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American Speed Reborn: Polar Bear Roars Back

Mike Eddy set out to reclaim the center spotlight on the ASA stage in 1981.


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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.

We’ve spent the last three weeks regaling readers of this column with the ASA deeds of Mark Martin, the young Batesville racer who roared into the national limelight when he came out of nowhere to win three consecutive titles, including an absolute tail-whooping in 1980. By the time 1981 arrived, it seemed Martin was ready to move on to bigger things - he would run five NASCAR Cup races (with an astounding 3.60 average qualifying position by the way) while picking and choosing what Late Model races.

So the door had swung back open to the rest of the ASA contingent to contend for the title. And back in would step a familiar name - Mike Eddy.

You might forgive Eddy if he felt he had something to prove in 1981. Before Martin had shown up on the scene, Eddy could have been called “The Kid”. Already a two-time ASA champion by the age of 25, Eddy had been the brightest young star the tour had produced before Martin showed up and stole all the thunder. Eddy had been no slouch in the Martin era, finishing second, second and fourth during Martin’s titles while collecting 4 total wins. 1979 in fact - a season in which he only lost the title because of an unprecedented consistent by Martin - had been a career high in wins, top-fives and top-tens for Eddy.

Still on the south side of 30 years old, Eddy set out to reclaim the center spotlight on the ASA stage. His stiffest competition would be 36-year-old Bob Senneker, the driver who had thus far won 30 times in ASA but had been crippled by inconsistency in trying to claim his first title.

By the conclusion of the first month, Eddy and Senneker had separated themselves from everyone else. Senneker won three of the first four races of the gate, though none of those had come easy. Senneker led the last 40 circuits in the Queen City opener, passed Larry Detjens for the lead with five laps to go at Milwaukee, and muscled by Mark Martin with 25 laps to go at Winchester.

Eddy, meanwhile, broke a few years of bad spring luck. Disastrous springs, especially in 1979, had put him so far out of the championship chase that he could never catch up despite strong closing stretches. But in 1981, he 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, and 8th before himself getting the better of Martin at Toledo during a Memorial Day weekend affair. Senneker broke his suspension and the points lead was knotted up after 5 races.

They would remain virtually tied for the next four races. Senneker got two wins while Eddy got one. Halfway through the season Senneker had 5 wins and Eddy had only that one 8th place finish off the podium.

And then Senneker’s season fell apart. The second half of the season would see Senneker break his machine’s rear-end gear three times during big-money races. He would win the series’s first foray to the two-mile Michigan International Speedway, easily its biggest track ever raced on. But that was really the only highlight in a second half of the season that tumbled him ultimately to third in the finishing order.

Eddy wasn’t perfect, but he was better. He fell out of the Minnesota State Fair race early, but logged top-tens through the rest of the summer into autumn and he would wrap up his third title one race early. The highlight of the autumn campaign would be the most dominant Winchester 400 win to that point, pacing the field for 334 of the 400 laps and beating defending event champion Terry Senneker by a lap.

That highlight would be tragically overshadowed however by a crash in the waning laps of Winchester. Running in second place with ten laps to go, Pat Schauer crashed hard into the retaining wall trying to avoid an out-of-shape Senneker. He would ultimately die from his injuries, the first driver to pass away during an American Speed Association race.

Schauer had begun his racing career in 1975, driving in the Hobby Stock division at Jefferson Speedway (Wisc.). He was the division champion in his first year of racing. In 1976, he won the titles at Jefferson and Columbus 151 Speedways. In 1977, he repeated the task and added a Slinger Speedway championship to boot. Moving up the ladder, Schauer had run spot ARTGO and ASA races in 1978, 1979, and 1980. He wound up running ASA for the first full season in 1981. He was posthumously crowned Rookie of the Year. He left behind three young sons.

Pat Schauer would win the Rookie of the Year posthumously. Here he is pulling into the Milwaukee track with his open trailer (Mike Down photo)

The tragedy put a damper on the season finale, the first-ever All American 400 at Nashville Fairgrounds. This first-of-its-kind duel between the ASA and the nascent ALL PRO Super Series in the south saw a fierce 40-car duel around the famed half-mile in Music City. Two of the biggest names in the sport - Martin from the ASA, and Butch Lindley from ALL PRO, would battle tough and nail for the final 200 laps before Lindley ultimately prevailed. Lindley, only making spot starts in ASA, had also won the St. Paul and fall Queen City races in a distinctive new V6 machine that would become the norm for the tour in 1982 (more on that next week).

While Eddy and Senneker took up over half of the winners’ slots in 1981, there were a few young names starting to make moves.

A young Wisconsinite named Alan Kulwicki had proven to hang tough with the veterans en route to a 4th place finish in points. Rusty Wallace had not raced the full schedule, but when he did he had impressed too. In 11 starts in 1981, Wallace grabbed 6 top-four finishes and had been Senneker’s closest competition down the stretch on the massive Michigan track.

Alan Kulwicki (97) leads the field at the Minnesota State Fair (McClain Racing Photo)

These two drivers were about to break out in a big way in 1982. But as Mike Eddy had proven, any new young phenom was still going to have to deal with the OG of ASA youth.

-Featured Photo Credit: Midwest Racing News

1981 American Speed Association races



West Chester, OH

Bob Senneker



Salem, IN

Bob Strait



West Allis, WI

Bob Senneker



Winchester, IN

Bob Senneker



Toledo, OH

Mike Eddy



Brownsburg, IN

Bob Senneker



Hagersville, ON, Canada

Mark Martin



Marne, MI

Bob Senneker



Brownsburg, IN

Mike Eddy



Anderson, IN

Mark Martin



St. Paul, MN

Mike Miller



West Salem, WI

Jim Sauter



St. Paul, MN

Butch Lindley



Brooklyn, MI

Bob Senneker



Winchester, IN

Mike Eddy



West Chester, OH

Butch Lindley



Nashville, TN

Butch Lindley

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November 5 - All American 400 - Streaming Live on Racing America

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