ASA STARS National Tour
ASA Holds Storied History at The Milwaukee Mile
Jun 9, 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.
Tremendous first acts are hard to follow, as anyone who bothered to sit through The Matrix sequels can tell you. Time and time again, championship teams in various sports say repeating is harder than winning the first title - you get complacent, you lack the same motivation, you get older and have to adapt, etc., etc., In ASA 32-season history, only six times did a driver win back-to-back titles. Only one (Mark Martin) would win three in a row.
Even in repeat seasons, it was rare for a two-time titlist to really pull away from the pack. Mike Eddy had only won five times combined in his 1981 and 1982 title campaigns. Dick Trickle had the same total over his back-to-back titles and only won by 31 points combined.
As you may have guessed, all of this is being said because the 1988 champion, Butch Miller, broke the mold yet again. After an absolutely dominant 1987 season, Miller was just about as dominant again in 1988. His two-year run goes down as the best in ASA history. He won 15 (of 31 races) and only finished out of the top-ten five times total.
Miller continued to enjoy success in the Stock Car Connection coalition the ASA was part of with ALL PRO and ACT. Here is his car prior to winning his only ever appearance at Thunder Road Speedbowl in Vermont as part of a SCC special event. (John Adams collection)
This success was in spite of significant changes that the ASA was going through in their body styles. As we alluded to in our previous season snapshot, ASA, ACT, and ALL PRO had worked together to create the first ever “national” template for late models.1988 was the first year for the ASA to be conformed to the new GM-based template and the late models were just beginning to look like the Super Lates we know to this day.
But it should, perhaps, have been no surprise that the Lane Automotive racing group that had found a way to design a racecar to win 60% of the races in one season could find plenty of speed in a new car when everyone was starting from near square one.
Miller did have a bit tougher competition than he did in his 1987 season. He “only” won 6 of the 16 races and Trickle and Harold Fair kept the championship battle honest. 1988 was the breakout year for Fair, son of legendary racer Joy Fair and father of popular contemporary outlaw late model driver Harold Jr. Winless in his first seven years on tour, Harold would win three of the first eight races. He tacked on five runner-up finishes and could potentially have stolen the title from Miller if he had picked up a few more bonus points and avoided one disastrous 38th place finish at Milwaukee.
ASA attracted heavy hitters for their big races. Here Dale Earnhardt competes against returning ASA-to-NASCAR heroes Rusty Wallace and Alan Kulwicki at Milwaukee (Roland Firtinger collection)
Another second-generation driver on the rise was Ted Musgrave. Musgrave’s father Elmer had been a terror on the northern Illinois circuit for many decades but the younger Musgrave decided his best racing path lay on the Wisconsin side of the border. By the early 1980s, he was racing multiple times a week in a weekly racing sanctioning body known as the CWRA. He won a lot but the overall division title eluded him until he decided it was time to go ASA in 1987. Musgrave had a solid 1987 campaign and an even better one in 1988 which culminated in a dominant Winchester 400 triumph to mark his maiden ASA win. He would finish 3rd in points.
Other young names stuck in Miller’s shadow were nonetheless grabbing experience that would benefit them for years to come. Kenny Wallace was still looking for his first ASA win but was a solid 7th in points. Right behind him, finishing in the top-ten in points for the first time, was a young Buckeye named Gary St. Amant. Three years into his ASA career St. Amant finally had a top-five finish and improved more and more until he was able to get onto the Winchester 400 podium.
But the year still belonged to Butch. It took him until race 5 to win, but after that he was off to the races. In Race 7, the series inaugural visit to the west side of Canada, Miller won the first ever 500-lap ASA race. Six drivers managed to complete all 500 laps on the half-mile Race City oval. Then he won four of five, including three straight in the fall. He started that streak just 33 points ahead of Fair. By the time he won the 1988 All American 400 at Nashville, the points battle was effectively over. His only truly poor showing of the year was in the Redbud, and he fell out of that race early with an ignition issue while leading.
What’s crazy is that Miller was going to have an even better 1989. This 1988 season - 6 wins - was going to be the “worst” of a three-year stretch run. The problem Miller had, and did not know yet, was that the Polar Bear was about to reclaim a touch of the consistent magic that had made him the first-ever ASA back-to-back titlist.
-Featured Photo: Patrick Heaney Collection
17 April 1988
1 May 1988
15 May 1988
5 June 1988
18 June 1988
25 June 1988
10 July 1988
17 July 1988
31 July 1988
13 August 1988
20 August 1988
5 September 1988
18 September 1988
2 October 1988
16 October 1988
30 October 1988