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Planck Dominates Mr. DIRTcar 358 Series Opener At Merrittville

Dale Planck
Dale Planck - Alex Bruce Photo

Thorold, ONTApril 26, 2008 – By Tom Skibinski, DIRTcar Racing NorthEast PR Director

A successful Small-Block chauffeur throughout most of his career, Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series standout Dale Planck returned to his roots Saturday night as he captured round one of the 2008 Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified Championship Series at Merrittville Speedway.

Not only did Planck stand to collect $4500 for his fourth career victory on DIRTcar Racing NorthEast’s premier Small-Block tour, the Cortland, New York traveler led every lap of the Baron Roofing Windows and Doors ‘Spring Sizzler 100’ and lapped all but second-place finisher Danny O’Brien in dominating fashion.

“My main focus is obviously still with the Big-Blocks, but I wanted to get this Small-Block program good for Carey (Terrance, team owner),” said Planck, 37, who began the day as merely a crew member and ended it in victory lane following a command performance. “I think we’ve got a couple really good cars here, just trying to get everything to click right and tonight we came out of the gate fast.”

Finishing behind Planck and O’Brien, one lap down to the leaders, were New York invaders Chad Brachmann and Bert Hard Charger Todd Burley, with defending track points champion Pete Bicknell filling out the front-five. Heats wins went to Lance Willix II, Dan Miller, Planck and Rick Richner with Frenchman David Hebert and Merrittville regular Travis Cunningham sharing consolation round victories to break down the solid 38-car field signed in.

Seasonably cool yet windy conditions greeted racers and fans in attendance for Merrittville’s 57th season-opener that featured a return of the Mr. DIRTcar 358 Series to the Thorold, Ontario oval for the first time since 2005. More than a dozen invaders made the haul for one of the earliest lid-lifters in track history, with two-thirds of the teams on hand calling Merrittville home on Saturday throughout the regular season.

Any home track advantage quickly dissipated as Planck selected outside-pole in the customary pre-race draw then bolted out front of the 31-car starting grid to lead the way. Front row partner Lance Willix could only watch as Planck rocketed around the racy third-mile speedplant with the REZ Racing no. 66 Akwesasne Filter Manufacturing/TEO entry on cruise control for the duration.

Planck was chased early by top locals Boyd MacTavish and Chris Steele, with Niagara Frontier favorite Scott Kerwin joining the fray as O’Brien sped forward from a sixth-place starting position. After five laps Willix had faded back to fourth behind O’Brien while MacTavish reached the runner-up slot and Steele completed the top-five.

The lone yellow flag of the 34-minute main flew on lap nine, sending reigning Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified points king Mario Clair to the rear after a turn one/two tangle that also involved Merrittville rookie contenders Travis Braun and Tommy Flannigan. Clair’s only consolation was eventually earning the Holley Hard Luck Award as he went on to finish 20th, three laps down to the leaders.

Back under green flag conditions, the brief delay only served to delay the inevitable as Planck built up a half straightaway margin over O’Brien with 15 laps flashing on the scoreboard. Lap after lap the second-generation standout picked off his opposition in a methodical display of mastery that mirrored Danny Johnson’s domination last summer in the Advance Series showdown for Big-Blocks. On this occasion the ‘Natural’ was even more convincing as last August Johnson left his four closest trailers on the lead lap after leading all but the initial circuit in the100-lap finale.

“Any time you have a car working this good it’s a lot of fun out there,” added Planck, who scored his last Mr. DIRTcar 358 victory at Can-Am Motorsports Park in 2003. His recent quest for supremacy in the Big-Block ranks has netted him a pair of Advance Series wins over the past two seasons. “High, low, even in the middle, it didn’t really matter as this car stuck like glue all the way around.”

At the midway point Planck had lapped up to the seventh-place machine of Niagara Fall’s pilot Rick Richner, with O’Brien, engine builder Kenny Cosgrove, Kerwin, Steele and Brachmann still hanging in the shadows. But one by one, lap after lap, Planck disposed of his challengers with then third-place runner Cosgrove emerging as the final victim to go down with still 35 laps to go and runner-up O’Brien riding around a half track behind.

