Thursday, May 31, 2012

1976 - Plank: Better late than never at River Raceways

Fountain City, Wis. (May 31, 1976) - Leon Plank found out Monday night it’s better late than never. Plank arrived at River Raceways late for the Memorial Day program, had to start on the tail end of the field for the late model feature, but rallied lo win the 2O-lap event.

The Mondovi native said later he hadn’t planned on being at River Raceways at all.

“We had gone over to a track near Green Bay,” he explained. “About 5:30, they rained out the program there. We called ahead here, found out they were still racing and came on.”

Plank took control of the race in the latter stages when he slipped by Red Steffen along the outside as the leaders rounded the sharp third turn. Then, he held off Steffen to win the last of three feature races.

“Anytime Red starts in front and you’re in back, it’s a problem,” said Plank. “When I finally got ahead of him I thought I could go ahead and win it.”

The race was red-flagged several times because of spin cuts, slight crack-ups and other problems on the track. It followed street and hobby stock features which were highlighted by spectacular crashes and rollovers.

“You watch those early races and you start wondering if there is something about the track that’s causing it,” said Steffen, “but the track was nice.”

One of the members of Plank’s pit crew remarked how you just don't pass somebody on the outside at River Raceway.

“I didn’t have any choice,” insisted Plank. “Red had the groove on the inside and I wasn’t getting anywhere trying to go past him that way.”

Plank, who races much of the time at Eau Claire, has won six late model features on five different tracks this season.

“We feel our machine is working for us,” he noted. “Sometimes, a whole lot of red flags like we had in this race can hurt you when you’re coming from behind. It might have helped me this time around.”

Plank and two members of his pit crew speculated they averaged no more than 80 or 85 miles per hour in winning the race.

The Wisconsin driver doesn’t run a whole lot at River Raceways. He made only four or five appearances here last year.

One of the members of his pit crew confided they nickname Plank “The Flying Farmer’ everywhere he goes. Monday night, the River Raceways public address announcer nicknamed his Camaro, “The Mean Machine.”

Wayne Kranz of Winona won the street stock feature and John Rogge of Winona was the victor for the 15-lap hobby stock feature.

The hobby stock feature was enveloped in controversy when Dave Tradup and Karl Fenske were black flagged out of the race for having pit crew members on the track during a red flag situation.

Tradup left quietly, but Fenske, the point leader here for the season going into the race, showed his displeasure by parking in front of the grandstand and coming up into the crowd to argue with track officials.

Fenske had flipped over on his side on the third turn but had been righted by pit crewmen and wanted to continue. His visit into the crowd earned the Winona driver a suspension from the program set this Friday night.

“Look, I’m a hometown guy here and I get treated worse on this track than anywhere else that I race,” he added. “I won the point standings here and the Dodge County Speedway last year.”

“This year, I’ve had nothing less than a third,” he continued. “I’ve had one second and one third and all the rest have been firsts. The only way to beat a winner is to keep him from racing.”

Fenske’s near-disaster was the first time he’s flipped.

“I’ve come close three other times but it’s never happened,” he said. “I think the only thing that worried me when it happened was how hard I was going over. The car really looks bad if you beat the top in good."

It didn’t seem to be Fenske’s night. His starter stuck before his heat and he didn’t get out on the track before the rest of the cars had been around once.

“It just locked everything up,” remarked Fenske. “It upset me that they wouldn’t even wait another lap for me so I could get on the track for the start.”

But Fenske showed his skill in surpassing the field in only one lap; however, he wasn’t able to make up the circuit he had lost.

“The car wasn’t hurt at all,” he continued. “It could still have won the race but the people didn’t want it to have the chance.”

Fenske discounted he had a villain-image with the fans, even though the youthful driver did get a good share of boos.

“Look, I could make racing my bread and butter if I wanted to,” he continued. “I’m not the first guy out here to get booed. It’s a habitual thing with a winner.”

Track owner Bob Hahn said Fenske’s car was disqualified not for the fact his pit crew put his car back on four wheels, but because they gave him a running start on the track to get him going again.

“He won’t be allowed to run this Friday night because of the fact he came up in the stands to argue with the officials,” said Hahn.

There were crashes a plenty in the earlier races but none of the drivers was injured to the extent he had to be removed to a hospital.

Scott Stephens flipped over five times on the back straight during the street stocks in addition to the three-car crash in front of the crowd.

The crowd was 1,608 paid admissions and the purse of $2,840 was the biggest in the two years that Hahn has running the facility.

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