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American Speed Reborn: New Decade, Same Dominance

At the start of the second decade of the American Speed Association’s history, they had found their first meteoric star


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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.

In 1980, at the start of the second decade of the American Speed Association’s history, they had found their first meteoric star. Mark Martin, a young driver from the Ozarks of Arkansas, had first won the Rookie of the Year in 1977 - his first full season on asphalt - and then proceeded to claim the championship in 1978 and 1979. Martin may not have had a lot to prove by 1980, but he was still a blue collar racer. NASCAR was clearly an option, but he lacked the deep pockets to move up. He decided to run another ASA season while he plotted his next move.

By the end of 1980, his fellow competitors were probably ready to fund his next chapter themselves. While his 1979 season may have been more consistent, his 1980 season highlighted an extra level of speed that Martin would find. We’ll cut to the chase in this edition of our look back at ASA seasons - Martin would win the most races, the most poles, and the championship. In fact, by the time the season reached race 7, Martin had finished first or second in six of them. The other was a fifth place finish. The season was practically over for anyone else in the title hunt by then.

It was a perfect confluence of three of the biggest names in ASA history in their arenas - a Ray Dillon engineered machine, Baker Engineered Engines, and a young talent like Martin behind the wheel. Like a “superteam” in the NBA, these three would have elevated any effort to a high level - combined all three were practically unstoppable.

Nothing spoke of this group’s dominance more than in qualifying. In 1980, the ASA Circuit of Champions featured 15 events. Martin was the fastest qualifier for 10 of them, a level of speed that has never been met in similar proportion in an asphalt major late model series .

Martin’s season is maybe best encapsulated by a triumph at the Milwaukee Mile in early May. He started off the weekend by setting a new track record of 30.476 around the mile speed. The previous track record had been 31.217. That’s right, Martin beat the old track record by three-quarters of a second. He sat back the first half of the race, letting drivers like Mike Miller and Dave Watson pace the proceedings and hanging around the back half of the top-five. His plan was to go after a tire change at the halfway point, but the crew changed tires so fast they didn’t get the car full of fuel. So Martin had to make a second stop for gas around lap 90 of 150. He came back to the track two dozen cars behind new leader Alan Kulwicki.

It did not matter. At “go time”, Martin stormed through the field and - even with a bevy of caution laps in between - stormed to the lead by lap 137. He managed to win by over two seconds to claim a $6,000 check.

Packed pits always turned up for the Milwaukee shows (Dean Bentley collection)

Martin would also win at Milwaukee in August to go with 1980 checkereds at Queen City Speedway, Winchester Speedway, and Salem Speedway. He ultimately finished first or second in 10 of the 15 races during the season. In total, he led 481 circuits during the season (13% of all competitors).

Beyond Martin, there were some interesting storylines. Bob Senneker also won five times after a subpar 1979. He now had 29 wins in ASA competition, nearly three times as many as second-place on the winners’ list Martin. He, also powered by Baker but running his own chassis, was Martin’s toughest competition until late in the year when back to back bad finishes at Winchester and I-70 took away any chance of his elusive first ASA title. Dick Trickle wound up sandwiched between Martin and Senneker in the points. Trickle’s first full ASA season saw the White Knight win twice and actually lead more laps than Martin - 613 - on the back of both wins coming in extra-distance butt-whoppings.

There were a handful of younger drivers showing some promise. Bob Strait, who would go on to be a terror in ARCA competition, paced fifth in points, just ahead of journeyman (and wonderfully named) Ryl Magoon who had a best season in his career in 6th place.

Other wins went to Don Gregory (Salem), Junior Hanley (Cayuga, Canada) and to Terry Senneker at Winchester.

Terry Senneker’s win, the only for Bob’s brother in ASA competition, came in what might have been the wildest Winchester 400 ever run. Eddy and Martin made contact with seven laps to go, and the two most dominant cars of the weekend crashed out. It was the final of 15 caution flags that ate up 122 of the distance of the race. Senneker, clearing the smoke, found himself able to coast to victory since the attrition had been so bad it left closest competition Ray Young seven laps back of Senneker. Young himself only wound up being scored second on the final lap as Eddy and Martin wound up third and fourth respectively despite having crashed out that many laps before. Oh, and of course, Martin set a new track record - lowering the world record for a late model on a half-mile down to a speedy 15.741 seconds.

Terry Senneker poses after winning a wild Winchester 400 (Brian Norton collection)

1980 ASA Circuit of Champions Results



West Chester, OH

Mark Martin



Salem, IN

Don Gregory



West Allis, WI

Mark Martin



Winchester, IN

Mark Martin



Brownsburg, IN

Bob Senneker



Hagersville, ON, Canada

Bob Senneker



Hagersville, ON, Canada

Junior Hanley



West Allis, WI

Mark Martin



Brownsburg, IN

Dick Trickle



Anderson, IN

Bob Senneker



St. Paul, MN

Bob Senneker



Salem, IN

Mark Martin



Winchester, IN

Terry Senneker



Odessa, MO

Dick Trickle



West Chester, OH

Bob Senneker

-Featured Photo: Jim Wilmore collection