Not too big, not too small-that may best sum up the Southern All Star Racing Series (SAS). Positioned right in between the weekly tracks and the bigger series like Hav-A-Tampa, SAS has been developing drivers and thrilling fans for close to 20 years. Top local drivers, competitive prize money, and above all, exciting racing, make SAS one of the biggest little secrets in racing.
A Star Is Born
SAS was born in Birmingham, Alabama, as the brainchild of B.J. Parker, a longtime race promoter and former owner of Birmingham International Raceway. "I sold BIR in 1982 to focus on putting on a couple of dirt races in northern Alabama," says Parker, now president of SAS. "But at the time, I did not have SAS in mind."
For his first racing event, Parker enlisted the help of his old friend Bobby Allison. "I called Bobby and got him to come up and race and serve as a 'drawing card' to get the fans interested," Parker recalls. "That race went real well, so I went to Columbus, Mississippi, to do the same thing and got Red Farmer to come race. That also went real well."
Race fans came in droves to see the headliners as well as the top local drivers race together, and Parker began to realize he was on to something with serious potential. "I noticed that what made the people show up was that we had the best drivers from seven or eight different tracks. So, sort of like an all-star football game, I got the idea of an all-star series," he says. Thus, in 1983, the Southern All Star Racing Series was born.
The first year of SAS saw only 12 races, but Parker's idea was getting noticed, and today SAS holds almost 60 races at 20 racetracks throughout the Southeast.
Three Divisions, Two Surfaces
SAS races three divisions-two on dirt and one on asphalt. Parker began the asphalt series in 1989, which is now run by his partner, Ben Atkinson. The major differences between the two series, besides the obvious surface variation, lie in the cars themselves. The asphalt cars more closely resemble NASCAR-type stock cars, while the dirt cars are still the wedge-type, straight-sided cars similar to the type the Hav-A-Tampa series runs.
The top dirt division is the Super Late Model Dirt Modifieds followed by the "Topless" Bandits Late Models, which is like the Super division, but sans the roof. All cars have a steel tubular frame, but SAS imposes a weight rule dependent upon what type of engine a racer chooses to run.
"For example," explains Parker, "on the Super Late Models, we run a 2,150-pound limit with driver if the car has a steel-headed, flat-top piston motor. If the racer runs an aluminum-headed 362ci, the limit rises to 2,300. The open-motor limit is higher still at 2,400 pounds, including driver.
"On the asphalt side, there is a steel-headed motor versus a 9:1 aluminum-headed motor, with the only difference being in the carburetor. The aluminum-headed motor must run a 390 carburetor while the steel head can utilize a 750 carburetor."
A start-up SAS team can expect to spend about $20,000-$30,000 to get into a championship-level car and another $20,000-$30,000 to be able to run the entire series. Some spend more and some spend less, says Parker. "We try to keep the costs down as much as we can. We keep the tire cost down as low as possible. And, with the three weight breaks in the motors, a cheaper motor can be competitive with a high-dollar motor." All cars run exclusively on Hoosier tires, and most competitors use either Ford or Chevy engines.
All cars qualify for each race in similar fashion to Winston Cup qualifying. The fastest 18 cars are locked in for the main race while the top 6 drivers from a consolation race fill out the remaining spots for a total of 24 cars. The asphalt series may have as many as two consolation races to place as many as 36 cars in a field.
"We run the three divisions basically every week for a total of about 60 races a year," says Parker. "Some weekends, though, we run a Friday, a Saturday, and a Sunday race, especially during a holiday weekend."