Despite Planck reacting like a runaway train and O’Brien relegated to second spot during the closing stages, the battle raged on for the show position over the final 25 laps. Brachmann overtook Cosgrove by lap 78 and Bicknell followed suit soonafter while 27th-place starter Burley cracked the front-five with 10 laps left before finally nipping ‘Mr. Small-Block’ at the stripe.

“I can’t thank Carey enough for giving me this opportunity,” noted Planck, who crossed the line a comfortable three-quarters of a track ahead of O’Brien for his first career Merrittville victory. “I was out of a ride at the end of last year and he picked me up for this season. We already went down to Florida with the Big-Block and had success, so to come out here in the first 358 Series race and have even more success is just awesome.”

While Planck was not a shoe-in to climb behind the wheel of Terrance’s trusty TEO mount until learning of the decision during pre-race tech, runner-up O’Brien didn’t get the call to drive until 2 o’clock Saturday afternoon from car owner Darren Kendrick —his team also includes the cars driven by Scott George and Tim Jones— with the help of Randy Williamson from Bicknell Racing Products.

“The Kendrick crew …I don’t even know all their names … put forth just a super effort on their part,” beamed O’Brien, who finished second to Clair in the 2007 Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified Championship with three Series wins to his credit. “This is all their deal, I don’t even know what’s in it for springs and bars. We had to battle a carburetor problem early on, other than that we hardly turned a wrench all night. I’m just happy to be here, it’s a great way to start off the season.”

More familiar aboard his no. 17D Bicknell ride, on this night O’Brien was strapped into the Kendrick Racing no. 55 Strickland’s Automart/Bicknell mount normally campaigned by Todd Kendrick. The ‘Pocket Rocket’ finished second behind Richner in the night’s 4th and final heat race qualifier and drew sixth to begin the century grind outside row three.

“It was pretty wild, I never thought I’d go 100 laps but the track was excellent tonight,” added O’Brien, who was all set to stay home this weekend as his own car was still waiting delivery of a Pat Morrison-prepared powerplant to kick off the series. The Kingston, Ontario driver was among the last to arrive at Merrittville and not even knowing what the car looked like had planned to just drive around the pit area until someone called him over.

“I guess championships are made out of taking a bad day and turning it into something as good as you can. I’m just happy to get a good run for these guys. And since I kept it in one piece I don’t have to buy the race car now,” O’Brien smiled.

Brachmann started 13th on the field at the same track where he placed third in the final points standings last year bolstered by two DIRTcar 358-Modified feature wins.

“I guess I have to be content with the end result, would’ve liked to finish up a little better and been in the same league as Dale but we were a little off on that,” said Brachmann, after reaching the podium with a solid showing aboard the Brachmann Racing no. 3 Original Pizza Logs/Bicknell entry. “So we’ll come back next week and hopefully capitalize on what we learned tonight.”

Starting in the lucky 13th position following a fourth-place tally in the first heat, Brachmann used his hometrack experience to secure third in the payoff event.

“The track was slick all over the place, I couldn’t run the bottom like some of the other guys. We just kept it together and salvaged a top-three finish, so that’s about all we could ask for tonight. We’ll be at the next Series show (Ransomville) closer to home and take it from there, maybe do a little better and be in position to follow the whole thing,” Brachmann figured.

Racing in the Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified Series continues back in the states later in the summer when Ransomville (NY) Speedway hosts round #2 of the premier Small-Block Modified tour in the Northeast on Friday, August 1. Coors Light, Hard Copy Wholesale and Mighty Taco present the Alex Friesen Summer Nationals with $6,800 on the line for the 68-lap feature winner.

