Lightning in a bottle

JIM CRESSMAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:39 AM ET

DELAWARE -- There may have been a few flubbed putts at the adjacent Oaks golf club yesterday when 21 of the world's fastest short-track cars took the green flag at Delaware Speedway.

There's nothing that matches the roar or smell of these 850-horsepower, methanol-burning winged racing machines.

The International SuperModified Association has captured lightning in a bottle and local fans were treated to two days of the fastest speeds ever seen on the historic half-mile oval.

The supers are a major part of the track's history, competing here weekly in the 1960s and early '70s.

Delaware promoter Jack Greedy, himself a supermodified driver, expanded the original quarter-mile to a half-mile in 1969 to allow these cars to show what they really can do.

Today, they're capable of IndyCar speeds, reaching 190 m.p.h. at Phoenix International Speedway.

"You can go as fast as the track will allow you," said Brandon Bellinger of Cornelius, N.C.

They were doing 130 m.p.h. on the straightaways yesterday when Dave Shullick Jr. of Amherst, Ohio crossed the stripe just ahead of Mark Sammut of London. Jeff Holbrook of Oswego, N.Y. was third.

ISMA was the brainchild of the late Jim Shampine and Nolan Swift, both legendary drivers at famed Oswego Speedway. They wanted to ensure the future of supermodified racing and it began with one race in 1974. The purse was $5,000 US, with $1,000 to win.

Two years later, a full series was created and today they race for purses of $30,000, with $3,200 to win.

Shampine revolutionized the way the supers run today. His home-designed and built cars obsoleted much of the competition. People say he was before his time. Unfortunately, his time ended at age 41 on Labour Day weekend 1982, doing what he loved, and on the track he loved.

But almost 27 years after his death, Shampine remains one of the most popular supermodified drivers ever. He's still the winningest driver at Oswego, with 87 victories and seven track championships.

ISMA used to make once-a-year appearances at Delaware, until the mid-80s. It wasn't until 2006 that the earth-shaking roar was heard again. Now they're a yearly fixture.

"It's great to race here," said Sammut, 36, who won his first ISMA feature in 12 years last month at Cayuga Motor Speedway.

"We travel a lot of miles every year (mostly into New England) with this thing so the people who help us out a ton -- which we wouldn't be doing it if it wasn't for them -- they finally get to see us."

Sammut made a late charge but couldn't catch the leader.

"The car ran decent. Too bad we didn't have just a little bit more for him (Shullick). I damaged the nose a bit there and that sure didn't help us, but we finished second and we probably had a third-place car."

Sammut said although Oswego is highly regarded for supers -- still running them every Saturday night -- Delaware holds his memories.

"As you know this was a hotbed for the supermodifieds right up until the early '70s, plus Nilestown and Famboro ran supers every week, so the older people remember that and they like to see them come back.

"A lot of those early ISMA guys like Jimmy Shampine were my heroes when I was little and I remember seeing them run here, so to be in the same class doing the same thing they were doing is just great."

And, as track announcer John Houghton said in signing off yesterday, "Can't wait until next year."


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