CANAJOHARIE, N.Y. — Story by Keith Shampine — Photos by Rich Hayes, Jim Feeney and Mike Johnson — Otto Sitterly reached a milestone in 2022 that only a handful of drivers in history have accomplished — 50 big block supermodified feature wins between Oswego Speedway and the winged super series of ISMA and MSS.
Sitterly’s car owner John Nicotra noted the accomplishment on Facebook shortly after Otto clinched his second straight ISMA championship at the season-ending Bob Webber Sr. Memorial Star Classic at New Hampshire’s Star Speedway on Sept. 17.
Sitterly’s four career ISMA wins plus two MSS triumphs this year at Ohio’s Lorain Raceway Park now give him six in the winged ranks. He won eight Oswego features as a car owner from 2000 to 2006 in his popular black and yellow No. 79 before moving to the newly formed Nicotra Racing team in 2007. Since then he’s picked up 36 Oswego wins with Nicotra, including five International Classic 200s and seven Jim Shampine Memorials.
We caught up with Otto last week to talk about his 2022 season and his driving career, which on asphalt began back in 1995 in the Limited Supermodified (now SBS) division at Oswego. After four SBS wins between 1998 and ’99, he’d graduate to supers in 2000 and win Rookie of the Year that year before scoring his first supermodified feature win on August 18, 2001. Forty-nine wins, nine Oswego track championships and two ISMA championships later the 54-year-old Canajoharie, N.Y., driver is still at it, although he says his most recent ISMA title will likely be his last as he transitions to a part-time schedule in 2023 and beyond.
Question — First off, Otto, what happened in this year’s Classic that sent you into the Turn 1 wall while leading just past halfway?
“The left-front wheel bearing failed. Joey Hawksby got the car to a point a week or two before the race to where we could take it and finish assembly. We went through just about everything on the car other than the front bearings. I never thought there’d be a problem there.
I had a pretty good car in the race, and I wanted to get a good restart to stay out front. There was no warning; I put my foot on the brake and it went all the way down, gave input to the wheel and it kept going straight. Thank God for the foam. The back of the car was all torn up, but it didn’t hurt the frame. Everything from the rollcage back was new, so that was disappointing.”
If you’d made it to the end of the race, how do you think it would have played out?
“I feel we had a good car. I talked to (Michael) Barnes after the race, and he was feeling the same things with his car that I felt with ours. I think we had about identical cars. I slipped once off of (Turn) 2 when I was working to stay out front to collect the halfway bonus; I gave it a touch more throttle than it wanted on that lap. We rode for awhile; the characteristic with these Hawk cars is they seem to get tight at the end. I feel like we’d have been running first or second at the end, and Barnesy ran out of fuel.”
Then you go to Star. How surprised were you to come away with the ISMA championship when you went into the night 23 points down?
“The race was a big disappointment. We missed the stagger by a half-inch in the feature. With not having a heat race to set the tires hot after a 10- or 12-lap run, that messed us up. Tom (Scholl – Nicotra tire specialist) felt terrible.
Regarding the championship, obviously I knew mathematically we had a shot. I thought (Mike) Ordway would have to break for us to get it. I didn’t think we could go and get it from him. He’d been running so well all year that I figured even if we did win the race, I expected he’d be right there and hang on to the championship.”
To miss the setup in the race, ending up P4, and then be told you won the title must have created plenty of mixed emotions that night.
“I was really disappointed when I pulled off the track — our performance wasn’t what it should have been. Going into the race, I felt like it should have been me and the 05 (Jeff Abold) battling it out. So I wasn’t happy, and then Nicotra sticks his head in the car and says, ‘I think we won the championship.’ I didn’t want to hear it. I told him, ‘Until an official gives us word, I don’t want to hear it.’ Then when they came over and wrote my name on the championship trophy check, it made the night a lot better, I’ll admit.
It’s pretty cool. Essentially, this is four championships in a row for us. We won Oswego in 2018 and ’19, there was nothing in 2020, points-wise, and then we won ISMA in 2021 and now this year. That’s a cool accomplishment.”
