Story By: CAMDEN PROUD / OSWEGO SPEEDWAY – OSWEGO, NY – Brampton, Ontario’s Dave McKnight has been as busy as any Supermodified driver out there the past four years.
He’s spent that time with Morton Motorsports traveling to a variety of events between ISMA, MSA, and of course at Oswego Speedway. Approaching their fifth season together, McKnight and team owner Gary Morton are ready as ever to ‘right the ship’ following a challenging 2017 campaign.
Obviously, McKnight knows how to get around. He’s the 2001 ISMA champion and a winner with the series eighteen times over. He opened up last year with a third place finish in the Jack Murphy Memorial 60 with the top on followed by a runner-up effort in ISMA’s return to Lancaster Speedway, narrowly missing out on a huge win.
After being the class of the field in Upstate, NY, little did McKnight know that the remainder of the season would be a roller coaster. That roller coaster included losing at least four engines, beginning with what was only ISMA’s third race of the season at Stafford Speedway. The driver of the No. 70 was leading the points when the engine troubles started to begin.
“You just have to persevere and not give up. Never give up,” McKnight said. “Gary, me, Terry, Shawn and everyone involved with that race team have been in the sport a long time. Things don’t come easy in this sport and if you want to be victorious you have to give it 150% every day.”
As difficult as McKnight’s 2017 may have been, Gary and Dave like to ‘old school’ it. Their ‘never quit’ attitude allowed the Liftow Toyota sponsored car to hit the track for nearly every event the two picked out prior to the start of the season. Despite further engine casualties to set the team back, the two persevered and were able to at least finish out the season despite the tremendous obstacles.
“It’s easy to quit,” McKnight admitted. “Last year we lost four motors, maybe five motors, and said maybe we will just throw in the towel. There’s a cost there too and you have to wonder where the cut off point is, but Gary persevered and wanted to keep going. I’d say maybe not all of the decisions were quite right when you are trying to patch things together just to get through the season. He’s a harcore racer and he does whatever it takes just to put the car on the track. Old schooling, perseverance and never say never, or quit, is all part of a team.”
McKnight has been to victory lane quite a bit in a Supermodified. Over thirty times to be exact. But, he’d like to add some bigger accomplishments to his list as far as driving for Gary goes. The Canadian pair continues to search for their first ‘substantial’ win together and that is something that Dave hopes to get done this season. It’s all about learning and growing as a team.
“We’ve had a few wins with the car, but nothing substantial,” McKnight noted. “We have had some good runs, but I think after being together for now what will be our fifth year, learning to grow and work together as a team and learn what each other’s needs are is pretty important. It’s nice to know where everybody shines in different areas to try to make the car better and I think that is starting to show.”
Lancaster was perhaps one of the more disappointing runs of the entire 2017 season for Morton Motorsports. McKnight was literally the show in Western N.Y, as he charged through the field to come just short in a second place finish to eventual winner Trent Stephens.
“The Lancaster run should’ve been a win, not a second place,” quipped McKnight. “Due to driver error and having a couple little mishaps on the race track bumping and banging and taking out a nose wing kind of set us back, but I think growing as a team with the individuals around me over the last several years has made this group come together. We know the car has potential and we know the car can win.”
There’s no question that Gary Morton’s team is competitive in all facets. Wing, non-wing, ISMA, MSA and Oswego. Unfortunately though, the biggest downfall for the team is in fact non-wing Supermodified racing at the fast ⅝’ths. Many believe it’s simply a walk in the park to take the wing off and go racing, but McKnight of all people knows that is not the case. On the other hand, Dave is comfortable with the decision made by himself and Gary to accept the challenge of using one car for every event on their schedule.
