Story By: CAMDEN PROUD / OSWEGO SPEEDWAY – OSWEGO, NY – Supermodified veteran Bill Sharkey has been planning his Oswego Speedway return since 2018, when he purchased Keith Gilliam’s former No. 87; a Target Chassis.
After four years of rebuilding and updating the car, the pandemic, and even a knee replacement, ‘The Shark’ is now scheduled to make his full-time comeback at the Steel Palace in 2023.
“My knee is getting a lot better. I feel great and can pretty much do anything now. My doctor was happy with it, he sort of said I was the perfect candidate and I’ve ended up having a good result, so it all worked out well,” Sharkey said. “I bought the car from Keith to get it ready for 2019, but we haven’t been able to get it out until now. I plan on running the full season at Oswego, all the little wing races and also the three top wing races here as long as everything shakes out alright. I purchased a wing with the car and I’ve been playing around with that a little bit, so I’m looking forward to trying it. It’s been a really long time since I’ve run ISMA. We went all over early in my career with the wing on the car. Shangri-La, Thompson, Star, Lancaster, Sandusky, and had a really good run at Kalamazoo. I even did the first ever ISMA show at Oswego. With the money they are putting up for the challenge shows, and having them right in my backyard, it’s definitely a no brainer as far as supporting that, and then just doing the best we can every week trying out the new Oswego configuration. It will be the first time I’ve run the new tail wing, so we’ll have to get a feel for how that all works.”
Sharkey’s goals this year? Simply being able to race competitively. After everything he’s been through the past few years, and a longer than anticipated wait to get the car on track, Sharkey says that would be a win for him, and is more than comfortable with being called an underdog.
“Just being back out there and racing somewhat competitively would be a success for me. I’ll be honest, I’m the underdog,” offered Sharkey. “I’m underfunded, under-everything really. But really to me, I just love doing it. You see posts from people sometimes saying ‘oh I wonder why Gosek still wants to race, he’s got nothing to prove’ and he doesn’t, but it isn’t about that. He just loves it and once you start doing it, I don’t know how you find anything else more enjoyable to do. All I have ever wanted to do is race Supermodifieds. Just to get to do it makes my career.”
The piece that Sharkey has re-worked last competed at Oswego with a top wing in 2015, and was piloted by Gilliam and AJ Bernys. The car also has a long history as a non-wing Super at Oswego. While it is still an older chassis, Sharkey has been able to make a couple of notable upgrades to the car.
“Obviously I went through the whole car,” Sharkey mentioned. “I put cantilevers on the back and push rods on the front. I do have a straight axle now, but the car came with a lot of spares, so I have two front ends and I’m actually going through a second rear end too, so I’ll have spares for the front and back of the car.”
Sharkey has already posted pictures of the car on hiis Facebook page, ‘Poor Boy Racing,’ a name he came up with because, as he says, “I may not be poor, I own a Supermodified. But, compare me to the teams I’m up against, and I’m definitely the poor boy,” Sharkey joked.
Noticeable right away in the photos was a number and color change to something Sharkey has never raced with before. When driving for brother-in-law Craig Danzer in the late 80’s all the way through 2004, Sharkey swapped back and forth between the 52 and 7. Most recently, he ran as the No. 71 for brother Ron. Now, the first Super he has solely owned sports the number 59 with a sharp red and yellow livery, and Bill says that is to pay homage to his former car owners, Ernie and Bob June.
“I only did three or four ISMA races with Ernie and Bob in 2007, but I had known them for a long time and that’s why I wanted to be number 59 this year,” explained Sharkey. “It was just a great feeling when they came and asked me to drive for them. You really couldn’t meet two nicer guys. When my brother and I decided we were done and I was going to have my own car, it was easy to pick the 59. I loved Ernie and Bob and wanted to do that for them.”
A second generation driver and 20-plus year veteran of Supermodified racing, Sharkey’s career began back in 1987, and he had a respectable start, taking home Oswego Rookie of the Year honors for his efforts with the Danzer No. 52. He was also the highest finishing rookie in ISMA’s point standings, something that would only be done once more in the future. Sharkey had little driving experience prior to his rookie campaign, but he had been around the sport for many years. From a very young age, all Sharkey wanted to do was to race Supermodifieds and like so many other competitors at the Speedway, Bill’s interest began right at home, as his father Lloyd was also a racer. In fact, he competed in Oswego Speedway’s inaugural event in 1951.
