In the 54-year history of Holland Speedway, there are four drivers who have stood out above all the rest.
Art Clark, Dick Flaig, Rick Wylie and Vern Bliss are the big four. Until two days ago, only Clark, Flaig and Wylie had been enshrined in The Friends of Auto Racing (FOAR Score) Fan Club’s Hall of Fame. On Saturday, the doors swung open for Bliss.
Bliss was inducted in front of 135 attendees at the club’s holiday awards party at the Elks Club in Lancaster. The Hall also enshrined dirt track Modified standout Joe Plazek, asphalt racing star Buck Catalano and Midget owner-driver Lenny Lorber. Lorber was not present Saturday due to illness.
Bliss won five Holland NASCAR Late Model Pro Stock championships, in 1999 and from 2001 to ’04. While moving up through Holland’s support divisions in a driving career that began in 1985, Bliss also earned a Challenger (1986) and NASCAR Charger (1993) championship.
By comparison, Clark had 11 Holland premier division championships: in 1963, Modern Stocks; ’65-66, New Cars; and ’71, ’73, ’74, ’78, ’85-87 and ’90, NASCAR Late Models. Flaig gathered five Holland premier titles, including 1968, New Cars; and ’75-76, ’84 and ’89, NASCAR Late Models. Wylie had seven Holland NASCAR Late Model Pro Stock championships, in 1988, ’91-92, and ’95-98.
“The names Clark, Flaig and Wylie mean a lot to me,” said Bliss. “When I was 5 years old, I watched those guys go around the race track with my dad. They were awesome. I later actually got to race against Art Clark and Dick Flaig practiced my car once and I raced against Rick and it’s pretty neat.
“I always came to this Hall of Fame thing and thought maybe someday down the road I’d be [in it]”, he said, “but I didn’t think it would be when I was just 47.”
Bliss may have won more races and championships but retired while still in his prime after the 2005 season at Holland. He was just 40.
“I had 18 years under my belt of racing and I just needed a break,” he said. “It’s not that I stopped liking racing but I just needed a break. It was a good career.”
Plazek, of Caistor Centre, Ont., began his career in asphalt competition but quickly switched to the dirt tracks, where he gained much success, mainly in the Modifieds.
Career highlights include two Canandaigua and one Weedsport Speedway Modified championship. In 1996 Plazek tied Danny Johnson in the 358 Modified Ransomville Speedway point chase, the only time that co-champions have been named in the 358 Modified division in Ransomville history.
“Danny was a good guy and good driver to share the championship with,” Plazek said of Johnson. “If I had to share it with someone he is a good one because he is a tough competitor.”
While Plazek had success on the New York State Fairgrounds’ huge and fast one-mile oval, winning three New York State Fair Modified Championships, he never was able to win the prestigious 200 lapper there, which is the marquee event of Super DIRT Week each October. Several times he earned front row starting spots for the race, but was not able to grab the checkered flag.
“I had the goods to win it and it’s a luck race,” said Plazek. “I had everything in place and it just didn’t fall our way.
“The icing on the cake of my great career would have been to win the big one at Syracuse but sometimes I have far more publicity on not winning the race than if I had won it. It’s something to talk about when you’re that close and never won it.”
Catalano earned 149 victories in various classes during his 35-year career at Spencer Speedway in Williamson and gathered five Modified championships there as well as a NASCAR Regional title. He also is a one-time Dunn Tire Raceway Park Modified champion. He won races at Holland, Cayuga and Fulton speedways. He retired last season.
“I’m really proud of my career but getting into this Hall of Fame was really unexpected for me,” Catalano said. “I’m just so happy that my grandson Patsy, who will be 10 years old next week, is here and all excited for me.”
The most touching moment of the FOAR Score evening Saturday came during the 2012 season awards portion, when Holland track official Jerry Ward was given the Perseverance Award. Ward has been battling cancer for the last six years and with tears rolling down his eyes thanked his family for all their support.
The Driver of The Year On Dirt was awarded to Cody McPherson, who won the Humberstone and Merrittville Speedway Sportsman track championships in 2012 along with the DIRT.car Sportsman Super DIRT Series title. Holland NASCAR Pro Modified Champion Andy Jankowiak was named Driver of The Year On Asphalt.
The Families in Racing Award was given to the Hoctor and LaLomia families.
Other Awards: Justin Wright, Ransomville 358 Modifieds, Rookie of The Year On Dirt; Jake Vernon, Holland and DTRP Sportsman, Rookie of The Year On Asphalt; Erick Rudolph, 358 Modifieds, Most Improved Driver On Dirt; Matt Druar, DTRP Street Stocks, Most Improved Driver On Asphalt.
Also: Heather Weber, DTRP Street Stock and FOAR Score official, Woman in Racing; The LaLomia/Bainbridge Racing Team, Sportsmanship Award; Jim Nowinski, FOAR Score official, President’s Award for Dedication To The Club; Scott Kreutter, Patriot Sprint Champion, Achievement Award On Dirt; George Skora III, Lake Erie Speedway/TBRA NASCAR Late Model champion, Achievement Award on Asphalt.
The Dick Hammond Dedication To Auto Racing Award was given to Original Pizza Logs owner Bob Cordova, who sponsored 52 race teams in 2012.