered stripe to complete their maiden lap. Lichty would break into the top five on the third lap, besting Perley’s No. 11. Just three trips later, he would cruise around the outside of McVetta’s No. 22 to take over fourth.
Up front, Bowes would continue to set the pace until Dave Duggan’s No. 51 popped the wall between the third and fourth turns on the 12th lap. With 11 laps in the books, Bowes led Stephens, Ice, Lichty, McVetta and Dave McKnight. Perley, Dave Shullick, Jr., Mark Sammut, Alison Cumens Kyle Edwards and Ray Graham, Jr. filled out the first dozen.
An action-packed restart saw Stephens put his No. 19 around the outside of the race leader and take command. Just behind him, Lichty would first sail around Ice before conquering Bowes to move into second. McKnight would first enter the top five, besting McVetta for fifth. Three laps later he would then take fourth away from Ice.
Lichty would put an end to Stephens’ five-lap reign atop the field on the race’s 17th round, putting himself there for keeps. Behind him, McKnight would slip under Bowes for third in turn No. 3 and take aim at the two front runners. Though, Lichty would soon begin to pull away from both Stephens’ No. 19 and the McKnight No. 70.
At the halfway mark, the No. 84 commanded a 15-car advantage over Stephens and McKnight. Further behind, Ice and Shullick ran fourth and fifth. All was well with the race leader until lapped traffic began to allow his two nearest chasers to cut into his lead. Coupled with occasional smoke puffing from Lichty’s engine his stronghold on the field appeared to be threatened.
Just as Stephens and McKnight had erased the advantage and readied themselves to pounce on the race leader, Eddie Witkum, Jr. looped his No. 21 on the front straightaway. The field would reset, but more importantly for Lichty, his pathway would clear.
With only 13 rounds around Oswego’s fast five-eighths mile remaining, Shullick and Ice filled out the top five behind Lichty, Stephens and McKnight. Perley, Sammut, McVetta, Edwards and Danny Shirey commanded the top 10.
Lichty quickly put five lengths on Stephens on the ensuing restart. Shullick would begin applying pressure to McKnight, who continued to hound the runner-up, Stephens. The trio would battle for second until McKnight and Stephens touched wheels heading out of turn No. 2 on the 43rd lap. Stephens would end up spinning his No. 19, while McKnight would escape unharmed. The yellow would fly for the final time.
Pulling away on the restart, Lichty immediately answered the question as to whether McKnight would have anything for him. As he galloped away, McKnight would instead find himself on the defense. With five to go, Shullick’s No. 95 darted underneath the No. 70 on the back straightaway to seize second place. 15 lengths behind and with only a handful of laps to go, Shullick could only hope for a caution flag to have a shot at the race leader. However, none would fall. Lichty would cross the line on the 50th lap to earn the win.
“We had a few (close calls) in lapped traffic,” Lichty said. “We were a little too free from where we needed to be, but luckily, finally, the cautions played in our favor. We’re off to Delaware next weekend. We haven’t had a win at Delaware, but we we’ve finished second a couple of times. I think we’ve got a pretty good package there.”
“I’d like to thank Reed’s Salvage, Craig Reed, Deanna Reed, Raven, my father, Patco Transportation, Dick, Dave and everybody on the crew. They work hard and it shows.”
North Ridgeville, Ohio’s Shullick would land in second.
“I just kept at it, Shullick said. “A lot of guys were going good and I just stayed at it and got guys when I could get them. We never shake our heads at a second-place finish. We’re happy about it. Obviously, we’d like to win, but we’ll be back in Delaware on Friday night and give it all we’ve got. Mike (Lichty) will be good this year. They’re good competition for us. We make each other better and that’s what’s fun about it. I’m looking forward to this year, based on that and based on racing the rest of the group. They’re all tough.”
“I’d like to thank Royal Purple. They came on both, with us and Nicotra this year. Elios Financial Group, G & I Homes, everybody that pitches in and the fans.”
After revamping the Gary Morton-owned No. 70 during the off season, McKnight would find the podium, finishing third.
Over the winter we did a lot of changes and we posted it on Facebook. I’m sure a lot of people have seen the changes we did over the winter. We struggled all day. We really did … We probably made 20 spring changes to get to where we did today. I’m really happy with the progress. We’ll take these notes and go with it. We ran a little water temperature during the day so we made a change in the fuel system. We ran the temperature 225-230 which is a little warm for us. Mike was smoking a little too. I think it was the heat of the day.
Regarding the incident with Stephens - “We had caught Trent. We were definitely faster than him. We got down into one. Trent got a little sideways on entry into one. We go from the bottom up quite a bit. So, when that happened there was four to go. I took advantage of it. It’s unfortunate that Trent got sideways. Then he came back across the track and kind of drove over the front wheel of us and ended up in the wall. It’s unfortunate, but that’s racing. I’ve had it happen to me. I know he was upset about it, but it’s a sport. There’s contact from time to time and you have to do it. He’s a great guy and a great competitor. It’s the heat of the moment and I understand.”
“I just want to thank Liftow, Dale Farren & Son, East Penn and Southwood Graphics … all of these people that are involved with us now that have helped us put together a car that’s competitive. We look forward to continuing on with these people. We have a few more good years left in us, still.”
