Following a breakthrough 2017 campaign in the Chris Osetek Racing No. 55 Supermodified, New York native turned North Carolina resident Keith Shampine will look to improve even further at the Oswego Speedway this year after grabbing the first two feature wins of his career, the pole for the Budweiser International Classic 200, and a third place effort in the championship standings just one season ago.
“Last season we finally proved we had a really fast car and only got faster with it towards the end of the year,” Shampine said. “Warmups and the heat races it is so strong, but where we lack is when the sun goes down in the feature and obviously that's the most important race of the night. We still aren't where we need to be in the main event, but have been working real hard in the offseason to crack that.”
The veteran driver, wearing the legendary ‘Shampine’ name on his back, drove to his first career victory in right around ten years of trying when Keith scored what will go down as the most popular Jim Shampine Memorial victory in speedway history; taking the checkered in his uncle’s memorial race and electrifying the hallowed grandstands of the ‘Steel Palace’ this past May. He followed that up with a Twin 35 victory in June, but Shampine still felt like he should have been back in victory lane a few more times in 2017.
“It was an incredible feeling to win that race in my uncle’s honor. To get a couple wins right off the bat with such a fast car, I really thought we'd get more than two, so that was a little disappointing that we weren't able to get more for the rest of the whole year,” Shampine admitted. “But, on the other hand, to finish third to two Nicotra cars in points in what was obviously my best season so far was great. We just need to put our finger on what we can do to get our car as fast in the main events as it is in the features.”
The past two seasons, Shampine has had all the formulas necessary to win his first Budweiser International Classic 200. This past September, Keith became the first Shampine to sit on the pole of the Classic since 1973. He hasn’t had much luck in the most prestigious event in Supermodified racing, but he’d like that to change soon.
The Classic is really important to me,” offered Shampine. “I’ve been racing over ten years but have only finished two Classics. My rookie year I finished thirteenth in the Strong car, then driving for Duratt I started twenty first and wound up seventh in 2009, but I haven't even managed a finish since that. Although, well, I guess I did finish two years ago, but lost a bunch of laps in the pits refueling.”
In the 61st running of the 200 a year ago, Shampine was running in the top five when fuel problems forced the Osetek Racing No. 55 pitside early on. Keith was never able to return to action, and this of course came only a mere twelve months after yet another fuel issue forced the Osetek car to the pits while Shampine was leading the Classic just past the halfway mark in 2016. For 2018 on the other hand, Keith believes his team and car owner will finally have a handle on the issues ahead of the long 200-laps.
“Last year was pretty much a disaster,” Shampine said. “We went from qualifying on the pole to something that couldn't have been much more disappointing dropping out early with fuel issues. We put it behind us now and are not worried about it. This time we just need to be prepared, figure out the fuel system, the new side cell, and don’t monkey with the extra fuel cell. As a team, we need to work on mileage and what we are getting on feature event races on a weekly basis and then also when the pace is slower in the Classic. I know Chris (Osetek) has made a lot of improvements in the offseason so we should have all that worked out and hopefully we can just focus on race setup and everything like that.”
Shampine recalled the heartbreaking 60th Classic he dropped out of by saying,” There was a race in 2016 where we lead all the laps and I was frustrated because we didn’t get a win before the end of the year. I felt we should’ve won that race, but I got the front wing knocked off and had to watch cars past me so I said we are starting up front, so I'm gonna put the thing towards the front and lead as many laps we can. To some it might not be the best strategy, because some wanna hang back and save your stuff. But, just to get up there and lead all those laps I said screw it, I’m gonna get out here and if the car goes away then it goes away. Some people felt I was running too fast of a pace, but I disagree with that. I wasn't taking it that hard until about lap 90 when I saw the halfway bonus coming and picked it up. I think we would’ve won. The car did go away a little and Shullick would have passed me, but we’d have been in second when he ran out of gas.”
The Classic wasn’t meant to be just yet, but like his uncle Jim, all these years later, a Shampine is back at the track in a homebuilt Supermodified; something Keith takes great pride in as Osetek built the first of his Supermodifieds in a one car garage in North Carolina. Another interesting tidbit about Shampine is that despite racing at Oswego since 2005, the Supermod veteran has never sat in the ‘Hawk’ Chassis that has taken over speedway competition as we know it.
