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October 2, 2012

 

Returning to roots pays off for Planck

By TOM VARTANIAN
Staff Writer

Since 1988, Dale Planck has raced modified stock cars.
While he has won countless races, a dozen track championships and three NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Regional crowns, this 2012 season could really be the crowning achievement for the Cortland driver known as “The Natural”.
Planck wrapped up his third Cornwall Motor Speedway track championship over Labor Day weekend along with the Safety Kleen Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified Championships, but he has never led in the DIRTcar 358-Modified Series Points standings this late in the season.
He now returns to the area where he has experienced success with 1,830 series points. Planck leads Mat Williamson by 103 points with just four series races remaining. Three of those stops come this week during NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week presented by FX Caprara so his Central New York fans can watch him race for a series title.
Planck will head to Cayuga County Fair Speedway Wednesday for a 75-lap feature. Thursday the series heads to Rolling Wheels Raceway in Elbridge — in another 75-lap race — before Sunday’s Gander Mountain 150 on the New York State Fairgrounds’ Moody Mile in Syracuse. The series finale takes place Oct. 13 at Brockville (Ontario) Speedway for the 100-lap main event.
“It’s been a very good season so far,” said Planck. “I’m spending a lot of time away from home racing up north (in Canada), but those are tracks (Mohawk, Brockville, Cornwall) that I am comfortable on. I like being back in the 358s instead of the big blocks.
“It’s not really a step back,” he added. “It’s just coming back to my roots in small blocks. It really has been an awesome season and I’ve had fun doing it.”
PLANCK DRIVES FOR Carey Terrance and helps with the cars he races out of the Hogansburg Shop, which is why he spends most of the week up north. In fact, the man third in series points is his car owner for the past five years — Terrance 147 points out of first place.
After some down seasons and not a lot of success, Planck has found new life and success on the Canadian tracks.
“Mohawk is a bigger track, but the others are more the smaller quarter and three-eight mile tracks like Afton, Dundee. Five Mile Point and Fulton where I started,” Planck explained. “Those tracks have a little banking and good, sticky clay. It’s like back in the day.
“The Canadian fans are awesome,” he continued. “There is good competition there as well. The O’Briens have raced there throughout their careers. I don’t race against Matt Sheppard, Brett Hearn or the Johnsons every week, but the O’Briens or others there are the Johnsons of those tracks. It certainly isn’t a cakewalk by any means.”
As for winning the Cornwall track championship for a third time this season.
It felt really good,” said Planck with a big smile. “I’ve been just racing here and there the past few years. Cornwall is considered by many to be one of the premier tracks in Canada. It certainly has one of the biggest fan bases. There is a big cup with all the previous track champions’ names on it. I won it in 2004 and 2005 so it’s nice to have my name on that cup again.”
Planck has found success in the DIRTcar 358 and big block series, but not to where he has been in contention to win the series title. In eight series races to date, he has two wins, five top-five finishes and five top-10 finishes. It’s that consistency that has him on top. Overall, with the Mr. DIRTCar standings, its more than 45 starts and 36 top-10s with 10 or 11 wins.
“Trying to be consistent is the hardest thing to do,” he replied. “I have been lucky to not really fall out of a race due to a mechanical or part failure. Of course, it’s really all comes back to having good equipment, a good car owner and some good sponsors who can keep these cars fresh.”
Those sponsors includes Twin Leaf Express and Diner, Tomohawk Premium Tobacco Products, Jrecks Subs, Teo Fabrication and Kevlar Engines.
PLANCK GOT A 13th-place finish after a shock mount did break in the last series race while leading the race. While under caution, his team got some help, coincidentally from Danny and Pat O’Brien, to get the car back into the race and salvage a good finish. He believes those years he took off as a driver and was doing more work as a crew chief that helped build some very good friendships that have come back to help him this season.
It’s a lot of respect and a family-type atmosphere between the drivers and the teams up north that you may not see among big block series drivers.
“I’ve always been one who has tried to help someone else and I really am in more of a position to do that with the team I’m with,” said Planck. “Doing that kind of thing just speaks for itself. It’s just about being a good person and watching someone else do well. It’s was something that has proven to be helpful when I was down and out a bit. It all kind of comes full circle. I was there for others and others were there for me when I needed them. Now I’m in a good position again. I help out again and I’ve seen that help returned. It’s all really awesome.”
With three big races this week, Terrance will have two cars ready for Planck and himself. The short track car that Planck has used during the season will take to the weekday races with a special car built just for Syracuse will be used on the Moody Mile because of the size of that facility. It will also be a juggling act. Planck will have a practice session and time trials Thursday at Syracuse to set the field for Friday’s Twin 20s for the 358 modifieds. The Twin 20s set the field for the Gander Mountain 150 Saturday at 2 p.m. There will be one addition practice session Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m., but if the car isn’t set-up and fast coming out of the hauler Thursday, it could be a very long, frustrating week.
Another factor is all the big stars (Johnson, Sheppard, Hearn, Billy Decker) will be competing in both the Gander Mountain 150 as well as the 41st VP Small Engine Fuels 200 Super DIRTcar Big-Block Modified Series Championship race Sunday. Those guys won’t be racing for points, but they can have an effect on the points contenders like Planck. It will really be a race within a race for the 358 guys.
“I FEEL PRETTY confident about the week,” Planck said. “We have the cars where I think they need to be. I think we can run with them and be competitive.
“It would be nice to win the race, but I really have to be more concerned where the guys in the series are,” he added. “I like to race to win, but I really have to points race as well. I need to finish ahead of the guys trying to catch me in the series. I have to a little more conscious of a lot of things, the biggest being to finish the race in one piece. I’m not one to points race, but I have a chance to win a major series so I have to take that approach. A DNF (did not finish) is not an option.”
Planck doesn’t feel as much pressure for the first two races, but he has only raced six times at the NYS Fairground Mile and sometimes it takes more than good equipment to win at Syracuse.
“It doesn’t matter how good you think you are or how good your equipment is, Syracuse is just different,” said Planck who can only draw on six appearances since 1996. “Brett Hearn can attest to that. He was very successful for a number of years and now he can’t even finish a race there.
“Everyone just races there once a year,” he continued. “You think you have a shot during three or four days that lead up to the big day. You have new technology which makes you go faster so you return to Syracuse every year with a different outlook and have to apply what you’ve learned during the season, but you really have just one shot for the whole week. This is one place where you really have to have some luck. You prepare the best you can. Of course, it’s the one place where the playing field is level and you hope you’re one of those who is on.”
That luck can come down to something as simple as to where you go out for time trials because the track changes as the day goes along.
“The track could get faster or it could get slower,” Planck explained. “That’s the luck of the draw.
“I hope I can draw on some of that experience against the other guys in the series,” he added. “But, it’s Syracuse. If the car is out to lunch when you first get on the track, there’s not much you can do to make it fast in that short amount of time Thursday. The time trials set you up for the Twin 20s, which determines where you start in the big race Saturday.”

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