Bentley Warren at the Syracuse Mile. (Dick Berggren Photo)
Bentley Warren at the Syracuse Mile. (Dick Berggren Photo)

The Syracuse ‘Super’ Nationals

“I believe the World of Outlaws had never run on a mile track before and they elected to run without wings,” mused Warren, whose previous Syracuse best had been second to Don Diffendorf in a 1969 modified go. “It was Cindy Snyder’s car, my Oswego car, an old Nolan Swift car that I think her late husband, Dave, bought from Richie Evans. We won a lot of races in it, Michigan, Ohio, all over the place. 

“I had a roof on it that was similar to a wing and it had a wedge-type body, so we had pretty good downforce, which I think gave us an advantage, plus we had a big-block with fuel injection,” Warren noted. “I already had experience on dirt running the Hoosier Hundred and DuQuoin, and other dirt tracks like Sedalia that I had run with Tassi Vatis and Bill Finley as my crew chief, an excellent mechanic in USAC Silver Crown.

“I’m guessing that Glenn Donnelly, who was a really sharp, good promoter, had either been to Oswego or maybe had seen the supers run at one of the ISMA shows. Oswego was fast, but Syracuse was faster, with the really long straights,” Warren continued. “It was probably really, really fast to the guys who just ran Oswego. We had an excellent motor, a really good chassis guy and a really good crew that was helping me out. I had Eddie Hovagimian doing the machine work and balancing on my motors; I did the assembly.”

After winning the opening round, Warren hung on for fourth in the finale, captured by Jimmy Edwards in the big-block M&K sprint car, with Keith Kauffman, Snellbaker and Paul “Sandy” Rochelle completing the top five. 

Donnelly posted a two-race, one-day point fund, with Warren capturing the $1,000 posted bonus over Snellbaker, Kauffman and Gollub. 

“I enjoyed the heck out of myself and remembering that I had a really, really good motor,” he said. “Because it was dirt, I was running over 10,000 RPM with my motor, which is extremely high for a big-block, but only for hundredths of a second, even to kick the back end out in the corners. It was exactly the same setup that we ran on the car that same night at Oswego, when I had a left-front wheel come off and we hit the fence. 

“Mostly, we just had to change the tires, some Firestone rain tires that I got from Gene White for the Indy car, very soft rubber that we grooved a little more. We might have also lifted the back end a hair for Oswego.”

The carnage was frightening. 

Van May sits in his destroyed race car at the Syracuse Mile. (Dick Berggren Photo)
Van May sits in his destroyed race car at the Syracuse Mile. (Dick Berggren Photo)

In hot laps, New England supermodified star Don MacLaren broke his back when he jumped a wheel and tumbled down the backstretch before Wolfe, in a sprint car, experienced the same fate in the opening race. The closer saw Van May, in the non-winged sprint car of Weldon Sterner, take a wild ride after contact with the super driven by Chuck Ciprich.

“They inverted some of the cars, started the second feature and one of the Oswego guys got out of shape going into one and two,” May remembered. “I moved up into the marbles avoiding it and hit the wall and there’s a sequence of photos that’s been around for a long time that shows what happened next.”

The resulting flips along the wall essentially ripped away May’s roll cage. 

“I was lucky. It was a Ben Cook car, but really, it was that it used some really brittle tubing, from the same batch of tubing that Dick Tobias used in the car he built that he got killed in (Flemington Speedway in 1978),” May explained. “The tubing wasn’t normalized. It’s supposed to be Condition N. When it crashed, it just snapped. If the car had pivoted either way with maybe another half a degree of rotation it would have put me — me — into the wall and I wouldn’t be here today to discuss any of this with anybody.”

“I remember some of the guys crashing,” Warren said with a chuckle. “I remember seeing one guy, he’s walking back to the pits across the track, carrying his roll cage and his helmet. That was all that was left of his race car. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Boy, these sprint car guys have balls.’”

The World of Outlaws banned supermodifieds, but they returned to Syracuse with wings on three occasions beginning in 1985, with Indianapolis-bound Joe Gosek winning twice and Eddie Bellinger once.

Non-winged sprint cars never lapped the Moody Mile again. Despite the outcome, May was sanguine about running it wide open and wingless.

“I had no concerns whatsoever about whether I had a wing or not,” he said. “It’s like those guys who used to race without cages. When they drop the green flag, it’s green. If you think about things like that, you won’t win races.”

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