Weedsport, NY — April 1, 2009 – By Tom Skibinski, DIRTcar Racing Northeast PR Director
Popular New Jersey pilot Ken Brenn Jr., Canadian favorite Joe Plazek and National Champion Mike Klapak from Ohio will be inducted into the Northeast Modified Hall of Fame on Memorial Day Weekend ‘09. These three driving greats add their names to a growing list of Modified legends that was started in 1992 when the Hall of Fame was officially christened on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds in Weedsport, New York.
The 2009 Induction Ceremonies will take place Sunday, May 24 at 2 p.m. in the NE Hall of Fame & Classic Car Museum. The evening race program at Cayuga County Fair Speedway will be highlighted by a full card of DIRTcar Big-Block Modified racing plus companion events for the Sportsman Modifieds, Street Stocks and BattleKarz, with a customary holiday appearance made by the Midstate Vintage Stock Car Club.
Brenn took full advantage of his father being a car owner and developed into one of the most successful drivers in New Jersey at now defunct Flemington Fair and East Windsor speedways. Ken Brenn Sr. put his son behind the wheel in 1972 and he emerged as the first-ever Rookie Champion at Flemington steering the familiar yellow No. 24 car, moving into a Big-Block Modified after three years in the Sportsman ranks. In 1975, Ken Jr. posted the first of his 18 Modified victories at East Windsor and three years later was crowned New Jersey State Modified Champion. Focusing his efforts on Flemington, the Warren, New Jersey hotshoe won Modified titles at ‘The Square’ in 1982 and ’83, racking up 59 triumphs to rank fourth on the dirt tracks’ all-time Modified victory list. He continued to compete at Flemington —although paved in 1991— until the track closed for good at the end of 2000, in the aftermath citing his pole position (34.524 seconds/104.275 mph) start in the 1979 Rite Aid 200 during Super DIRT Week on the Moody Mile as one of his biggest career accomplishments.
Recognized around the Northeast for nearly two decades behind the wheel of the familiar red & white no. 1 Plazek Auto Recyclers Modified machine, ‘Canada Joe’ was fast on both sides of the border yet proudest of his great success found on the Syracuse Mile. Among his 68 DIRTcar Big-Block triumphs, three straight New York State Fair Labor Day Championships (1995-97) remain the most treasured as the Caistor Centre, Ontario driver is the only Canadian to take first-place in the former holiday classic. Despite earning the pole in 1993, Plazek fell short in his goal to become the first Canadian to capture Super DIRT Week’s prestigious Rite Aid 200, as back-to-back top-five finishes in 1995-96 were the best he could muster in 11 trips to the Salt City in October. Along with claiming track championships at Canandaigua and Cayuga County Fair speedways, Plazek put his Big-Block mount in victory lane six times on the Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series with one more checkered flag coming on the Small-Block tour before his driving career slowed down in 1999.
As the Pioneer Committee’s selection for 2009, Klapak’s roots remained in the Western Pennsylvania/Eastern Ohio region throughout his entire career that spanned four decades. Eventually competing up to six times a week —144 events documented in 1952— at places like the old Canfield Fairgrounds and Sportsmen Park in his homestate, along with Heidelberg and Butler across the Penn line, the Warren, Ohio pilot made his debut in 1931 at Sharon Speedway where it was reported he won his first race that same year on October 18. The winning machine was a Model A Ford roadster without any fenders or even a number on the side as just a Fleet-Wing gasoline sign distinguished him from the rest of the field. The depression era and war years brought an abrupt halt to his racing career before the stock car craze hit hard in the late 1940s. Although his only racing on asphalt was done in Daytona, Klapak was crowned NASCAR National Sportsman (now Nationwide Series) champ three straight years, 1950-52, and he collected MARC (now ARCA) titles in 1953-54. Previously elected into the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Circle Track Club Hall of Fame, most familiar aboard the black no. 23 Bambi Special, Klapak passed away in 1997 at the age of 84 with one of his last runs made in the 1966 ARCA race at Daytona.
Also receiving recognition during the induction ceremonies will be Ernie Saxton, John & Laura Wight and recent Rite Aid 200 Champion Frank Cozze’s winning crew.
A public relations specialist with more than 35 years of experience in motorsports marketing and promotions, Saxton enters the Hall of Fame as a recipient of the Leonard J. Sammons, Jr. Award for Outstanding Contributions to Auto Racing. Helping found both the Motorsports Organizers of Pennsylvania and the Eastern Motorsports Press Association —serving as President of EMPA nearly every year since its inception in 1969— Saxton has been instrumental in upgrading motorsports communication and bringing motorsports to the corporate world while authoring his internationally recognized motorsports marketing newsletter. He has also been a vocal leader for improving driver and race-track safety standards, remaining a strong advocate of adequate insurance and medical coverage for all who are involved in motorsports. An award-winning broadcaster and journalist initially pursuing full-time motorsports and automotive aftermarket activities in 1989, Saxton is a frequent contributor to national and local publications such as Area Auto Racing News, Bucks County Courier Times and Inside Track Motorsports News, with stories previously appearing in Stock Car Racing Magazine, NASCAR Magazine and Illustrated Speedway News. Residing in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, he is most familiar on the short-track circuit today as the ‘voice’ of Grandview (Pa.) Speedway, where he has served as a Director of Communications for 43 years.