After a rocky off-season that put his return to racing in question, Ice was more than pleased with a fourth-place finish in his 2016 debut.
“The car was really good,” Ice said. “We tested here Friday and we struggled a little bit. I made one change. I called Bobby Dawson and he said to make this change to the panhard bar and we did that for qualifying. We went faster than we had all day. We started on the pole, lost a couple of spots, but ran good though. I’ve got to thank Bobby Dawson, Timmy J. for helping me with some stuff and Dick Meyers. I called him and he gave me some pointers. Everything that everybody told me to do worked out good.”
“We’re going to run a full season. I had a stroke in December and recovered from that. My big recovery goal was to be able to do this and I think we did pretty good today. We’re happy.”
Running a partial season, Perley landed the Vic Miller-owned No. 11 in fifth.
“I can’t tell you what we were expecting tonight. We rebuilt the car all winter. We didn’t know if we were going to be here. It just got finished being put together last night, so we didn’t come up and test. So, for firing it up today and running a fifth with the competition that was out there? Yeah, I’d say we’re happy. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but anytime you get a top five at Oswego, it’s something. It’s a great place to race. It was a lot of fun out there … a lot of work, but I’d like to get the car to be a lot faster with less work because I’m getting to old to work.”
“I think my schedule will be a lot like what we did last year … New England, New York and we’ll see what else. We’ve got another bird coming in, a Hawk that’s supposed to be done in a week or two. That will be something else to play with. I can’t tell you which car we’re running next, but we’ll have work to do with both of them.”
“I’d like to thank my mom, because it’s her birthday … Ed Shea, he’s the backbone of our foundation and my crew. I’ve been with these guys for 25 years, I think. The car stayed together because these guys can do it. I’ve got the best crew around me.”
Not quite ready to debut his new car, defending race winner, Sammut, piloted his No. 78 to a sixth-place finish.
“We weren’t quite as hooked up as we were last year, Sammut said, “but compared to where were started … We really struggled yesterday (in open practice). We got it a lot closer today. A sixth-place car was all we had. The guys in front of us were really going. Some nights, that’s all you’ve got. We really can’t complain or anything. The car wasn’t bad, there’s really nothing wrong with it. We just got beat by a few faster cars, that’s all.”
“This was the old car. The new car is ready, but we haven’t had it out to test it anywhere. I didn’t want to bring it down here and test it and cause us trouble all weekend. We’ll probably run this one again at Delaware next Friday and after that hopefully get the new one to Lorain.”
“I’d like to thank Currie Steel. They’ve been the biggest supporter of ours for years and years and years. Well’s Foundry, Mobil Striping and Sweeping and all of the guys that come to the races with us and work on the car … It’s a real team effort when it comes down to it. I’ve got to thank my dad. He spends as much or more time on the car than I do. He’s the main guy.”
Having not finished a race at Oswego in three years, McVetta’s seventh-place finish was a refreshing start to his 2016.
“I tell you what,” McVetta said, “the last three years here, we haven’t finished a race. It’s been since 2012. Two bad crashes last year, and to come out here opening day and set third quick time and a seventh in the feature, that’s just a win to us. Just finishing was a win. I couldn’t do it with out all of the guys that have helped me - my mom and dad, Doug Saunier, Dean, Nick … all of my sponsors, Perfection Fab, Euphoria Vapor, Cerni Trucks, Fallsway Equipment … Griff’s Engine got us a heck of a motor this year. So far, we’re happy with the start.”
Lichty’s win also puts him atop the standings of the Shea Concrete Super Series, a three-race series carrying its own point fund that pays out to the top five drivers following the final leg.
Jack Murphy Memorial 50: 1. MIKE LICHTY (84), 2. Dave Shullick, Jr. (95), 3. Dave McKnight (70), 4. Tim Ice (65), 5. Chris Perley (11), 6. Mark Sammut (78), 7. Mike McVetta (22), 8. Kyle Edwards (1), 9. Danny Shirey (49), 10. Alison Cumens (39), 11. Ben Seitz (17), 12. Timmy Jedrzejek (97), 13. Trent Stephens (19), 14. Eddie Witkum, Jr. (21), 15. Dan Bowes (25), 16. Ray Graham, Jr. (90), 17. Dave Duggan (51), 18. Dave Gruel (76), 19. Mike Ordway, Jr. (61) DNS - 20. Lou LeVea, Sr. (96)
Heat #1: 1. Dave McKnight (70), 2. Mark Sammut (78), 3. Kyle Edwards (1), 4. Mike McVetta (22), 5. Alison Cumens (39), 6. Dave Gruel (76), 7. Lou LeVea, Sr. (96)
Heat #2: 1. Ray Graham, Jr. (90), 2. Ben Seitz (17), 3. Chris Perley (11), 4. Trent Stephens (19), 5. Tim Jedrzejek (97), 6. Dave Duggan (51)
Heat #3: 1. Mike Lichty (84), 2. Tim Ice (65), 3. Dave Shullick, Jr. (95), 4. Dan Bowes (25), 5. Danny Shirey (49), 6. Eddie Witkum, Jr. (21), 7. Mike Ordway, Jr. (61)
*KDP Townhouses (Kathy Harrington) Fast Time Trialer: Mike Lichty (NTR) 14.730