Many racing legends have left their mark in the DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame. Some have unfortunately left us, while others are still around to share their greatest memories. One of these racing legends is Ontario, Canada’s Joe Plazek. The Canadian has enjoyed a successful career in the DIRT Modified series and is now enjoying his life beyond racing.
Plazek’s passion for racing started at a young age, as both his parents were race fans and his father raced late models in Ontario back in the 60s. But it was not the excitement of the high-speed cars that grabbed his attention.
“I was drawn to motorcycles more when I was a kid,” Plazek said. “I started to race bikes when I was around 12 or 13. My mom and dad hate the bikes, all of the injuries and stuff that went along with bikes.”
Once Plazek turned 16 years old his dad wanted to get him out of bike racing and into a race car. It was a decision that Plazek said he did not fully agree with, but knew that it was what his parents wanted and they were going to support it, so there was no reason to fight it.
A decision Plazek quickly grew to love as he started off racing an asphalt car in Ontario. He did that for about three years until the expenses of asphalt racing began making a negative impact on his racing budget. But thanks to his sister and her boyfriend, Plazek’s eyes were opened to the world of dirt car racing.
“I hadn’t been to the dirt races ever and I went down to Merrittville to watch a qualifier back in 80 or 81 and really thought it was cool,” Plazek said.
From there Plazek’s career in dirt racing took off, but it was not a smooth transition at first. In 1982 he began his dirt career racing an asphalt car that was converted to be a dirt car and according to Plazek “ran really really bad and was just in everybody’s way.” After getting bite by the poor performance of the car one too many times he bought a new car the next year and went dirt modified racing.
He had finally found his calling.
That year he won Rookie of the Year at Merrittville Speedway and Humberstone Speedway and missed out on DIRT Rookie of the Year by only a few points. And his career only grew from there. He began traveling to Central New York to race and by the late 80s started racing there exclusively. According to Plazek he had been fed up with the Canadian scene due to the small car counts and poor track preparations.
The Central New York area became like a second home for Plazek as he would stay there for four to five days at a time, as he would run Black Rock Speedway on Friday, Canandaigua Speedway on Saturday and Cayuga County Fair Speedway on Sundays, as well attending qualifying races that were close to Central New York. To some it seemed foolish for Plazek to always travel back and forth, but he had a big business to manage as well with his family’s Auto Recycling business.
“I was always told by a lot of people that ‘you know if you could just get away from your family business and just race you would be a lot better,’ but it was hard to break away because I had to have one to support the other,” Plazek said.
Even if the business was holding Plazek back he still made the most out of his career and racked out a number of accomplishments. He has six Super DIRTcar Series victories and 68 Big-Block career wins. He was the 1995 track champion at Cayuga County Fair Speedway and won back-to-back champions at Canandaigua Speedway (1996-1997). Plazek really showed his talent on the tough Salt City oval in Syracuse. Although he never won the Super DIRT Week race at the Syracuse track he did win three straight Labor Day races on it in 1995, 1996 and 1997. An accomplishment that Plazek says is the panicle of his career.
Having the funding to race is what Plazek attributes most to all of his success, as well as keeping his mom and dad part of his racing.
“I think my biggest deal was that I kept dad and mom in it for years because I didn’t try to spend money foolishly,” Plazek said. “We didn’t try to travel to races that I didn’t think we wanted to be at. I’ve seen many drivers use up owners; they would run for them for a year or two and the guy just totally gets out of racing because it is so expensive.”
As Plazek continued racing the expenses began to grow while the amount of time he got to spend with family began to shrink. So as he was nearing his 40s Plazek decided it was time to hang up his helmet. But not too long after his dad pulled him back into asphalt racing to enter the CASCAR series in Canada. Plazek said it took a couple races for him to get use to sitting on the left side of a racecar again, but once he did his talent was showcased once again throughout the 12 race series eventually leading to Rookie of the Year honors at the end of the year.
But as quickly as he got back into racing, he found himself retiring once again. Sponsorship was pulled at the end of the year, so Plazek and his family was left with the decision to continue with their own money or sell the team and pull out; they decided to pull out and September 2002 was the last time Plazek stepped into a race car. The urge to race, however, has not left him.
“Looking back it was the right thing to do,” Plazek said.“Looking forward, now that the kids are grown up, you almost look back and say‘geez I’d love to keep doing it,’ but now you are so far gone and so far out of it, it would take so much to get back in it. I usually wait a minute and the feeling goes away and I am OK.”
Plazek admitted he has not been to a race in about 10 years to keep the urge away and has been enjoying life away from the track. Yet even there he can’t escape racing entirely as both of his boys race motocross.
Plazek’s accomplishments in racing are highly regarded and were recognized in 2012 when he was inducted into the FOAR Score club and in 2009 when he was inducted into the DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame. An accomplishment he is proud of and at first felt he did not deserve.
“When I got called I was like ‘no, no there are lots of guys older than me that should be in there,’” Plazek said. “Now looking back it was cool and the right thing to do.”
-Published on Dirt Track Digest