ASA STARS National Tour
Wilson Motorsports Teammates Butcher, Ruggeiro Among Early Glass City 200 Entries
Aug 17, 2023
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.
Two points had all the 1992 season had come down to. Two points that separated one of the brightest young stars in racing - Johnny Benson, Jr. - from a prestigious ASA title. Over the winter, it had been hard to look back at that season and not wonder if one twist of fate in any race during the season could have been the difference between the title and finishing second.
But maybe more than anyone in the field, Benson seemed capable of the long view. Despite obvious talent, he had not rushed his way to the top of the short track ladder. His father, a Michigan racing legend, was racing well into his 50s and Benson was content to help wrench the elder’s machine while gaining accolades on the dirt ovals in central Michigan. Only when his father retired in 1989 did Benson truly switch over to asphalt. It was a good decision - he won the Berlin Raceway title in his rookie season. The next year, he was in ASA. Week-by-week, his finishing position improved. He was 8th in the 1990 title chase then 4th in the 1991 chase, Benson logged laps. He contended for the occasional victory, but it wasn’t until that 1992 near miss that he had found victory lane.
But five years into his asphalt career, at the age of 30, the ever-patient Benson knew 1993 would be a pivotal season. Another big season, in particular a championship, could be what could earn him a call up the ladder to NASCAR. If things fell apart, he might join the ranks of a half-dozen other younger drivers - Scott Hansen, Jay Sauter, Gary St. Amant, all for example - who seemed to win enough in ASA to earn acclaim but not yet enough to move on up.
Benson’s season started picture-perfect. In reality, he nearly took all the drama out of the championship race before spring had even finished. He won the pole for the first five races of the year and his finishes in those races wound up being 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 1st, and 3rd. That third place finish might have been even better, but an accident while lapping cars had damaged Benson’s car to hamper what had been a wire-to-wire effort to that point. Only Mike Eddy, his 1992 rival, had run well enough to keep anywhere within 100 points in the tally.
What was particularly amazing about Benson’s start to the season was that the team thought they had an even better car back at the shop. Over the winter, he had been working with Port City chassis on getting a new machine built. But the deadline had lagged, and Benson decided to start the season with his most trusty 1992 chassis.
Benson’s team brought the 1993 model to bear at race number seven on the season at Brainerd, and it was even faster than the team had hoped. Despite being still rather a novice at road courses, Benson qualified outside pole and had pulled away to a five-second lead when his engine expired with just three laps to go. Jimmy Spencer would earn a surprise victory that day while Benson finished 15th. Mike Eddy, Benson’s nearest rival, was able to finish well enough to trim the points lead down to 14 markers.
Johnny Benson nearly won the Brainerd race before engine issues with a few laps to go (Jerry Winker photo)
Benson’s new mount visited victory lane at Auto City’s 500 lap affair while Eddy, himself having debuted a new chassis just a few weeks before, won at Berlin. It was the high water mark for Eddy though. His season fell apart with just three top-tens in the final half of the season.
Benson wasn’t perfect either, but he and Eddy had put just so many points between themselves and the field that he didn’t need to be perfect, he just needed to be better than Eddy. That he was - winning the annual ASA visit to the Minnesota State Fair and adding on a dominant victory at Toledo. That and a few more top-fives, plus bonus points for leading in races where mechanical issues would knock him out of, would be enough for him to well stay ahead of the field.
Scott Hansen, whose season had been an inverse of Benson and Eddy’s - terrible in the first half, then knocking out four wins in the second half - managed to cut Benson’s lead down to about 100 markers entering the finale. But his hopes ended early in Jennerstown with a burnt ignition and 33rd place finish. Benson’s 2nd secured him the title by nearly 200 markers.
Bob Senneker struggled mightily in 1993 but he did manage one win at Auto City (Bobby Jones photo)
The 1993 season saw two of the biggest upsets in series history with two different journeymen racers grabbing victories. Longtime ARTGO and ASA competitor Dennis Lampman, who had failed to record a victory across approximately 300 starts in regional late model touring competition, scored the August Berlin show. Benson had dominated the race up until twenty laps to go, when an Eddy spin led to a caution that saw Benson pit for tires. Lampman, having a solid run to the top-five after only making the field by winning the last chance race, decided to stay out mostly just to get some extra cash and bonus points for leading a lap. But then the run to the checkered got slowed by some cautions, allowing Lampman’s tires to cool enough to ultimately hold off Benson.
“I was pedaling as fast as I could pedal," Lampman was reported as saying in National Speed Sport News. "The car stayed underneath me the entire race, it never got loose and I just kept driving it as hard as I could."
Equally surprising and popular was Tom Jones’s victory in the Jennerstown finale. Known as the “racing schoolteacher”, Jones had been 0-for-203 in his ASA career. But he came in with a lot of confidence - just the year before he had been the spoiler between Eddy and Benson in that final dramatic race, coming home a career-best second.
But to break a 203-race losing streak required some extra good fortune for Jones. A red flag for rain on lap 174 allowed his team to discover a leaking radiator hose. The team was allowed to replace the part without penalty when continual race forced the race to be finished on Monday.
“We were going to try and run the remainder of the race without a pit stop, but then decided to change right side tires. After we made the final pit stop I thought we had a flat tire," he said of the final laps. "It was an incredible feeling to see that white flag”.
Tom Jones scored the only ASA win of his career with an emphatic Jennerstown triumph (Nancy May photo)
For Benson, the championship was indeed exactly what he needed to keep climbing the ladder. The next season he was a winning NASCAR Busch Series rookie. The season after that he was the champion and just three years removed from an ASA championship, Benson was a NASCAR Cup rookie of the year.
-Featured photo credit: Jerry Winker
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