“Our biggest downfall right now is Oswego without the kite (wing),” McKnight cited. “Everybody says to just put the wing on and take it right off, but there are just so many different circumstances between the cars today that its not that easy to do. We’ve been competitive on both sides of it, but usually the guys running up front are the ones that have the single car for each category. When you look at a guy like (Dave) Shullick, running one car with ISMA and another with Oswego, it is so difficult to keep up with those programs because you aren’t using the same equipment day in and day out. You’ve got a car that’s only running half the time, the rear end is only running half the time, and the car is totally setup for without having a kite on the roof so with today’s program it’s just tough. We are competitors though and we only have the one car. We chose to go down that road and that’s okay with me.”
McKnight has certainly been a lot more successful with the wing on at Oswego versus with it off, at least in recent years. He’s been on the podium for each of the past two Memorial Day Weekend shows while also finishing fifth in the 2016 running of the Bud Light ISMA Supernationals. He believes that had he kept the momentum the team carried early in 2017, that Morton Motorsports just might have won themselves an ISMA championship.
“Going into Lancaster we were actually leading the ISMA series,” McKnight recalled. “We were in good contention at Oswego also so there were a lot of positive notes there. We just needed to keep the rally going and unfortunately the motor slid us down and took us out of the running. I truly believe if we kept going all year with no engine failure that we probably would have won the ISMA points.”
Despite a good run on Classic Weekend of 2016 with ISMA, 2017 turned out to be very different. It was not engine problems sidelining McKnight this time, but a broken part sending him hard into the first turn foam midway through the feature. Of course, Morton Motorsports was pulling double duty that weekend and had the Budweiser International Classic 200 to compete in the following day. With the car heavily damaged, Morton and McKnight were forced to work around the clock for the next 24 hours with the help of some fellow competitors. The team was able to recover for a solid twelfth place effort in the Classic despite being involved in a first lap incident.
McKnight explained, “The Classic is another place we probably could have had a better run. I ended up in a little jingle on the first lap which pretty much took us out of the race because with the Classic you go down a lap when you’re stuck in the pits. In saying that, considering what we went through the night prior in the ISMA show pounding the wall and then putting a car back together to compete the next day says a lot about the whole team. I have to commend Jerry Curran, my team, Pat Strong, all of the people who were right there supporting us all night long to get the car back on the race track.”
There’s no question that McKnight has been a Classic contender before. Of the substantial victories Gary and Dave have their eyes on, the $15,000 to win International Classic 200 is certainly at the top of that list. This time, Dave wants to finish what he nearly accomplished with Syrell Racing several years earlier.
“The Classic is certainly our goal,” McKnight said of himself and Morton. “I’ve had some good runs in that race and just not been able to finish it off. I lead 180 laps in the Syrell car once and then lost it with twenty to go. Another race we lead 140 and got taken out by (Lou) Cicconi, so for Gary and I it would be a highlight of our careers to bring home a Classic victory.”
Although McKnight enjoys the fun that comes with traveling to every Supermodified race possible, its also challenging if you want to become a legit contender for the International Classic. You have to at least be at Oswego a few times during the season which is already the case, but the nine-time Oswego winner also realizes that he’s at a disadvantage not running the full season there. However, McKnight remains perfectly content with the old school mentality of going “race chasing.”
“The last few years has shown everyone that it’s of great importance to at least be at Oswego a few times during the season if you want to go after the Classic,” quipped McKnight. “DJ (Shullick) is a fantastic competitor in a stout operation no doubt, but it just shows you what being there all year like he was can accomplish for you, especially when you are switching back and forth with the kite on the car. Sometimes it’s just good not to travel every which way and change the car all over from point a to point b. It’s no easy task. Shullick put himself in that position and what he did is quite an accomplishment so kudos to him. We just want to run all over the place though. We like chasing everything old school style. That’s fine with me.”
So, what’s the plan for Morton Motorsports in 2018? McKnight and Morton haven’t set everything in stone yet, but he tabbed at least four ISMA shows he already knows he will be at for sure. The team also has the appearance of the Midwest Supermodified Series at Lucas Oil Raceway (IRP) on their radar for the last week in September.
