First let me introduce myself: I'm Otto Graham, and as a young man I was a racer, (1960's at Fonda and Victoria Speedways), since then I've been a picture taker, taking photos for my now extinct website "Ottos Race Action" and of late taking pictures for the website www.racersguide.com.
The Ride Along is a concept I thought up in 2011. Basicly I get in with a race team and go along with them to their race destination where I write about the experience and take photos of the action.
My first "Ride Along" was with Bob Varin and Kenny Saya's race team to Selinsgrove in 2011.
A ride along with Stewart Friesen to the Eastern States 200 came along that fall.
The following summer I went with Jessica Zemken Friesen (presently Stu Friesen's life partner) to Williams Grove and Lincoln Speedways.
That fall I rode along with Otto Sitterly to the Bud Classic at Oswego Speedway, where Otto won his third Classic.
There have been several other Ride Alongs, but I think you get the idea.
Currently my next Ride Along will be with Bret Belden's race team to Weedsport Speedway where Bret will be competing in a "Go Nuclear" Late Model event.
GO NUCULER IS: Since 2011 the Go Nuclear Late Model Series has been the premier Crate (604) late model touring series in New York and Canada. Utilizing the most advanced suspensions in dirt racing the Dirt Late Models routinely offer two, three, and even four-wide racing.
In 1981 Bret was Dick Sweet's "Street Stock Crew Chief, and that continued until 1983.
In 1988 Bret drove a "Street Stock", competing in 68 races that summer, Can Am, Malta, Fonda, Evans Mills, Utica-Rome and in Brewerton where Bret won the Street Stock track Championship.
In 1989 Bret won the Brewerton Prostock Championship.
In 1991 Bret Won the Prostock Championship at Utica-Rome. Later that year Bret purchased a Modified Stockcar.
In 1992 Bret won a Modified feature race at Fulton Speedway with the modified he purchesed in 1991.
In 1996 Bret drove a Prostock, and did that until 2012. Bret won the majority of his ninety plus wins during this time period.
In 2013 Bret competed in the "Go Nuclear Late Model Tour", winning the "Rookie of the Year" award.
Today Bret continues competing in the "Go Nuclear Tour" when their races are New York State, otherwise Bret Races the Late Model at Fulton Speedway every Saturday night.
Bret's favorite memory's are: Winning the Modified event at Fulton Speedway, and winning a one hundred lap Prostock race at Brewerton Speedway.
Bret told me he couldn't have raced anywhere without his biggest fan's and supporters, his wife Brenda and his daughter Ashley.
On a sunny very hot September 18th the Belden race team and I headed out to Weedsport for the Gillies NAPA Auto Parts 30, a "Go Nuclear" tour event, under a weather forcast that indicated the possibility of rain. Highlights on the trip to Weedsport were Checking out Jason Porter's salmon fishing rig when we picked him up (I'm a fly fisherman), and a beautiful eight point buck munching on grass beside the Thruway, unconcerned about the traffic whizzing past thirty feet away. Upon arriving at the Weedsport Speedway a look around made it evident the venue is a much improved race facility from the last time I was here years ago when it was a Dirt headquarters and speedway. Now the pits are paved, new grandstands are inplace, a big improvement in track lighting plus a Jumbotron in the infield that shows race action and replays. A beautiful race facility.
Through the afternoon the Late Models began arriving, some from Canada, others from western Pensylvania, and with most from around New York State. The field finally totaling out at 33 Late Models.
The afternoon slowly passed by until the weigh-ins and pre race inspections were completed and the person on the PA system called for the Late Models to line-up and prepare for heat number one. Our guy Bret was in the first heat and ran second to Auburn NY's Chris Fleming for the 8 lap heat race. Remaining Late Model heats were run off, then the Sportsman's and finally the 600 Microsprints. During the last Microsprint heat race we began to feel rain drops, then turning to a light rain cancelling the Micro's. I'm in the infield taking photos, and by the time I try and cross the track the wet clay had turned into a very slippery surface. If you have ever been on a wet clay surface it's kind of like it's covered with wet slippery snot, difficult to cross without falling. I somehow inched my was across the track without falling down before a now deserted grandstand, my shoes picking up clay as I went and finally exiting the race surface with at least three inch's of the sticky clay stuck to the bottoms of my shoes.
By the time I got back to the pit the race teams had loaded up and were preparing to head out for their home base. Bret told me he had drawn the pole position for the Late Model feature, nice, now after the whole thing had been called off. We exited Weedsport Speedway and headed home on the Thruway in a huge downpour that continued until we were east of Syracuse. Now we have one shot left at a "Go Nuclear" event, the 9/30 "Go Nuclear" fifty lap race at Fulton Speedway will be the last race of the season.
Friday Sept 30 the Belden race team headed out for Fulton Speedway for the second leg (and last race of the season) on the "Go Nuclear race schedule. After settling down in the Fulton Speedway pit's Bret's wife Brenda set a table (with a table cloth no less) in the Belden hauler, then started warming up a big batch of Macaroni and cheese, plus a huge pot of sausage, peppers and onions, enough to feed all the racers and crew on the southside side of the pits. The belden team was relaxed and ready to go racing as soon as the call came out to do hot laps. Hot laps completed the "Go Nuclear" racers were second up on the race card for heat race qualifying. Qualifying over, the team and many guest's dove into and enjoyed Brenda's dinner while they waited for the feature race action to start. The Belden #81 Late Model started back a couple of spots in the line-up, and after the four wide "Outlaw" parade lap the race action got under way. Several laps into the Late Model feature a yellow flag came out for an accident between turn one and two, and with me being between three and four the action on the far end of the track was out of my sight. When racing was restarted the Belden Late Model didn't come around, a sure sign that Bret had encountered trouble and was the reason for the yellow flag. The race continued with Charlie Sandercock making a late race pass on the leader and took the checkerd flag a couple laps later. Sandercock was the winner, plus he was the season ending points leader of the "Go Nuclear 2016 tour.
Back in the pits following the completetion of the Late Model race the Belden #81 was in the hauler and buckled up for the ride home with the front end missing. Bret was inside sitting on a tire enjoying a beer, "just a racing deal" he explained to me. A few seconds later a racer entered the hauler saying, "Jeez Bret I'm so sorry, the dust was thick and by the time I saw you I was already on you". Bret unpreturbed said, "I understand, so relax and have a beer". The two men talked about it over a couple beer's and soon departed friends.
You know, I've never seen Bret upset, he's as cool and collected as a cucumber, never discouraged, never angry and always upbeat, my kind of wheelman.
I enjoyed every minute of the Ride Along with the Belden team from start to finish! Thanks Bret and team, I hope we can do it again next year!
Photos by Otto.