Photo by Bob Milner
Many would argue that short track racing today isn't in the best possible state. We here at Circle Track get tired of doom and gloom; there is a reality of challenges facing our industry. But help is not that far away, and it's coming from a source many thought not possible-the ASA. Considering the fact that the original ASA died a pretty ugly and very public death just two short years ago, calling them the savior of short track racing will be considered by some borderline insane. But there's more to today's ASA than meets the eye, and it has a bright future no matter how you slice it. But to really understand where the ASA is going, you have to look at where the organization was and what happened.
Any Mark Martin or Rusty Wallace fan worth their weight in souvenir T-shirts knows that ASA stands for the American Speed Association. The Indiana-based sanctioning body was founded in 1968 by Rex Robbins and his wife, Becky. Featuring full-bodied American stock cars, the ASA began crisscrossing the country in 1973 with its national touring series. It was this touring series in which Martin, Wallace, and a guy named Alan Kulwicki cut their teeth and made their name.
In fact, the alumni list of ASA drivers is a virtual who's who of NASCAR Nextel Cup, then and now. In addition to Martin, Wallace, and Kulwicki, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kenny Wallace, Johnny Benson, Ted Musgrave, Reed Sorenson, and David Stremme all made it to the top level of NASCAR racing by winning their way through the American Speed Association. For years, the ASA was the place to race if you wanted to hit the big time.
Beyond the national touring series, the ASA also sanctioned a Late Model series as well as several regional touring series. During the mid-'80s, the ASA became one of the first stock car sanctions to race six-cylinder engines, the lower-priced alternative to the popular V-8.
In the early '90s, the ASA began reaping the benefits of NASCAR's wild popularity explosion. Unfortunately, it would also become the sanction's undoing. In 1991, TNN (The Nashville Network) began televising ASA races. Two years after TNN was sold to CBS in 1997, Robbins inked a five-year deal with CBS execs to broadcast ASA races live. The year was 1999, and the future looked bright for the ASA.
Dennis Huth (in red shirt), President of Racing Speed Associates, discusses something (we'
But like a hurricane moving steadily forward, ASA's future quickly became clouded when just one year into the deal media giant Viacom took over TNN and promptly shut down the cable network, transferring all of the signals to MTV Networks. While MTV initially honored the contract, just one year later (August 2001) the decision was made to move the two remaining ASA broadcasts to tape-delayed status. Robbins filed a lawsuit in an attempt to force MTV to honor the CBS contract. The suit was dropped after MTV agreed to broadcast one of the races live. MTV followed up the lawsuit by terminating the five-year CBS contract after just two years.
The sanction struggled through the '02 season, and at the end of the year car owner Steve Dale plunked his own money on the table to buy ASA from a frustrated and, no doubt, exasperated Rex Robbins.
Dale hit the ground running with an aggressive expansion plan. He added a Late Model Series, Speed Truck Challenge, and a Southern Modified Tour to complement the National Tour made popular by the likes of Wallace and Kulwicki. The face of the ASA was rapidly changing, but all was not well. Sponsor money was slow to develop and debt mounted. Since there wasn't a solid TV package, Dale was forced to spend his own money to buy air time from Speed Channel to get the races on the tube. Without sponsor support, there was a limited amount of time Dale could fund the series.
It culminated in a not-so-pretty standoff at Lowe's Motor Speedway in October 2004 for the Aaron's 99, a race that was to take place just after Nextel Cup qualifying. In the driver's meeting, Dale informed the competitors that ASA did not have the money to pay the purse. Speedway Motorsports, owners of the track, impounded the sanctioning body's vehicles. Ultimately, ASA, the drivers, and Speedway Motorsports reached an agreement and competitors were paid after the final race of the season at Atlanta. By the end of 2004, the 35-year-old American Speed Association ceased to exist.
Enter Dennis Huth. The man behind the birth, growth, and success of NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series and the Winston Racing Series had actually been working with ASA prior to its demise. But when the writing on the wall became clear, Huth had a choice: stay and try to salvage the legendary series or get out while the getting was good. The California native chose to stick around.
"I love grassroots racing, and I knew that the formula could work," explains Huth. "I wanted to see it work."
And so began the American Speed Association's rise from the ashes. The series' holdings were carved up with Huth buying the ASA Member Track program and the rights to the ASA National Tour through his company, Racing Speed Associates. With the purchase, Huth also got control over programs with seven series that race across the country.