*NOTE: In the aftermath of the customary post-race inspection, a non-performance enhancing carburetor infraction (steel linkages instead of plastic and “vent post” modification) was determined with the winning car driven by Planck and the Terrance team was fined $1000.00 (25% of earnings). The second-place car driven by O’Brien was found to be 24 pounds underweight after the main event ( 2376 instead of 2400 lbs) and the Kendrick team was penalized half its points and fined half its earnings.
SKIDMARKS
Baron Roofing Windows and Doors was the prominent title sponsor of Merrittville’s Spring Sizzler opener which included cash bonus provisions to the top-three 358-Modified feature race finishers. Taking advantage of the monetary accolades from Baron were winner Dale Planck ($500), runner-up Danny O’Brien ($300) and third-place finisher Chad Brachmann ($200)…..Mario Clair was anxious to defend his overall Mr. DIRTcar 358 title, being the first to arrive at the gate by 1:30pm and park his no. 22 Batiments JDL-Motel Drummond-Freightliner Drummond/Bicknell mount pitside. His double-stacker hauler also housed the #88 car of fellow Frenchman Éric Lefebvre, who competed in the night’s companion 40-lap Sportsman feature…..While track owner/promoter/racer Pete Bicknell was busy down on the track and in the pits throughout the show, his daughter and Merrittville General Manager Erica Bicknell was just as active taking care of business on the other side of the fence. Erica was most worried about the weather and how it might affect the size of the crowd. She knew the management was taking a big chance by scheduling a series event so early in the year and was especially nervous because it was her idea. When asked if he was wearing his ‘driver’ hat or ‘promoter’ hat, Pete offered the quick response “all of them” and proceeded to begin to tell a story about the time he had to cut the driver’s meeting short to go fix the toilet. He never finished though as he was called away to look after something else…..Lance Willix was driving a car he had borrowed from Billy Cook, relaying that his new car was not yet ready and was shocked to win his heat race…..Merrittville mainstay Robbie Krull was forced to make his first pit stop even before finding a parking place at the track. The hauler carrying his trusty no. 123 Krully’s General Contracting-Krull’s Heating & Cooling/Bicknell car suffered a blown tire just 15 minutes away while navigating along Route 406. The Cambria, New York driver regrouped to qualify fourth in his heat yet only completed 31 laps to place 28th in the feature go…..1989 Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified Champion Laurent Ladouceur made his first-ever appearance Saturday at Merrittville yet could only muster a 24th-place finish in the finale aboard his no. 23 Mr. Radiator-Roxborough Bus Lines-Villeneuve Tank Lines/Bicknell car. “It was a very long winter so I figured its time to go racing,” said the Alexandria, Ontario veteran. “Once we start racing closer to home I don’t get a chance to travel too much. Its always nice to hit a new track every now and then”….. Merrittville’s 2008 St. Amand Enterprises DIRTcar 358-Modified roster listed seven division rookies and all but one driver were entered in the recent opener. Darren Peters, Travis Braun, Derek Wutzke, Andrew Sittler, Tommy Flannigan and Bill Bleich were all in competition while the car of the remaining first-year Small-Block pilot Todd Kendrick was steered to second-place by Danny O’Brien. Using his father’s familiar car number 37s, Sittler is the son of Harry Sittler, who owns three DIRTcar Big-Block Modified checkered flags at Cayuga County Fair and Ransomville speedways, with one Small-Block victory logged at Ransomville in 1995…..A former racer alongside Sittler beginning in the 1970s and still contending today, Brian Stevens was just two laps away from qualifying for the feature before spinning out of second-place in the final consolation race and packing up for the night…..After kicking off the ’08 season with a Mr. DIRTcar Sportsman Series win at Black Rock Speedway on April 5, 15 year-old Larry Wight was looking to duplicate the feat in the 358-Modified tour lid-lifter at Merrittville. Wight ‘Lightning’ got plenty of track time, running a heat qualifier and consolation race before adding 98 more laps in the main event with his Gypsum Express no. 99 Gypsum Wholesalers-Tracey Road Equipment/Bicknell entry. The Phoenix, New York phenom plans to be in a big-Block on Thursday, May 1 for the Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series Sawyer Memorial at Virginia Motor Speedway…..With Alan Johnson capturing the previous three 358 Series events (2003-05) at Merrittville and joining younger brother Danny Johnson as winners of 10 of the last 11 Small-Block tour shows staged at the same Thorold oval, neither crossed the border to begin the 26th Annual Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified Championship points chase.

Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified Championship Series Race #1 – Merrittville Speedway, April 26, 2008 Baron Roofing Windows and Doors ‘Spring Sizzler 100’ Event Summary
FIN STR CAR# DRIVER
1 2 66 Dale Planck/Cortland,NY ($3,500)
2 6 55 Danny O’Brien/Kingston,ONT
3 13 3b Chad Brachmann/Sanborn,NY
4 27 5 Todd Burley/Spencerport,NY
5 17 42 Pete Bicknell/St.Catharines,ONT
6 7 9 Ken Cosgrove/Allanburg,ONT
7 10 26 Rick Richner/Niagara Falls,NY
8 *14 23L Larry Lampman,Jr./Port Colborne,ONT
9 5 80 Chris Steele/Fenwick,ONT
10 23 38 Scott Wood/Thorold,ONT
11 3 28 Scott Kerwin/Newfane,NY
12 20 37 Kyle Jacobs/Hogansburg,NY
13 21 1h David Hebert/St. Damase,QUE
14 9 15j Tim Jones/Sanborn,NY
15 29 99 Larry Wight/Phoenix,NY
16 4 00 Boyd MacTavish/Ransomville,NY
17 8 56 Dereck Lemyre/Hamilton,ONT
18 24 66x Carey Terrance/Akwesasne,NY
19 1 16 Lance Willix II/Theresa,NY
20 26 22c Mario Clair/St-Edmond,QUE
21 25 111 Kevin Wills/Ransomville,NY
22 11 26g Scott George/Wilson,NY
23 31 9s Mark Smoke/Akwesasne,NY
24 15 23 Laurent Ladouceur/Alexandria,ONT
25 28 22e Eric Gauvreau/Chelsea,QUE
26 19 108 Bill Bleich/Port Robinson,ONT
27 32 1f Fred Carleton/Niagara-o-t-Lake,ONT
28 16 123 Robbie Krull/Cambria,NY
29 18 5jr. Travis Braun/Jordan Station,ONT
30 30 72 Tommy Flannigan/St.Catharines,ONT
31 22 91 Travis Cunningham/Grimsby,ONT
DNS 12 22 Dan Miller/St.Catharines,ONT
*Started at back of field in #22 Miller car.
EVENT SUMMARY:
GATER NEWS LAP LEADER: Planck (1-100).
CAUTIONS: 1 (lap 9).
HEAT WINNERS: Willix, Miller, Planck, Richner.
CONSI WINNERS: Hebert, Cunningham.
BICKNELL RACING PRODUCTS WINNER AWARD: Dale Planck.
SYRACUSE ITT/GOULDS PUMPS 150 QUALIFIER: Dale Planck.
HALFWAY LEADER: Dale Planck.
BERT HARD CHARGER: Todd Burley.
HOLLEY HARD LUCK: Mario Clair.
PENSKE POWER POSITION (10th): Scott Wood.
TOTAL PURSE: $20,450.
CARS ENTERED: 38.
NEXT EVENT: Ransomville Speedway – August 1, 2008.
DID NOT QUALIFY(7)
1-Todd Gordon/St.Catharines,ONT
1f-Fred Carleton/Niagara-o-t-Lake,ONT
1p-Darren Peters/Ft. Erie,ONT
16w-Derek Wutzke/Fenwick,ONT
31-George Bosse/St.Catharines,ONT
37s-Andrew Sittler/St.Catharines,ONT
44-Brian Stevens/St.Catharines,ONT

QUALIFYING
Heat Races (10 laps, top 5 finishers transferred to feature, top 3 went to re-draw)
#1: Willix, MacTavish, Cosgrove, Brachmann, Bicknell, Wood, Wills, Hebert, Bosse, Carleton.
#2: Miller, Jones, Steele, Lampman, Braun, Wight, Peters, Gordon, Burley.
#3: Planck, Lemyre, Kerwin, Ladouceur, Bleich, Gauvreau, Clair, Terrance, Sittler.
#4: Richner, O’Brien, George, Krull, Jacobs, Cunningham, Stevens, Smoke, Wutzke, Flannigan.
Consolation Round (10 laps, top 5 finishers transferred to feature)
#1: Hebert, Wood, Wills, Burley, Wight, Carleton, Gordon, Peters, Bosse.
#2: Cunningham, Terrance, Clair, Gauvreau, Flannigan, Smoke, Sittler, Wutzke, Stevens.
Provisional: Smoke.
Added: Carleton.

Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified Championship Series Point Standings (April 26)
Rank No. Driver Points Diff Wins Top-5 Top-10 Starts
1 66 Dale Planck 100 0 1 1 1 1
2 3b Chad Brachmann 90 -10 0 1 1 1
3 5 Todd Burley 85 -15 0 1 1 1
4 42 Pete Bicknell 80 -20 0 1 1 1
5 9 Ken Cosgrove 76 -24 0 0 1 1
6 26 Rick Richner 72 -28 0 0 1 1
7 23L Larry Lampman Jr. 68 -32 0 0 1 1
8 80 Chris Steele 65 -35 0 0 1 1
9 38 Scott Wood 62 -38 0 0 1 1
10 28 Scott Kerwin 60 -40 0 0 0 1
11 37 Kyle Jacobs 58 -42 0 0 0 1
12 1h David Hebert 56 -44 0 0 0 1
13 15J Tim Jones 54 -46 0 0 0 1
14 99 Larry Wight 52 -48 0 0 0 1
15 00 Boyd MacTavish 50 -50 0 0 0 1
16 55 Danny O’Brien 48 -52 0 1 1 1
17 56 Derek Lemyre 48 -52 0 0 0 1
18 66x Carey Terrance 46 -54 0 0 0 1
19 16 Lance Willix II 45 -55 0 0 0 1
20 22c Mario Clair 44 -56 0 0 0 1
21 111 Kevin Wills 43 -57 0 0 0 1
22 26g Scott George 42 -58 0 0 0 1
23 9s Mark Smoke 41 -59 0 0 0 1
24 23 Laurent Ladouceur 40 -60 0 0 0 1
25 22e Eric Gauvreau 40 -60 0 0 0 1
26 108 Bill Bleich 40 -60 0 0 0 1
27 1F Fred Carleton 40 -60 0 0 0 1
28 123 Robbie Krull 40 -60 0 0 0 1
29 5Jr. Travis Braun 40 -60 0 0 0 1
30 72 Tommy Flannigan 40 -60 0 0 0 1
31 91 Travis Cunningham 40 -60 0 0 0 1
32 22 Dan Miller 10 -90 0 0 0 0
33 1 Todd Gordon 10 -90 0 0 0 0
34 1p Darren Peters 10 -90 0 0 0 0
35 16w Derek Wutzke 10 -90 0 0 0 0
36 31 George Bosse 10 -90 0 0 0 0
37 37s Andrew Sittler 10 -90 0 0 0 0
38 44 Brian Stevens 10 -90 0 0 0 0

2008 Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified Championship Series Schedule
*All events subject to change.
DAY-DATE LAPS TRACK LOCATION/WINNER
Sat-Apr 26 100 Merrittville Speedway Dale Planck
Fri-Aug 1 68 Ransomville Speedway Ransomville, NY ($6,800 to win)
Thr-Aug 21 100 Mohawk Int’l Raceway Akwesasne, NY
Sun-Aug 31 100 Cornwall Motor Speedway Cornwall, ONT
Sat-Sep 6 75 Brockville Ont Speedway Brockville, ONT
Sat-Sep 13 150 Autodrome Drummond Drummondville,QUE ($15,000 to win)
Fri-Sep 19 75 Canandaigua Speedway Canandaigua, NY
Fri-Sep 26 75 Rolling Wheels Raceway Elbridge,NY
Wed-Oct 8 75 Can-Am Motorsports Park LaFargeville, NY
Thr-Oct 9 75 Brewerton Speedway Brewerton, NY
Fri-Oct 10 100 Rolling Wheels Raceway Elbridge, NY
Sat-Oct 11 150 New York State Fairgrnds Syracuse,NY ($20,000 to win)
Sat-Oct 18 100 Orange Co Fair Speedway Middletown,NY ($7,500 to win)

The Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series for Big-Block Modifieds is brought to fans across the Northeast by several sponsors and partners, including series sponsors Advance Auto Parts and Hoosier Racing Tire. Rite Aid Corporation is a promotional partner and the contingency sponsors are Bars Leaks, Bert Transmission, Bicknell Racing Products, Bilstein Shocks, Brodix Cylinder Heads, Crane Cams, Dig Safely New York, Holley HP Carburetors, Integra Shocks, Intercomp, KSE Racing Products, Motorsports Safety Systems, Penske Shocks, Rislone Oil Stabilizer and Wrisco Industries.