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Racing Commentary

Email Lew at lewboyd@coastal181.com

 Bobby Witkum blasts the concrete at Thompson, CT, with the ‘Clipper City Rocket'
 (Scott Nickel Photo, Witkum Family Collection)



Most racers will tell you cars aren’t just metal objects. There can be some kind of strange personality thing attached to them, too. Even in this day of mass production, two chassis welded up identically and side by side can end up being Jekyll and Hyde. The one will never seem comfortable and never take a set while the other will handle seamlessly and just keep on truckin,’ no matter what happens.

A car known along the way as “the Clipper City Rocket” is surely a case in point. There has been a spirit around it, one that has never known how to quit.

Twenty-five winters ago, Freddie Graves was designing and gluing up class-of-the-field supermodifieds in the Oswego, New York, area. One of his pieces came East to Joe Barry’s Oil Company in Wilmington, Mass., and Joe hired Bugsy Stevens’ then son-in-law, Bobby Fitzpatrick, to drive it. They had their stout runs, but never were able to seal the checkered deal.

The car caught the eye of Bobby Witkum of the impressively successful Witkum racing family. Bobby bought it, dedicated it to ‘Clipper City,’ his hometown of Newburyport, Mass, and dedicated himself to taking it to the front. The concentration and mechanical massaging paid off, and he had the Clipper in the winner’s circle in four weeks.

Racing will be racing, though. Bobby recalls coming off the second turn at the banked 5/8 mile at Thompson, Conn., one afternoon in the injected big block. “You had to get the car’s attitude just right to get over that bump. Sometimes it could lift the wheels right off the track. I think that’s what happened. When it slammed back down, I broke a brand new U-joint on the drive shaft. I thought I had blown the engine.”

You could see why. Bobby flew down the backstretch a ball of fire before hitting the wall hard. It was a scary mess.

Bobby was sunsetting his driving career at the time, but not so with his buddy Paul “Ricochet” Richardson. Paul says, “There was just something different about that car. I followed it a lot and watched the way it handled. I said, ‘Bobby, let me have a shot at her.’”

Armed with one serious power crew including Dave Johnson, Tommy Howell, and Scott Scherborn and a flashy new blue and yellow paint job, the Clipper was transformed into the ”NAPA Super” for its new sponsor. The combination was magic, the very top of the New England supers in the nineties.

The Clipper was never more glamorous or successful than when Paul Richardson
and Bobby Witkum campaigned it as the ‘NAPA Super.’

The team won widely until August 1997 when the go pedal stuck in warm-ups at Star Speedway in New Hampshire. (See TEAROFF dated Oct. 1, 2009). It would be hard to say whether Ricochet or the Clipper was more badly wounded. Some were saying that, if Paul lived, he would never walk again. And surely the car was off to the junk heap.

Not. Opening day at Star the next Spring, both fully rehabilitated, Paul and the Clipper once again danced to the win, the beginning of a wildly successful season.

When Ricochet went Busch North racing, Bobby passed the car over to his younger brother Joey, quite the character.

Though never a driver, Joey was an enthusiastic – if under-funded – owner. He towed the ol’ girl with a tired Cadillac and an open trailer. He concentrated on Oswego and picked up part-time chauffeurs such as Danny Soule, Randy Ritskes, and Ohio’s Gary Albritain. At Thompson, he even engaged the services of legendary modified throttle jockey Ted Christopher.

When Joey was competing at Oswego, he would often keep the car at young Danny Kapuscinski's garage. Danny is now the PR man, part of the amazing current revitalization of the track. Danny says, "I remember sitting in the car at 16, dreaming of one day racing it....It holds a very fond place in my heart, as it became the first supermodified I ever raced."

 The Clipper fulfilling Danny Kapuscinski's daydreams.
(www.bngsupers.com Photo. Danny Kapuscinksi Collection)

And somehow the Clipper just kept on motoring. It was next in the garage of Jim Shampine’s nephew, Keith Shampine, once a starring upstate New York driver who now is a racing webmaster in North Carolina.

That was the time that newer designs were in the pits at Oswego. Keith took a workaholic approach, cutting off and rebuilding the whole rear of the car, installing a new cell, and doing lots of exacting aero work. He ran strong, saying his favorite moment was “starting the ’06 Classic in 7th spot, right next to Bentley Warren.” He and the Clipper ran in the top five before breaking late in the grind.

 Keith Shampine had the Clipper topped and tailed for the 2006 Oswego Classic.
(Keith Shampine Collection)

Keith eventually sold the car to Joe Chillemi, a very veteran super runner. Quite amazingly, its last appearance was at Classic Weekend, just this past Labor Day.

Bobby Witkum summed the aging Clipper up best. “You know, everyone has these high-tech cars now. But that car can still win. It really can. I know it. You just have to put a little money in it, pay attention to it – and talk to it.”

Almost sounds human.

