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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Prior to this year outlaw super late model driver Dave Zagaiski had never won a feature at Marne, Michigan’s Berlin Raceway.
That all changed this year for 52-year-old Zagaiski, who won six times in eight races and captured his first NASCAR track championship at the .4375-mile asphalt oval.
“We’ve been racing over there for a number of years, six or seven years, and never really did a full season in the past because of a lack of help and a few other reasons,” Zagaiski. “Up until this year we hadn’t won anything. We were getting better and better, but my new help has made all the difference.”
The new help that Zagaiski mentioned came in the form of Nick Fischer and Brad Yunker, two Berlin Raceway veterans who came on board as Zagaiski’s crew members.
“They’ve both been involved in racing at Berlin pretty much their whole lives,” Zagaiski said. “Nick and Brad happen to be best friends and they are actually business partners together. They are very passionate about racing. We’ve created one bad fast race car.
“Last year (2015) was the first year for Nick and Brad. We went through some growing pains. We had quite a few failures. I think we only finished half the races at best. This year we obviously fixed all that.”
In addition to doing the driving, Zagaiski also builds his own engines, which also happens to be what he does at his day job.
“I do the engines, that’s what I do for a living,” Zagaiski. “I work at Katech here in Michigan. Katech has a pretty good and long reputation for all types of racing.”
Zagaiski also said he got a lot of help from a former NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, Johnny Benson, who built the chassis that Zagaiski drove to the track championship this year at Berlin.
“Our cars are Johnny Benson chassis’ and he is a big part of our success. He became a good friend of mine a number of years ago,” Zagaiski said. “Johnny is from Grand Rapids (Michigan), which is basically where we race. He was born and raised over there. He was weaned at Berlin. He has been a big part of our success as well.”
The season didn’t exactly start off well for Zagaiski, who got taken out in a Lap 2 crash not of his doing in the season opener.
“We had a pile in front of us and I picked the wrong path and didn’t make it through the pile,” Zagaiski said.
He quickly put that behind him, rattling off six victories in the next seven races to comfortably capture the track outlaw super late model championship for sponsors Kehrig Steel, Intergra Shocks and Benson Speed Equipment.
His domination at Berlin also left him ranked eighth in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series standings in the state of Michigan.
“Berlin is a pretty unique track in the big picture of things,” Zagaiski. “It is very unique in the surface of the track and the architecture of the track itself. A lot of people will tell you how tough it is, so going over there for this many years … it has had its ups and downs.
“I knew we had a good car last year even though we dropped out a lot. We dropped out leading several times,” Zagaiski said. “I knew we were going to do well and I knew that we had a pretty good chance, but six races and as dominant as the car was, I’m going to say the car not me because it was definitely the car, it was hard to predict that.
“It’s all pretty overwhelming actually,” Zagaiski said.
Zagaiski now turns his attention to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards on Dec. 9 inside the Charlotte Convention Center, where he will join other NASCAR track and state champions as honorees.
Dave Zagaiski notched six wins and seven top-five finishes in eight starts to capture the championship at the .4375-mile oval. Courtesy of Jessica Gargagliano/HD Photo