ASA STARS National Tour
American Speed Reborn: The Kid Gets Another Shot
May 19, 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.
There was little doubt a few years into his ASA career that Butch Miller was one of the best late model drivers in the country. But when a circuit like the ASA served as a magnet for the best of the best, it was hard to get a leg up. Year after year, Miller had put together championship-level efforts only to be slightly outshined by other names known throughout the country. In 1983, he won twice before losing the points lead late to Rusty Wallace. He then narrowly fell in back-to-back seasons in 1985 and 1986 to Dick Trickle despite racking up a total of nine wins. He had watched fellow young shoes like Mark Martin, Wallace and Kulwicki get the call to NASCAR. Like fellow Michigan legend Bob Senneker, Miller seemed as though the crowning achievement of a his short track career - an ASA championship - was going to slip through his fingers.
Well, 1987 put those frustrations to rest. Emphatically.
In any statistical measure you can think of, Miller’s season ranks near the top. Consider:
- His nine wins in a season were the second most in a season in series history, only behind Johnny Sauter’s 10-win championship season in 2001.
- Those nine wins came in 15 starts, meaning he had a winning percentage of 60%, easily the most of any full-time driver in series history.
- His average finish was 4.67 (Gary St. Amant’s 2000 season leads the way with a 4.3)
- While the number of laps he led is not completely known due to some incomplete data, it’s likely only Sauter’s 2001 season (2040 laps led) is the only other one in the neighborhood.
- The final points margin (189) was more than the last five seasons of ASA competition combined.
- He ripped off the first four-race win streak in ASA’s now fifteen-season history.
- He led over 200 laps in both the All American 400 and Winchester 400.
- His only two finishes worse than 4th were due to mechanical issues.
The biggest struggle of this article was trying to think of what else to say about 1987 that goes beyond Miller. If he was winning, he was winning big. He took the drama out of most races. Arguably some of the best races in 1987 were the ones where Miller didn’t win - Bobby Dotter winning a tussle with NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt at Sandusky for his only ASA career win or Darrell Waltrip and Mark Martin putting on a dramatic duel in the closing laps of the All American 400 that saw Waltrip take the lead for good at the white flag and then hold on in the tech shed when Martin claimed Waltrip’s car had dropped weight during the pace laps. Trickle won twice, Mickey Gibbs won a race in Birmingham after the lights failed at the track and ended Miller’s back to the front on tire strategy, and - who else - Junior Hanley won the series annual foray to Canada. Otherwise, it was Miller, Miller, Miller.
The biggest developments of the 1987 ASA season were actually political. During the 1985 winter, American Canadian Tour (ACT) president Tom Curley - busy trying to plan a new series after NASCAR pulled its sanction of the North Tour, began sounding out other promoters regarding forming some sort of alliance. The ultimate result was the Stock Car Connection (SCC), an alliance between Bob Harmon’s ALL PRO circuit, Curley’s ACT, and now Rex Robbins’s ASA.
It was advertised as a superseries, a way for “home” series talents to compete against the best of the rest of the country. It did not go entirely to plan however. The ACT hosted the first race, a 300 lap affair at Sanair. And, to no surprise, Miller stunk up the show. ASA proved to be the dominant entity in that race, taking 6 of the top ten slots. Worse, fans were not particularly plugged in. Curley saw less than half of the anticipated fans show up for the Cayuga event and Harmon then pulled the plug on his “home” SCC race at Birmingham after seeing the Cayuga numbers.
Butch Miller leads the field to green in the inaugural SCC race at Sanair (Pat Redmond photo)
SCC would ultimately run four of six scheduled races in 1987 with Miller winning three of them. Harmon’s pulled race and a rained out race after qualifying at Nazareth (where Miller had set fast time) shortened the schedule. By the time of the final SCC race, ASA cars were being given a weight disadvantage in order to try to facilitate better competition.
The three groups regrouped and decided they would give it another shot in 1988.
While this was happening, the body styles were starting to become more homogenized around the country. While ACT had stuck with some of the boxier machines that most associate with the Late Model Sportsman-type machine, All Pro and ASA had been more into the exotic designed muscle car path. Through 1985 and 1986 though the craziest designs had started to be reigned in and during the 1987 season, a universal GM body was approved for 1988. The cars would look much different for the next year.
All of this might make 1988 a much more competitive affair than 1987 was, but Miller did not just luck into a historic 1987 season. He would still have plenty of reasons to celebrate in 1988.
-Featured photo credit: Pat Redmond
1987 ASA Schedule & Winners
12 April 1987
2 May 1987
17 May 1987
7 June 1987
13 June 1987
21 June 1987
11 July 1987
3 August 1987
8 August 1987
23 August 1987
30 August 1987
7 September 1987
27 September 1987
4 October 1987
18 October 1987
Kenny Wallace's promotional card for his 1987 rookie campaign. He wound up 10th in points.