© 2011 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

If you were interested in this Tearoff, you might enjoy the books below:

50 Years: Oswego Speedway
International Classic

by George Caruso Jr.,
with Carol D. Haynes
and Other Early Racers

by Gerald Hodges
and Other Early Racers, Volume II

by Gerald Hodges

Stop by our Book Store Directory for a look at our book and DVD selections:

Book Store

.: Previous Tearoffs :

12/4/11 - Bob Jepson, the Land Speed Racer Next Door

11/22/11 - Present Payoff, Future Payoff

11/7/11 - Route 169 South, Algona

10/19/11 - Otto Does the 'Cuse

9/30/11 - Saturday Folk at New Hampshire

9/14/11 - About J.R. Hildebrand - and that Last Lap

8/30/11 - Sideways and the Dzus Queen

8/16/11 - Totally Fast

8/2/11 - Perrotte at Plattsburgh

7/14/11 - So Here's What Jack Says

6/30/11 - Quick to Quickest - Jim “Mr. Magoo” Maguire

6/16/11 - Climb to the Clouds

6/2/11 - Irv and the Hall of Fame

5/18/11 - Makin' MOWA

5/4/11 - The Running of the Racers

4/21/11 - Pruett's Perspective

4/4/11 - Winter of Discontent

3/23/11 - Thinking of Gene Bergin

3/8/11 - Sprint Car World Record?

2/21/11 - Dinner at Daytona

2/10/11 - The Call Him 1/4ley

1/28/11 - Doc's Beard

1/15/11 - Reconsidering Generalizations

12/31/10 - Powerful Passion

12/19/10 - Tearoff at Yuletide

12/6/10 - Indy in December

11/21/10 - Mutt and the Brutal Ballet

10/29/10 - The Johnny Bensons and Their Supers

10/13/10 - Anatomy of an Accident

9/28/10 - Maybe Marty

9/14/10 - Push Refresh for Speedway Illustrated

8/23/10 - An Ode to Senior Supers

8/6/10 - Adrian and the Deep Water

7/20/10 - Holdout in Yuppieville

7/7/10 - The Wins are Gustin

6/16/10 - Racin' Kid, Racin' Dad

5/28/10 - The Monk and Matty D.

5/15/10 - Bluebird

4/27/10 - Catching Up With Steve Arpin

4/11/10 - The Song of the Fifties

3/22/10 - Davey!

3/8/10 - Restart!

2/21/10 - Miracles of the Rock

2/8/10 - Roger The Remarkable

1/21/10 -  Shane's Sensational '78

12/28/09 - The Flying Finn and The All American Boy

12/12/09 - Hello Wall

11/29/09 - Once More for Ernie

11/15/09 - Ernie's Excellent Chase

11/1/09 - In The Zone

10/19/09 - Rough Week in the Midwest

10/1/09 - Common Starts, Uncommon Comebacks

9/4/09 - South Dakota Chris

8/15/09 - Facial Exposure

7/31/09 - Dying in the Pits

7/9/09 - Barn Rat's Last Race

6/18/09 - Catching Up With Brad Doty

5/20/09 - Big Boys in The Attic  - rare photos of legends

5/6/09 - Back Up In The Attic - more rare photos

4/22/09 - The Son of Hard Luck - accessible racing
experience for the handicapped

4/3/09 - Racin' In The Attic - Gordon Ross photo collection

3/18/09 - About That Mike Spaulding

3/3/09 - Dick Berggren's First Win - (you had to be there!)

2/11/09 - Peter at the Park - Peter Fiandaca at Riverside Park

1/30/09 - Steve - Steve Arpin

1/4/09 - Racer Speak -cool quotations

12/16/08 - Wimble Power, Will Power - Bill Wimble

11/24/08 - Remembering Chuck Amati - by Joyce Standridge

11/11/08 - That Rick Ferkel

10/24/08 - Beyond Bionic - Bentley Warren

10/6/08 - Fifty Second Classic - Skip and Lois Matczak

9/20/08 - Joey's Dad - Tom Logano

9/1/08 - One Night at The Park - the death of Les Ley

8/20/08 - Transitional Technology - early supermodifieds

8/6/08 - Wallace on Wednesdays - dirt trackin’ Kenny

7/19/08 - Star(ter) of the Show - importance of good flaggers

7/7/08 - McUnderdog - Eddie MacDonald

6/18/08 - The Night Buzz Was Worried - Buzz Rose

6/5/08 - John Richards - Boomer Role Model

5/20/08 - The Spirit of a Racer - the late Al Powell

5/1/08 - Bobby's Blues - Bobby Santos III

4/15/08 - Thinking About Rene Charland

3/26/08 - Carl and Corey - Carl Edwards and Corey Dripps

3/4/08 - A Cool Track with Cool Racers - West Liberty, Iowa

2/14/08 - Doug Wolfgang

1/25/08 - Frankie Schneider

1/7/08 - When Drivers Can't See - cockpit vision

12/21/07 - When Starters Couldn't See - flagstand vision

12/1/07 - Ride Along with Erica Santos - in-car camera midget win

11/15/07 - Tough Drivers

11/1/07 - Cockpit Safety

10/15/07 - That First Race

10/1/07 - Racing Nicknames

9/15/07 - Too Many Officials

9/1/07 - The Look of a Real Driver

8/15/07 - Being Dale Junior

8/1/07 - Armond Holley

7/15/07  -  Red Farmer

© 2007-11 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181





































































































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