ASA STARS National Tour
American Speed Reborn: A Streaky Season
Jul 14, 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.
Seven titles seems to be the magic number in American stock car racing - the one that seems to put a legend on the all-time top of the echelon. Richard Petty was the first to get there, winning his 7th title in the 1979 season. Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson would follow him in the decades to follow. Mike Stefanik won seven Modified Tour championships and if you factor in the pre-Tour years Richie Evans was the top NASCAR Mod man nine times total. Those five men are all in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Frank Kimmel would ultimately win 10 ARCA championships.
The final name that would really belong in this group is Mike Eddy. In 1992, in the ultimate veteran versus youth, down-to-the-wire title chase, Eddy would claim his 7th and final ASA crown. It capped a two-year run that saw Eddy at his very best. One final title, determined by one final epic race.
Much like the NASCAR Cup finale in 1992 where Jeff Gordon debuted while Petty made his final start, the end of this ASA season would be the changing of the guard. Eddy and Bob Senneker, the two drivers who had dominated the ASA for its first twenty years, would still run well in the years to come. But the wins became fewer and farther between and neither of the stalwarts would be a champion again. New, younger names were starting to come to the ASA forefront. This would be the last season that the top-five in points averaged over 35 years old.
The head of that youth movement was a Michiganer named Johnny Benson Jr. The son of a mid-Michigan racing legend, Junior entered 1992 as his third ASA campaign. He had proven to be competitive, placing 4th in the 1991 season on the strength of 10 top-five finishes. But he was searching for his first win.
Those wins would now come, and it became immediately clear that Benson was going to be Eddy’s closest competitor in 1992. In fact, the first two victories came back-to-back, as Benson won at Columbus and Milwaukee in races 2 and 3 of the campaign. Eddy grabbed his first win of the season at Anderson in race 5 and then Benson was back in the winners circle at race 6. Eddy won race 7 and 9, the latter one despite running out of brakes with 60 laps to go.
Now halfway through the 1992 season, Eddy led Benson by a bit over 50 points, with Jay Sauter the only other driver within sniffing distance of the title. None of those three would be perfect the rest of the year. Sauter struggled the worst of the three, and, despite a win at Berlin, would finish 300 points back of the top two.
So that left Benson and Eddy to trade good and bad finishes with each other. Benson won once more in the summer while Eddy would grab two victories. Both would have one finish out of the top-ten in the summer months.
The real drama began to intensify with three races to go. In the series first-ever visit to a road course, the ASA cars headed over the border and went to Mosport Raceway (now known as Canadian Tire Motorsport Park). The twists and turns proved tricky for the regulars, as an unknown Canadian road course racer named John Cadman held off fellow left-and-right expert Leighton Reese. But Benson weathered the storm the best of the ASA drivers, coming home 3rd. Eddy struggled, two laps off the pace, and finished 19th. The points lead for Eddy was cut to 59 points.
Eddy was nonplussed with the experience. “This will never be my favorite track. I guess you can take the driver off the oval but you can't take the oval out of the driver,” he told NSSN correspondent Rob Albright.
Larry Nuber and Rob Albright prepare to commentate a Cayuga race as the ASA's TV offerings grew dramatically, mostly thanks to TNN picking up half of the schedule (Michael McIntyre video)
Not that the next oval was any kinder to Eddy. Senneker, the ultimate fourth place finisher in the season after an inconsistent season, managed to win his third race of the year in the Toledo 400. Benson was a respectable 8th. Eddy though was way back in 28th after his machine overheated. Now Benson headed into the season finale at Jennerstown with a 19-point lead.
Eddy knew if he was to get back by a potent Benson, he would need a picture perfect weekend. That’s exactly what he got. In the annals of ASA there have been some dominant wins, but perhaps this victory was the most important considering what was on the line. Leading 376 of the 400 laps, Eddy romped to victory. Second place Tom Jones was the only other car on the lead lap, and he finished with Eddy just a few car lengths behind him.
Jones’ career-best run was what ultimately made the difference. Benson was very competitive at Jennerstown, finishing 3rd. But falling that lap behind Eddy and being unable to follow Eddy and track down Jones in the closing lap was just enough to swing the championship margin. Eddy was a champion again by just two points, the closest margin in ASA to date.
“I wasn’t going to pass [Jones] late, because he was my insurance strategy,” the wily veteran explained. If he had passed Jones and a caution had bunched the field back up, he knew Benson probably had the pace to come to second place. In fact, as soon as he was done celebrating the title, Eddy promptly got into another late model and won the 100-lap event for the track’s local division.
Benson, meanwhile, shrugged off the loss.
"It just wasn't our day to win it (championship). We really cannot complain about third place today or our runner-up finish in points. Mike was fast all day ... He was the one to beat”
It was the same attitude, that “live and learn” philosophy that would serve Benson so well in his career. Ten years later, almost to the day, fans questioned why he raced Kurt Busch so cleanly at Martinsville, narrowly finishing second and missing out on his first NASCAR Cup victory. His reward would come a few days later with that elusive victory at Rockingham.
Back in 1992, he was young and fast. A narrow loss in 1992 would only serve as inspiration for his title efforts in 1993.
The 1992 season continued banner growth for ASA. The series distributed over $2.5 million to its competitors throughout the year, Eddy grabbing $614,295. Attendance surpassed 500,000 for the first time, thanks in part to a record 48,000 crowd for that Mosport affair. Nine races aired live on TNN.
ASA racing Is getting tougher every year," Eddy observed. "That's what made this year's championship so special. There are more really competitive teams developing every year.”
26 April 1992
3 May 1992
10 May 1992
7 June 1992
19 June 1992
20 June 1992
28 June 1992
5 July 1992
19 July 1992
25 July 1992
2 August 1992
15 August 1992
23 August 1992
29 August 1992
7 September 1992
20 September 1992
4 October 1992
25 October 1992