Bringing the season to a fitting climax with their driver capturing top honors in the overall 2008 Hoosier Tire-VP Racing Fuels Mr. DIRTcar Big-Block Modified points chase, the Wights from Phoenix, New York have emerged among the most successful car owners during the newest millennium. Billy Decker climbed behind the wheel of the LJL Motorsports no. 91 Gypsum Wholesalers Modified in 2004 and in his fifth season reached the pinnacle of the DIRTcar Racing world with the help of a record-tying 10 victories in Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series competition. Pat Ward garnered the Mr. DIRTcar 358-Modified title for the Wights in ’04 and son Larry Wight was named DIRTcar Rookie of the Year in both Big-Block and Small-Block Modified at the end of 2008. First breaking into the racing world in 1997-98 in support of Central New York chauffeurs Roger Phelps and J.J. Michaels, today Decker, Ward and Wight share space under the red Gypsum Express umbrella with Big-Block campaigners Pat O’Brien, Ryan Phelps, Roy Bresnahan and Sportsman contender John Pietrowicz.
In a fitting presentation following the monumental Rite Aid 200 victory scored last autumn by Big-Block veteran Frank Cozze on the Syracuse Mile, the Mechanic of the Year Award will be given to the entire crew in charge of the no. 44 Waite’s General Contractors/PMC mount during Super DIRT Week. Outlining plans six months before the biggest event of the year ever arrived, the Wind Gap, Pa.-based team had all the major principles taken care of come October; even using two crew chiefs on race day to cover every intangible. On the radio Brent Tittle gave direction and Dave Hoffman provided moral support, and when the checkered flag finally waved on Sunday, fuel fillers Jack Stanley and Bill Gill, jack man Chip Morgan, tire changers Lee Michaelson, Craig Mitchell and Andrew Cozze, shock specialist Frank Cozze Jr., grandstand spotter Rick Cozze and stat keeper Bobby Bachman had it all figured out.
Co-recipients of the eighth annual Gater Racing Photo News “Outstanding Woman in Racing” award are drivers Gloria Katona Scarpati, Serenity Sutherland and Jessica Zemken, each of which have won features during their Modified careers.
The daughter of former Modified racer and speed shop owner Les Katona, and wife of former Late Model racer Carmen Scarpati, Gloria followed a family tradition that began in 1958. In 1978 she started racing in the Rookie Division at the old Flemington (N.J.) Fair Speedway and also raced for several seasons at East Windsor (N.J.) Speedway. Currently residing in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Gloria was a regular 358 Sportsman/Small-Block Modified competitor at Flemington, twice (dirt and asphalt surfaces) steering her No. K3 to victory on the famed 5/8-miler.
Also born into a racing family, Sprakers, New Yorker Jessica attended her first race at just two weeks old, becoming a regular at the local dirt tracks while spending most of her childhood growing up in the race shop around her father Ray’s Modifieds. After six seasons of go-kart wins and championships at two local tracks, 14 year-old Jessica got the chance to run her father’s back-up car at Fonda (NY) Speedway, a storied half-mile dirt track. Now in her early 20s and much more seasoned behind the wheel of both Modifieds and Sprint Cars, she won four DIRTcar 358-Modified events in 2008 at Brockville Ontario Speedway and Autodrome Edelweiss in the province of Quebec.
2008 was the third-year sporting a Small-Block Modified for Serenity, and her no. 37 Troyer entry gained instant notoriety when she parked it in the winner’s circle last summer after a flag-to flag victory at Black Rock Speedway. Not only did she make her mark as the first female ever to win a Modified feature at the historic Yates County oval, Serenity emerged as the first ‘local’ from Dundee, New York to take a checkered flag on home soil in more than two decades.
DIRTcar Racing Northeast main office is located in Weedsport, New York on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds www.cayugacountyfairspeedway.com, home of the 2009 DIRTcar All-Star Weekend, July 17-19, featuring Hoosier Tire-VP Racing Fuels Mr. DIRTcar Championship Series events for Sportsman and Big-Block Modifieds in the richest short-track show of its kind in the nation — the $20,000-to-win Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series “DIRTcar All-Star 100” on Sunday, July 19.
Headquartered in Roanoke, Va., Advance Auto Parts, a leading automotive aftermarket retailer of parts, accessories, batteries, and maintenance items in the United States, serves both the do-it-yourself and professional installer markets As of April 19, 2008, the Company operated 3,291 stores in 40 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Additional information about the Company, employment opportunities, customer services, and on-line shopping for parts and accessories can be found on the Company’s web site at www.advanceautoparts.com.
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, Hoosier Racing Tire www.hoosiertire.com and VP Racing Fuels www.vpracingfuels.com. Promotional partners include Rite Aid Corporation www.riteaid.com, Dig Safely New York www.digsafelynewyork.com and the University of Northwestern Ohio www.unoh.com and the contingency sponsors are Bars Leaks www.barsproducts.com, Bert Transmission www.berttransmission.com, Bicknell Racing Products www.bicknellracingproducts.com, Bilstein Shocks www.bilstein.com, Brodix Cylinder Heads www.brodix.com, Ferris Industries www.ferrisindustries.com, Integra Shocks www.integrashocksandsprings.com, Intercomp www.intercomp-racing.com, KSE Racing Products www.kse-racing.com, Motorsports Safety Systems www.motorsportssafetysystems.com, Penske Shocks, www.penskeshocks.com, Racing Electronics www.racingelectronics.com, Rislone Oil Stabilizer www.barsproducts.com and Wrisco Industries www.wrisco.com.