“My father Lloyd ran at the Oswego Speedway the first time they had ever held a race, so I was just born into it and have been obsessed ever since,” stated Sharkey. “Dad raced from 1951 to 1954 and then in 1972, had actually bought the old 8-Ball and ran that for a few years, so it’s a family thing. Obviously, my sister Cherie had married Craig Danzer and I drove for him forever. Then, Dave Danzer, who has seen a lot of success at Oswego is their boy, so my nephew. My brother Ron’s son Matt run’s a SST Mod, and my other brother Dale, who used to race Supers owns an SST Mod for his son Geoff. They both race at Evans Mills. And now I’ve got two grand nephews who are getting started in Quarter Midgets.”
Throughout 23 years of Supermodified competition; all of which have come driving for either his brother or brother-in-law, Sharkey has yet to get a feature win, but he has been in position for a few before, and managed several strong runs along the way including a pair of top fives first on May 18, 1991, and then again on June 12, 1993. Bill also has several semi wins, heat wins, is a former victor in the Bud Light B-Main, and has a multitude of top 10 finishes including two 10th’s in the International Classic. Looking back on it all, Sharkey has certainly made an abundance of memories, but a few, as he explained, stand out for the 62 year-old Oswego native.
“About 20 years ago now, the shop I had and kept the car in burnt to the ground. So we went and got a car from Chip Simmons, re-built it, and I had been quick every week, but it just had a lot of mechanical issues. A bad pump drive and stupid little things like that,” Sharkey recalled. “So, we got to the Classic that year, and I hadn’t been finishing, but I was running good. Then, I ended up qualifying 15th quick for the Classic. Nobody really thought we were going to make it, but all of the big guns were sitting there and I remember Bentley Warren came over to me, and he said ‘Sharkey, where are you starting? And I said oh, just a few rows ahead of you. Bentley said ‘oh, really’ which of course, it does not seem like a big deal, but its Bentley Warren, and at the time, it was like ‘wow, I really am right up there with the cream of the crop.’ There were just so many cars back then, so to qualify that high was great, and then we were able to back it up and finish 10th in the Classic. Another great memory I have from many years ago, and I don’t think many people realize this, is that Hal LaTulip, Mike Muldoon Sr, Bobby Smith, Joe Chillemi and myself all graduated from the Oswego High School together back in 1978. So, of course, in 1998, they scheduled our high school reunion on a night that we all had to race. Then, we were standing in the pits, and all of us; along with Johnny Torrese who graduated from Fulton in the same year, all got called down to the start finish line, so everybody was sort of wondering what was going on and I just said ‘guys, this is going to be our high school reunion.’ They had cake for us and everything on the front straightaway. It was really cool, to think we all had graduated as the class of ‘78 and here we are, all doing the exact same thing on Saturdays. That was just a really neat moment. ”
On the other side of things, as more-longtime Oswego fans may recall, Sharkey has endured a few spectacular crashes in his career, and the first one came during Opening Day warmups in 1989, when he destroyed the Jim Muldoon built Bellinger copy he started with in ‘87 and had to sit out for the remainder of the season. Fast forward three years later, and Sharkey was now piloting a Gene Lee Gibson Graves copy. Coming off of two 12th place efforts in the 1990 and 1991 point standings, Bill had again started solid, but ended up in a grinding early season crash with Howard Page and Jeff West, crushing his foot, and once again missing the rest of the year.
“Those wrecks weren’t any fun, but even though I had to sit out for a season, or a few weeks a couple of times in my career, we always figured out how to come back one way or another. I still want to keep coming back to this day, and that’s why I bought this car, and am putting all of this work in even at my age, because it’s really all I know,” Sharkey stated. “I still like working on the car, and it keeps me busy. I like to stay busy in general. I retired in 2015, but had only sat around for a month and now I’m a sales rep for Nabisco. So, I’ll be 63 in June, but basically, I’ve just always got to have something to do. I will say that I take great pleasure in the fact that Joe Gosek, Dave McKnight, and Hal LaTulip are all older than me. Hal just barely has me beat by a few months, but I’ll take it. To think all of us are still going to be racing together this year is pretty awesome. Hal is rebuilding, we are a couple of low buck guys coming back, but I would really do anything I could to help him and he would do the same for me. It’s exciting. I’m really looking forward to the start of the new season.”
For his return to Supermodified action, Sharkey has support from Lavery Welding in Oswego, MW Lubricants in Rochester, and help from Pat Strong, Dave and Craig Danzer, Billy Pierce, Jeffrey Pierce, and Dennis Redhead, who will assist on the crew.
Sharkey’s first race will be the 72nd Season Kickoff slated for Saturday, May 27. The Opener will feature the 75-lap Jim Shampine Memorial for Novelis Supermodifieds, 35-lap Tony White Memorial for Pathfinder Bank SBS, and a 30-lap Memorial Weekend Special for the J&S Paving 350 Supermodifieds.