“Gary and I haven’t completely done the math and pieced out our schedule yet, but we have a pretty good idea,” McKnight offered. “We know for sure that with the wing on we will be at Delaware, Jukasa, Lancaster. Those are all an hour from my house, so why wouldn’t we go to those ones. I definitely want to be at IRP too.”
Of course, McKnight will be back at Oswego on Labor Day Weekend going for a Classic victory, but it’s unclear at this time if the team will do the double due to the near-disaster last year that almost sidelined him from starting the 200.
“As far as Oswego goes for non-wing events, we haven’t gone through every week on the schedule to really break it down and decide what we want to do, but we know for sure we will be there for Classic Weekend,” McKnight stated. “I’m not sure what the plan will be Classic Weekend. Last year we had the mishap on Saturday which really set us back on Sunday. We might just focus on the 200 rather than putting ourselves in a potentially bad situation. That’s a decision we will have to make.”
Although not committing to switching over when he’s in town, McKnight did commit to at least three additional non-wing shows this coming season. He realizes the importance of logging laps and building a notebook throughout the season to have everything ready to go for Classic Friday’s time trials. The fastest lap is not McKnight’s concern. It is more so just about getting in the race.
“For sure we will be at Oswego for at least four non-wing shows in 2018 including the Classic, we are definite on that,” McKnight said. “We both know that you can’t just show up on Sunday afternoon or Friday night and lay down a lap if you haven’t been there once all year. You just can’t do it. Everybody that’s down there seems to pick up the pace for Labor Day and you’ve got everybody that lays down those qualifying laps not that they mean anything other than the pride of saying I got the fastest lap of the day and I’m sitting on the front row, but all you’ve really got to do is get in that race. That’s the only concern. It’s not about who has the fastest lap. Those laps don’t even happen in the race. All that is, is get up on the wheel and drive your balls off for two laps and hopefully you lay down something decent that will put you in the show. That’s all we want to do.”
Fans will be eager to hear that the first ever running of the Jim Shampine Memorial Twin 50’s may very well be in the cards for McKnight and Morton as well as the Twin 35’s a few weeks later before possibly stopping back in July for Mr. Novelis Supermodified, which will return to a 75-lap event this year. It’s all about getting the best ‘bang for their buck’ possible after making the long haul from Canada.
“Right now the shows we are looking at are the ones with the double features,” McKnight explained. “I’d like to be there for the Opening Night Twin 50’s in May, there’s no ISMA show that day and then there is the Twin 35’s also. That gives us two opportunities to come up and run some laps with the top off of the car. I’m thinking Twin 50’s, Twin 35’s, Mr Supermodified and the Classic. That’s not written in stone but that’s my guess.”
At 58 years-old, McKnight remains a Supermodified fan favorite, showing not even the slightest sign of slowing down. His Oswego career began in 1986 and thanks to the support of his car owners and fans over the years, McKnight is still very much a contender over thirty seasons later.
“It’s all about keeping the fans happy,” McKnight said. “I feel like the fan support is fantastic. On Facebook, at the track, everywhere. We want to be able to put on a great event and put the people in the seats. On the autograph nights at Oswego, when the little ones come up to me or Joe Gosek, or Otto Sitterly and ask for autographs, it’s about the smile you see on their face. We want to be their heroes. I just want to be competitive and as long as it stays that way, we are just going to keep racing.”
You can catch McKnight and Morton Motorsports in action this May as Oswego Speedway’s 68th consecutive season of racing begins with the first ever running of the Jim Shampine Memorial Twin 50’s for the Novelis Supermodifieds on Saturday, May 26. A 35-lap Tony White Memorial main for the Pathfinder Bank SBS will be run alongside this can’t miss, never before seen event for the Supers. To purchase tickets, please call (315)-342-0646.
Season tickets, camping packages, and more are all on sale as part of Oswego Speedway’s 2018 schedule. Tickets and camping passes can be picked up in the speedway office from 11am to 4pm on Saturdays during winter hours. The box office will return to normal hours this April.