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PLAZEK HASN'T LOST HIS TOUCH ON THE SHORT-TRACK CIRCUIT

Joe Plazek took time away from his recent well-publicized garage sale to win the 35-lap DIRT 358 Modified feature Saturday night at Merrittville Speedway in Ontario.

Plazek has become a star on both DIRT's big-block Modified and 358 circuits over the last few years.

A bitter dispute with DIRT officials over a technical problem involving tires on July 9 at Canandaigua Speedway has seen the Caistor Centre, Ont., driver pull out of the DIRT big-block circuit in protest. He has been selling out his big-block equipment because he will no longer run in that class.

This includes all the equipment and cars he planned to use during Super DIRT Week in October, DIRT's marquee event.

DIRT Motorsports, based in Weedsport, is standing by its July ruling.

The result is that Plazek has swapped his Saturday night DIRT big-block participation at Canandaigua Speedway to race with the 358 class at Merrittville, where Saturday's win was Plazek's first of the season.

"Well, we did sell our Syracuse (Super DIRT Week) stuff, you know, our one-mile track cars," Plazek said. "As far as our short-track equipment goes, we still have all that. I'm not sure what's going to happen.

"We're just kinda caught in limbo. It's a battle between myself and DIRT and it seems to be going nowhere. It's a stalemate right now."

What can't be disputed is that Plazek charged through the pack to gain the lead Saturday night. Getting to the front sooner than point leader Alan Johnson was the key.

Johnson eventually chased down Plazek but it was too little, too late.

Merrittville's program was rain delayed 1 hour, 55 minutes as rain hit just at the scheduled 7:30 p.m. start time. Heat qualifying finally got rolling just before 9.

A little over two hours later, the 358 Modified feature took to the track, for what would prove to be a caution-plagued race.

Dan Miller took the lead at the start with Don Martin, Rob Krull and Don Turner taking chase. Plazek and Johnson were on the move from their respective 14th and 16th starting assignments.

The first of seven yellow-flag periods appeared on lap five with Plazek having already moved to ninth and Johnson to 10th. Martin passed a fading Miller on the restart with Fred Cade jumping to second.

With the field again under caution on lap seven, Plazek was sixth and Johnson eighth. On that restart, Cade outdueled Martin for the lead. The caution again waved on lap nine with Plazek up to fourth and Johnson two spots back.

The race went green for a lap until yellow-flag fever struck again, with a multicar wreck in turn three. Richie Vinson ended up rolling onto his roof but was not injured.

Cade paced the field when racing resumed. Plazek passed Jimmy Begolo for second on lap 13 just as the caution struck again. Johnson was then fourth.

The race's sixth caution came on lap 14. When racing resumed, Plazek raced by Ca de to execute the winning pass as Begolo moved to second. Johnson got involved in an intense struggle with Cade for third, finally gaining the spot on lap 22.

By this point, Plazek had a half-straightaway lead. One last caution on lap 23 closed up the field. After the green waved once more, Johnson finally got by Begolo for second on lap 28 and began his pursuit of Plazek, who had a 10-car-length cushion.

Johnson nipped away at Plazek's margin and fell just short at the checkered flag, less than a car length behind the winner. Pete Bicknell was third.

"Here we've been struggling," said Plazek. "We got a couple good lines around the track tonight and it worked out well."

Johnson, who has eight 1998 Merrittville wins and a virtual lock on the track championship, said: "We just didn't have the horsepower tonight."

Drag winners at Lancaster on Friday: Dan Galiotti, Super Gas; Mike Nowak, Pro; Tim Collins, Heavy; Kevin Snieszko, Street, Bill Pippard, Bikes and Joe Karosik, Sleds.

Lancaster stock car victors Saturday: Sege Fidanza, Modified; Tim Windnagle, Late Model; Don Staubitz, Sportsman; Jeff Merritt, Street Stock; Tim Bernhard, Strictly Stock and Wayne Turnbull, Midget.

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