OSWEGO, N.Y. – In the ageless Aesop fable The Tortoise and the Hare, the former of the two combatants ended up celebrating a victory by remaining slow and steady across the race distance.
However, Sunday night at Oswego Speedway, seventeen-year-old Tyler Thompson turned that classic script on its head and wrote his own page of history at the five-eighths-mile oval in the process.
Thompson stunned the supermodified world by demolishing the field to win the 63rd annual Budweiser Int’l Classic. The Fulton, N.Y. teenager was a rabbit from the word go, blasting past polesitter Brandon Bellinger on lap 11 of the 200-lapper and never looking back as he opened up a near half-track advantage at times through the race.
Though various combatants closed to within a few car lengths at times during the afternoon, no one had anything for Thompson, who led 189 laps of the final 190 laps uncontested en route to his first Classic victory.
The only time he wasn’t out in front after taking command was lap 13, when Bellinger briefly got back through before Thompson resumed out front for good.
It marked the second-career supermodified win at Oswego for Thompson, who triumphed Aug. 10 at the Steel Palace to become the youngest winner in the 68-year history of the facility.
Sunday’s $15,000 victory gave Thompson one more notch on his growing resume: that of the youngest Classic champion in the marquee event’s 63-year tenure.
“This is truly amazing,” a breathless Thompson said in victory lane. “I’m just speechless right now.”
Thompson started fifth, but it was clear from the drop of the green flag that his neon-trimmed No. 98 was the car to beat. He went from fourth to the lead in a three-lap sequence, passing Joe Gosek, Dave Jeff Abold and Bellinger in quick succession between the ninth and 11th revolutions.
After that, it was as if Thompson had brought a gun to a knife-fight, despite seven restarts that he had to navigate between the time that he took the race lead and the time that the checkered flag waved.
Each time, however – whether he had a buffer of lapped cars between himself and second place or, like in the late laps, he had Dave Shullick Jr. on his tail – Thompson was able to pull away from the field.
Thompson even made controlling the gap look effortless, thanks in part to guidance from the infield.
“I had one of my guys, Doug, down here the whole time,” Thompson said. “He helped me through this race and that, combined with a really, really fast car, is what made it all happen for us today.”
Sunday’s score was one, Thompson noted, that went according to plan – just not the plan he intended on using at the start of the weekend.
“Getting out front and trying to run away wasn’t what I wanted to do coming into this, but then I checked the forecast and I saw some rain,” Thompson recalled. “I said to myself, ‘well, it’s like a 50-50 shot (that it would rain), so I’ll just go for it and see what happens.’
“I can’t believe it actually worked.”
Shullick spent the entire second half of the race chasing Thompson, taking second from Bellinger on lap 101 and trying every trick in the book to track down the leading No. 98.
A final restart with 20 to go, set up after Lou LeVea Jr. found the turn one wall four laps prior, gave Shullick a final shot to try and motor around the outside, but Thompson was simply too strong.
“That was a good run. Our car was excellent,” noted Shullick. “A half to three quarters of the way through the race, I was cruising and I thought I had the car to beat … because I saw him (Thompson) up running up front and I was like, ‘there’s no way he’s gonna make it. There’s no way.’ And then finally, at about lap 180. I’m like, ‘he might actually make it.’
“We had to turn up the wick there at the end, but he had just enough to hold me off, so hats off to him and his whole crew,” Shullick added. “That thing they had was a bullet tonight.”
Michael Barnes completed the podium, his fifth-straight top-three finish in Classic competition, with Jeff Abold and Doug Didero following in fourth and fifth, respectively.
Bellinger faded from the pole to sixth at the finish after leading 11 of the first 13 laps, ahead of Chris Perley, Alison Sload, Michael Muldoon and Keith Shampine.
Recently-crowned track champion Otto Sitterly, who was running third inside of the final 20 laps, was forced to pit road with nine to go with a broken transfer arm. He ended up 16th in the official results.
As for Thompson, tears pricked his eyes as the reality of his accomplishment began to set in.
“Man, I’m feeling a whole lot of emotions,” he admitted. “I’m happy now, but about halfway through that race, I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’ve got it.’ By the end of it, though, I was like, ‘OK, this is a little bit better.’
“To be a Classic champion is beyond my wildest dreams and I’m just so grateful for everyone’s support.”
Tyler Thompson, Dave Shullick Jr., Michael Barnes, Jeff Abold, Doug Didero, Brandon Bellinger, Chris Perley, Alison Sload, Michael Muldoon, Keith Shampine, Ben Seitz, Logan Rayvals, Jack Patrick, Camden Proud, Dan Connors, Otto Sitterly, Jamie Timmons, Jerry Curran, Dave McKnight, Bobby Santos, Dave Gruel, Davey Hamilton, Brian Osetek, Lou LeVea Jr., Dave Danzer, Hal Latulip, Joe Gosek, Tim Snyder, Dan Bowes, Bob Bond, Todd Stowell, Lou LeVea Sr., Jason Spaulding, Aric Iosue.