There have been rumors this will be your last championship. Any truth to that?
“I can say that this is the end of the championships for me. I’m not planning to run either series (Oswego or ISMA) full time. I’ve chased it way too long. We’ll look at the schedules, and plan to hit whatever we consider to be a big race.”
How would you grade your 2022 season, overall?
“Not that good. I mean, we were fast and consistent, but things just didn’t seem to fall our way. The first winged race at Oswego, we qualified second, won the heat going away and then I had to start last because of a tire problem and we ended up ninth. That kind of set the tone for the season, it seemed like.
At Berlin on Friday night, we were running second and challenging for the lead and then ran out of fuel with a few to go. We made a simple mistake with the fuel mileage. Stuff like that happened. Even when we ran well, which was most of the time, I felt like we could have had more. We won Friday at Sandusky, and I felt like we should have won the Hy-Miler Saturday night but we were a tick too tight. I had a shot at Ordway a couple times late, and if we were a little more free, I feel like we could have got him and won that race, and that would have been a big win for our group.
As far as the car, it’s fast and consistent. The Bodnar chassis is great. Between a fuel mileage mistake, missing our stagger at times, and some bad luck, I think we could have had a lot more success this year.”
How do these recent ISMA championships stack up to your Oswego titles?
“The problem with that question is that it’s obviously not the ISMA series that I remember. I associate ISMA with Chris Perley, Russ Wood, Bentley Warren and guys like that. I wish a lot of those drivers and their teams were still in it when I finally came over. A championship against that type of field would mean more. But, that being said, there are still a lot of really good cars and drivers — Clyde Booth and Ordway, the Lichty team, and others including several Bodnar chassis. Competition-wise, it’s still a strong series.”
Let’s talk about your history. You came from a dirt background, residing over 100 miles east of Oswego. What first brought you to Oswego?
“I never really raced a lot of dirt, a little bit here and there. I started going to Oswego as a fan in the early or mid-90s. It was something different. While the limiteds or SBS weren’t the most appealing cars, it was something I could afford. I guess I had an interest to do something different, so we bought a car and went racing there. I really didn’t have a ton of success in the class.”
And the move to supers?
“It seemed like the natural move to make from the SBS. I sold the SBS and used all of that money to buy a super. It was the Jeff West car that Bentley had won the Classic in a few years before. The Furlongs and West helped me out a lot early on. It was a really good car, I just didn’t know what I was doing.”
Fifty career supermodified wins — 44 Oswego and 6 winged — what does that mean to you?
“It’s pretty cool. I never would have thought that I’d win that many races. It’s definitely a milestone, but I’m not done. I’m getting near the end of my career, but I’m not finished yet. Maybe we can add a few more before it’s over.”
Is there a most memorable win or wins? Anything that stands out above the rest?
“There have been some good ones. Passing Mike Lichty on the last lap of the Classic that year (2011) was a pretty memorable one. Any win is special.”
A most memorable championship?
Otto — “All of them are special. I’m pretty proud of the one with my own car (2006). Looking back, I’m glad I got one on my own before we teamed up with Nicotra.”
A most memorable moment?
“The wreck with Ray Graham (2011 Mr. Supermodified). I’ll never forget that. On the positive side, more than wins or championships, there’s a camaraderie that you form with different groups, and that’s what we’ll all remember. A lot of the Ohio guys will stop into our shop on their way to New England, and that’s really cool. Mike and Jodi Barnes were here a few weeks ago. You make friends, especially since going on the road with the winged racing. On the tour, everyone seems to be friends and get along. It’s not that way at Oswego.”
How many more years are you going to keep doing this?
“I don’t know. That’s a good question. Probably not much more than a couple more years. I can’t see doing it much past that. This coming season we’ll be a part-time team, and that will be the case moving forward. I want to thank all our crew members, my family, Nicotra Racing sponsors and partners, of course, John Nicotra, and all our fans for the support. It’s been a great ride, and it’s not over yet.”