OSWEGO, N.Y. – Central New York racing competitor Sam Carista of West Monroe, N.Y., passed away on Friday morning, April 2. He was 90 years old.
A fixture at area short tracks for more than 70 years, Carista raced competitively from 1948 all the way through 2018, when he had his last stint in the 4-Cylinder division at Brewerton Speedway.
Carista has won countless races and track championships at upstate short tracks, and also raced on and off in Oswego’s Supermodified division from 1965 to 1980.
The dirt racer began his Oswego career in ‘65 driving the Caruso/Hackett built No. 113 for car owner Dick Bloom.
A brand new duo to the Oswego Speedway, Bloom and Carista did not have much success with the car, and it turned out to be a one and done season with only one top-10 finish.
He spent a year away from Oswego in 1966, but in 1967, was tabbed as full-time driver of the Bill Marsh No. 37.
After landing the Marsh ride, it did not take Carista long at all to show he had what it took to compete with the best of Supermodified racing.
Carista opened his sophomore Supermodified season with an impressive stretch of five top-10s in a row from June 3 to July 1, 1967. On July 22, he posted his first top-five in the Supermodified division with a fifth place finish.
With an enormous field of 66 cars attempting to qualify for the 1967 Classic, Carista failed to make the show, but finished 11th in the season point standings; a mere three points outside of the top-10.
Carista returned to the Marsh 37 for a second season in 1968, a year that was mostly plagued by poor luck.
He did, however, sneak out four more top 10s in ‘68, before another failed qualifying attempt at the Classic ended his year.
For the 1969 campaign, Carista came back swinging on opening day; now piloting the Austin Brothers No. 71 machine.
Although he did not race weekly in 1969, Carista opened the season with three straight top-10 finishes before pulling off a career best fourth place run behind Warren Coniam, Kenny Andrews, and Nolan Swift in the 75-lap Mid-Summer Championship on Aug. 2.
Then, after two years of trying to make the Classic, Carista raced his way into the 1969 edition following a bottom-half qualifying effort, certainly a career moment for the then 38 year-old driver.
After making his first Classic, Carista competed sparingly in the 1970 and ‘71 seasons, still driving for the Austin Brothers while also piloting the Steve Miller ‘Sweet 16’ on occasion.
For 1972, Carista debuted a self-built Supermodified. The purple No. 30 had speed, finishing in the top ten four times, despite Carista only competing on a semi-regular basis.
Carista also began the 1973 season with his No. 30, but was later tabbed as driver of the John Korb No. 37; making his first start in that car in late August, and qualifying for his first International Classic in four years.
The new ride also allowed Carista the chance for perhaps the best two week stretch of his Oswego career at the end of 1973.
Following a sixth place run the week prior, Carista ran the race of his life in the September 1973 Fall Championship, leading from lap 6 to 31, when Jim Shampine overtook Carista and second place Gary Reichert in the same lap and continued toward victory.
After winning both his heat race and semi-final qualifier, Carista went on to finish fourth in the 75-lapper behind Shampine, Nolan Swift, and Reichert.
With confidence under their belt, Carista and Korb returned for much of the 1974 season, which Carista began with a fifth place finish on opening day. He later added three more top tens as the year went on.
On May 25, 1974, Carista and son Ed notably started the Supermodified feature together, becoming the first father and son pair to do so at Oswego Speedway.
Carista and Korb stuck together for part-time efforts in 1975 and 1976, and ‘75 brought Carista’s best run in the Classic; making the race by qualifying time and finishing in 18th.
For the final years of his Oswego career from 1977 to 1980, Carista returned with his own No. 30 ride and only ran a race or two, but did come back for a shot at the Classic every season. He made his final 200 in 1977 and finished 21st.
Altogether, Carista qualified for the Classic four times, logged more than 30 top tens, and four top five finishes in his time at Oswego.
Following his Supermodified years, Carista returned to the dirt, racing at nearly every dirt track in the area, and in most cases; winning at them too.
In more recent years, Carista could be found at the Brewerton and Fulton Speedways, where he had the remarkable opportunity to race against his son, two grandsons, great grandson, and great grandaughter while piloting his No. 30 in the 4-Cylinder division.