All short track racing circles have their household names and memorable personalities. One of those with much success in the asphalt and indoor short track open wheel ranks is Joey Payne. Popularly known as the “Jersey Jet”, Payne has traveled the country over his decades of experience. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career has been racing extremely fast machines at a track chock full of history, Oswego Speedway.
A year ago he set a track record, which still stands, in the annual Budweiser International Classic 200 for the non-winged Supermodifieds. From there, he set a torrid pace but it ended in disappointment in the pit area after an on track altercation. This season has not seen him on the track anywhere close to as much as past years.
Running with a different team and having far less time on the track compared to 2014, he wasn’t showing the track record breaking type of speed leading into this year’s ‘Classic’. Nevertheless, he and the tight-knit group he was racing for remained optimistic heading into the weekend.
“I’ll tell you what, Friday we time trialed at a 16.5 which is the best that this car has ever been here and I told (car co-owner) Pat (Strong) we could race probably 25 hard laps at that speed,” Payne recapped to Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We were so solid.”
Things would not be easy by any means when Sunday came around. A car that handled well at first on a race setup suddenly became the opposite.
“It was so freaking tight, like it was beautiful,” Payne said about the car’s handling initially. “Then we went out for the full fuel load with our race tires and I was loose as hell, and I was like man we’re in trouble. We changed probably five things for that car for the race, and I went into the first corner and honestly it was a bag of s—. I said ‘man this is going to be a long race.’”
An immense amount of hard work and determination would pay off though as the afternoon went on. After all the time spent simply trying to get back on “The Steel Palace” track surface, it was like destiny had occurred by race’s end.
“I just hung around in 25th, 26th, and 27th,” Payne explained. “I just took my time, and probably 125 laps into the race it woke up and I knew I had a decent piece, and I just started picking them off one by one.”
Payne steadily cracked into the top 10 in the closing stages, and on a restart with less than 10 laps to go was suddenly in the top five. He would continue climbing and finished third. There may not have been anyone as ecstatic and ready to go another 200 laps on this day as the Fair Lawn, New Jersey resident.
“I tell you, if it went longer we were good,” an elated Payne said. “We were coming. I lost second by probably a foot at the end. If we had one more lap I probably would have had second.”
One of the biggest achievements was a touch of redemption for the driver who was left searching for a ride prior to the start of the season.
“I got fired by the Graham team in February,” Payne remarked. “It was like strategically done, but you wait until February to fire me when I have nothing? Then I told Pat and Terry that we would reunite for one more race, and I told them there was one thing on my agenda. I want to beat those frickin’ silver cars and you know what they fell out, but I don’t give a s—. We beat them.”
Payne, donning a driving suit formerly worn by his fellow home state racer and buddy Jimmy Blewett, was surrounded by family and friends. He was also first to admit that it could not have been accomplished without everyone’s support.
“Everything fell into place this weekend,” Payne said. “It costs so much money to do this. I’ve got FX Caprara, Sandusky Speedway, Burke’s Home Center, Scriba Meats, Joey Witkum, Tom Salvador. Everybody that contributed made the puzzle happen.”
After a successful ‘Classic’, Payne will return to what he has been doing most of the season.
“I’ve been taking my son (Anthony) racing and watching my other son Joey race go karts, and I have been having a really good time.”
Joey was present when Anthony picked up his first career NEMA Lites feature win earlier in the season. With the track’s Supermodifieds having the day off on Saturday, Payne made a trip north to compete in a Tim Bertrand-fielded NEMA Midget at Monadnock Speedway (NH). It is one of multiple divisions he has enjoyed favorable results at over the years.
The result that night not only gave him some confidence going into Sunday, but kept a streak alive that at this point of the year was in jeopardy of ending.
“I went to New Hampshire last night and won a midget race,” Payne enthusiastically mentioned after the successful weekend concluded. “That makes 31 years in a row of winning a race every year so it can’t end any better.”
As for his career in a Supermodified there is a good chance that it will be coming to a close, and with that means probably little to no more opportunities to compete at such a storied facility. It was definitely a bittersweet atmosphere post-race.
“This is probably my last race here,” the emotional Payne said. “I’m pretty much done.”
– By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Pennsylvania/Central New York Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
– Photo credit: Speed51.com