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American Speed Reborn: Reffner Pulls The Upset

Perhaps no driver in ASA history had a sophomore jump quite like Bryan Reffner.


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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.

One common term in any sport is the “sophomore slump." Sometimes a rookie comes into a sport and doesn’t know what they don’t know, converting raw potential into unexpected success. But the flip side, and often understated, is the “sophomore jump." Rookies who have a quiet and respectable first year in a sports league before catching absolute fire in year two.

Perhaps no driver in ASA history had a sophomore jump quite like Bryan Reffner. The last name alone conveyed promise - he was the son of two-time ARTGO champion and general all-time Midwest legend Tom Reffner. But he entered ASA with the resume to match - he was a multi-time track champion at Madison in the late 80s. But the ASA rookie year, 1994, had been - as the kids would put it today - “mid.” In eighteen starts, Reffner hadn’t cracked the top-five once. There were signs of promise there - seven top-tens, winning the pole at Jennerstown, and leading over 100 laps.

1995 would be an improvement in every area. While he didn’t suddenly go out and win every race, Reffner turned off days into methodical top-tens, top-tens into top-fives, and nabbed a couple of wins. And of course, he ended it all by being named the ASA champion.

His rise to the top was all the more impressive considering that this might have been one of the best seasons for parity in ASA history. While Mike Eddy went out and won the first three races of the year, he would not win again and only Bob Senneker would be able to match that win total. In the 16 total races, Reffner’s nine top-fives and thirteen top-tens led all drivers, the top-five percentage unusually low for a champion. And while Reffner would wind up 124 markers ahead of Glenn Allen Jr. for the title, second through seventh in points were separated by less than 100 points.

Naturally, when the field was this close in terms of speed, there were bound to be some close finishes. Former champion Johnny Benson Jr. muscled past Mike Eddy for the lead at Berlin with ten laps to go in the middle of June while the next weekend Scott Hansen topped the road course show at Brainerd that featured 14 lead changes in just 60 laps of competition. He was tailed to the finish by Leighton Reese. Reese made 19 career starts in ASA - he finished six of them as the runner up on a road course.

The next week it was hometown star Brad Loney who looked as though he was easily on his way to his first ASA win on the Hawkeye Downs oval until Eddy scooted by on a restart with just over 20 laps to go. Loney did not relent though, and tracked Eddy back down. With five laps to go, he managed to find a lane on the outside of Eddy. Racing hard for the win, they made contact. Both spun and the win fell into the lap of Senneker.

Both Loney and Eddy attributed the incident to hard racing and went out of their way to compliment each other. Lost in the smoke show was Reffner, whose quiet and methodical fifth had him second in points behind Eddy at the season’s halfway point.

"Entering the season we knew that if we could finish in the top five at every event, we would have a good year,” Reffner was quoted as saying after the Hawkeye race. “But I’m still a little surprised [to be second in points].”

It only took one more race - a 4th place at the Heartland Topeka road course - that allowed Reffner to take the points lead thanks to an Eddy engine failure. Then two more races from there for Reffner to finally claim his first career victory. And it came in a big one - the Redbud 400 at Anderson. After Scott Hansen had led the last 160 laps uncontested, Reffner found his way to the lead with just 25 laps to go.

“This is the happiest night of my career, winning an ASA race,” an ecstatic Reffner told NSSN’s Ken de la Bastide. “And I never expected to win at Anderson.”

Bob Senneker and Mike Eddy - who else - lead the field to green for an ASA race at Milwaukee (Scott Kreuger photo)

The next race at Milwaukee saw yet another final lead change within the last 10 laps, as Glenn Allen grabbed his only victory of the season with a pass of Topeka winner Tony Raines with five laps to go. Eddy followed Allen through to second but could never pull even to challenge in the final mile. Reffner meanwhile was able to pass a youngster by name of Matt Kenseth for fifth to keep decently ahead of the points pack.

Despite a bad race at Minnesota’s Fair, Reffner’s competitors couldn’t put together enough top-notch finishes to break ahead. In the penultimate race of the season at Toledo, Reffner grabbed his second win of the season. Allen, who started on pole and appeared as though he might gain enough points on Reffner to make it nearly an even draw entering the finale, had a mechanical issue halfway through the race and wound up 26th. Now the finale would be merely a formality in the points championship.

But if the points battle was a bit underwhelming, the finish of the season-ending RapidFire 400 at Jennerstown more than made up for it. It is probably the most famous finish to a race in ASA history, perhaps one of the most iconic in all of short track racing. Senneker passed Joe Nott, at the time still seeking a first ASA win, on the last lap but they came together off Turn 4 as Nott attempted to pass him back. Both cars lost it and pounded the inside wall with Senneker taking the win going backward over the finish line before turning up on the driver's side due to the impact then coming back down on all fours and riding atop the pit wall briefly. Both drivers were uninjured. Nott, frustrated by losing, shouted at Senneker for a few moments before calming down and soon the drivers were sharing a laugh and a handshake.

Reffner, meanwhile, was the first ASA sophomore champion since Mark Martin’s 1978 title.

Track crews clean up the Bob Senneker machine after a wreck across the line at Jennerstown (Tom Duffy photo)

1995 ASA ACDelco Challenge Series races







23 April 1995

Obetz, OH

Mike Eddy


7 May 1995

Toledo, OH

Mike Eddy


20 May 1995

Brownsburg, IN

Mike Eddy


3 June 1995

Jennerstown, PA

Bob Senneker


10 June 1995

Odessa, MO

Gary St. Amant


17 June 1995

Marne, MI

Johnny Benson, Jr.


25 June 1995

Brainerd, MN

Scott Hansen


1 July 1995

Cedar Rapids, IA

Bob Senneker


30 July 1995

Topeka, KS

Tony Raines


12 August 1995

Marne, MI

Johnny Benson, Jr.


19 August 1995

Anderson, IN

Bryan Reffner


27 August 1995

West Allis, WI

Glenn Allen, Jr.


4 September 1995

St. Paul, MN

Bobby Gill


10 September 1995

Kaukauna, WI

Tony Raines


1 October 1995

Toledo, OH

Bryan Reffner


15 October 1995

Jennerstown, PA

Bob Senneker

-Featured photo credit: Fred Meeks