I’ve been at Oswego a substantial amount of time, but have never drove a Hawk in my life,” Shampine noted. “I just have never had the opportunity. I went from Graves to Osetek, and there were some struggles along the way. I had decent car in the older 55, had some good runs, struggled, but knew we needed a little bit better of a car to compete up front on a regular basis. Chris spent two years working on the car we have now. We knew with his confidence and added experience that he would know what he needed to do. It wasn’t surprising to me to turn a 16.3 when we pulled it out of the hauler for practice. I knew we would break into those times pretty quickly. It really does mean a lot to me to compete and now win with a homebuilt car. You just don’t see many like that anymore and I think the fans love it too so it's pretty cool.”
Not only would Shampine like to get a few more victories, improve his effort in the Classic, and contend for the track championship, but a win in the all new Jim Shampine Memorial Twin 50’s on Opening Night May 26 would be pretty cool as well. The double features will mark the first time Oswego has schedule twin 50-lap events in one night since the 1970 season.
“It’s pretty neat,” Shampine said of the Twin 50’s. “It would be great to win both and I think we will have a good shot to win both, but hope like any other twin night we can make it through the first unscathed and get to the second, but with the independent suspension and balance we have with the car and what its gonna be, the tire will work out in our favor and I think we will have a good balance for the second race. I’ve never run two 50 lappers on the same set of tires before, but I think this is a great call and I'm glad the speedway did something different.”
As for what appears to be a rejuvenated division that has seen 33 total cars register including 19 commitment teams, Shampine is very excited about the sudden rise in Supermodified car counts prior to the 2018 season.
“I’m honestly really encouraged because I truly thought it was dying out,” Shampine admitted. “Last year I was was nervous. So for the fans, and as a driver to see a few new rookies, people like Roger (Clark), others you didn't expect to race being out there with different cars, newer cars, or ones we haven't seen in awhile I think is outstanding for the track and division as a whole. It has me really excited. In 2017 I was legitimately concerned, I really thought the class would be non-existent in a few years, but here I am six months later singing a completely different tune and I couldn’t be happier about it.”
For the past several years, many fans have begged for the answer as to whether or not Keith would ever be open to trying an ‘8-Ball’ throwback scheme to honor his uncle. Well, get ready, because this year Shampine is onboard and he hopes that it will result in something very special for the speedway and its fan base.
“We are working on getting something ready to go for the Reto Night on August 4th of this season,” Shampine confirmed. “I think it would be really good for speedway and I've never really done anything to honor Jimmy in my career, so I would definitely like to honor him and my family, but I also know how many fans of his still keep tabs the speedway so that’s what this is all about. It’s for the fans and some more excitement for the speedway. It will be a great opportunity for the track to promote it and will hopefully get some more Super fans and Shampine fans back in the grandstands. We hope to see everyone there to check it out.”
What does carrying on the Shampine legacy at Oswego mean to Keith? “A lot,” he says, and Shampine is very appreciative of all the car owners he has had over the years, especially Chris and his Osetek Racing crew. Keith says hooking up with his current team has just been the perfect combination.
It definitely means a lot to carry on the family name at Oswego,” Shampine stated. “I’ve struggled for a lot of years, but I’m thankful for all car owners I’ve had. I think everyone will agree though that the new 55 and relationship I have driving for Chris is the best opportunity of my career. Last year memorial night was so special. It was relief, happiness and overwhelming emotion all filled into one. To do it for Chris and them was awesome, so I can’t thank him enough for the opportunity. It was actually (Michael) Barnes who hooked us up, so I give him gratitude and thank him for getting me in touch with Chris because it’s turned out to be not only a great driver/car owner relationship, but more importantly a really great friendship as well. I want to thank Chris, Brian, my Dad, John Coe, my wife Kelly, TJ Toyota, and everyone else who helps out and supports us. We are looking forward to giving it our all this season.”
Osetek Racing and Shampine open their 2018 season at Oswego Speedway’s Open Practice session set for Saturday, May 19 before shifting gears to come back for the 68th Season Opener and the Jim Shampine Memorial Twin 50’s a week later on Saturday, May 26. To purchase tickets, please call the speedway box office at (315)-342-0646.
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