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American Speed Reborn: Before the Circuit of Champions

To commemorate the ASA’s return, Racing America is partnering with The Third Turn to release a weekly column called “American Speed Reborn”


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This year the American Speed Association (ASA) returns to the short track racing world in a big way with the launch of the new ASA STARS Late Model Series. For over thirty years, ASA was the national late model tour, and its return is understandably being met with excitement across the industry. To commemorate the ASA’s return, Racing America is partnering with The Third Turn to release a weekly column called “American Speed Reborn”. Each week we’ll examine one year of the ASA’s history, following along race-by-race as legends are made and stories are written.

The history books state that the first American Speed Association race was run at Salem Speedway on November 5, 1972. It was won by some little-known Kentucky driver named Darrell Waltrip. That proved to be an auspicious indicator of how big of a stage ASA would become, as driver after driver would make a name for themselves there.

THE THIRD TURN: 1972 Midwest 300 at Salem Speedway

But like Mr. Waltrip himself, the ASA took some time gaining notoriety and clout. When that race was held in 1972, the ASA itself was nearly five years old. What few know is that the ASA had actually been a fairly bustling Indiana-based late model tour in the late 60s and early 70s. That race at Salem was simply the first race under a rebranded ASA “Circuit of Champions” moniker.

In fact, the early ASA days mirror the trajectory of a tour that now falls under the ASA STARS umbrella of regional series - the Champion Racing Association. That’s because, much like CRA, ASA’s home track was the quarter-mile bullring at Anderson, Indiana.

So, if you want to rewrite history a little bit, the “real” first ASA late model race was held at Anderson (then known as “Sun Valley Speedway”) on July 31, 1968. Dave Sorg won that race, fending off L.J. Lines and Dennis Nyari. To put it mildly, that was an impressive podium.

Sorg, in particular, is a name unfortunately unknown to most modern race fans. But he was probably the best Late Model driver in the Kentuckiana region in the 1960s - though Nyari might well give him a run for that moniker. Sorg won the Winchester 400 twice and also won the annual 500-lapper ARCA at Louisville. He might be best known for being the inaugural Circuit of Champions title in 1973, yet he also won the inaugural ASA title in 1968 when he won the only other race of that first season.

ASA would run 15 races in the 1969 season - all at the Anderson bullring. Bob Fields won the title, the high mark of a relatively quiet career. Jim Blount won three races that season before taking 5 wins and the 1970 title the next. While Jim’s career was starting to wind down by the time the Circuit of Champions started up a few years later, the Blount name has been part of the Midwestern racing scene for many years as Bobby Blount won in CRA and ARTGO and then Chad Blount won 8 races in ARCA in the early 2000s.

By the end of 1970, ASA had begun to sanction races at Winchester Speedway. Along with Anderson, those two tracks would form the bedrock of the regional series to come. Jim Blount would be the first ASA winner at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile on August 9, 1970.

By 1971, the schedule had expanded to 24 races with the little quarter-mile track in Muncie, Indiana becoming the third track to sanction an ASA Late Model event. More and more names were starting to appear on the win column that would become staples of the early Circuit of Champions - Sorg won thrice, Larry Moore - the eventual Dirt Late Model Hall of Famer - got two wins and Don Gregory, Dennis Miles, Carl Smith, and Vern Schrock grabbed checkereds too. Gene Christie, who would finish in the top-ten in Circuit of Champions points four times in the 1970s despite never winning, got a single win and the 1971 ASA title.

Salem and Bunker Hill would be added to the ASA schedule in 1972. Also being added were new and notable ASA winners - 35-time ARCA winner Les Snow grabbed the Winchester season opener, eventual Midwest Modifieds Tour champion Harold Scott took an August Anderson win, and two-time Redbud winner Don Higgins grabbed the first of them a few weeks later. Miles won twice - including the only visit ever by ASA to little Bunker Hill Speedway - and was the titlist.

By now, it was clear to series ownership they had a potential opportunity on their hands. The mid-1970s was the birth of many regional late model tours - a series called the MASCAR Galaxy Series was starting around this time and was the first real “super” series down South. A series in Wisconsin called the Triple R was also launching and would be successful for a few years before Gregg McKarns’ ARTGO series came to replace it. Interest was at an all-time high in late model racing in America, and Rex Robbins and the ASA were ready to pounce.

With the genesis of the Circuit of Champions, you would think the little Indiana tour was no more. That’s actually not true - 13 more races were contested under the original ASA banner in 1973. Interestingly enough, Mike Eddy won the 1973 regional season opener at Winchester.

By mid-August, with the sanctioning body clearly seeing the success of the regional efforts, the tour was scrapped. No 1973 champion was awarded. Don Higgins won the last “original” ASA race on August 10, 1973. The next week, the Circuit of Champions sanctioned the Redbud, subsuming the biggest event on the first tour’s original schedule. ASA was not folding, but evolving forward.

All in all, the first ASA tour sanctioned 89 races, all in the state of Indiana. Podium finishes for each of those races is available at The Third Turn.

One last interesting footnote is that ASA was actually sanctioning a sprint car tour at the time too. Jim Blount himself was a Sprint car champion, while Todd Gibson, a nationally-known name, won the final title when the tour folded after the 1975 season.

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