ASA STARS National Tour
American Speed Reborn: Three-Way Tussle For Title
Apr 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.
By 1983, there was little doubt that Rusty Wallace was one of the most talented young racers in the country. Still 26 years old, Wallace had been racing for nearly a decade and had been wracking up more and more impressive accomplishments with each passing year. In 1973 he was a Rookie of the Year in Central Missouri. By 1975, he was the track champion. In 1978 he won twice and was the USAC Stock Car Rookie of the Year. And in 1980, he shocked everyone by finishing runner-up in his NASCAR Cup debut.
What Wallace seemed to be lacking was a major short track championship, an accomplishment that would open the door to a full-time major-team NASCAR opportunity. And so, in 1983, Wallace would finally try his hand at a full ASA schedule. He had run most of the tour the previous two seasons and had ended the 1981 season with the Winchester 400, but missing a few races had kept him out of serious title contention both seasons.
It would not come easy - in ASA, few things ever did. Dick Trickle, who had just barely missed out on his first ASA title in ‘82 was back with his same team and ever-prolific Bob Senneker was once again lined up to take a shot at his first title. There was also a Michigan driver named Butch Miller that was about to break through. These four drivers would 75% of the ASA races in 1983 and have a dandy of a championship battle.
Miller struck first in one of the more memorable events in short track racing history. In the old Pontiac Silverdome, then the home to the Detroit Lions, the ASA conducted their first ever indoor event. Miller ran away from the competition like every team that plays the Lions, recording a wire-to-wire victory. Tom Jones, the “Racing Schoolteacher”, had the best run of his nascent career with a second place effort. Two weeks later, Wallace would dominate the first half of a Nashville Fairgrounds race before wrecking out at halfway. Trickle, Mike Eddy, and Senneker would then spend the second half swapping the lead, ultimately finishing in that order.
The field lines up for the first ASA Indoor race at the Pontiac Silverdome (Vyn Polmanteer Collection)
Facing a decent early season deficit after finishing out of the top-ten in both races, Wallace got his revenge when the series finally made their debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway (rain having washed away the expected 1982 show). Alan Kulwicki, the other driver who had narrowly lost out in the '82 title, dominated much of the race but Wallace stayed close. The pair lapped the entire field twice before Wallace found his way by Kulwicki with just 15 laps to go to secure his career ASA superspeedway win. Wallace was then runner-up to a dominant Trickle a few days later at Milwaukee.
But the spring rollercoaster would continue. He would fall out of two of the next three races with ignition failure - frustratingly in races he was leading in. The one race he finished at Toledo would, naturally, be a win.
Thus, one-third of the way through the season, it looked as if Trickle was going to run away with the title. He had already put nearly 100 points on Wallace. Senneker and Miller were almost another 100 points back. All of the four heavy hitters had suffered from mechanical gremlins with Trickle and Senneker dropping out of two races early to Miller’s and Wallace’s three.
Trickle was in for an even rougher stretch. His victory at Cayuga pushed his win total to four in the first half of the season, but was also his only finish above 15th for a five-week stretch in late May to early July. Senneker instead got red hot, logging a string of podiums punctuated by two wins.
Thus, suddenly, one driver we haven’t even mentioned yet was at the top of the points table with 60% of the season recorded. Bobby Dotter, son of ARCA racer Bob (en route to his own ARCA championship that year), had been logging consistent finishes throughout the year. Despite not even leading a single lap until he paced 15 circuits at Race 12, he left that race with an 11-point cushion on Rusty, 40 on Bob, and 69 on the sliding Trickle. Dotter, though, would have to win if he would have any hope on handling the inconsistent but faster posse at his heels. He would not - at least not until 1987- and his consistency and points lead would falter from there on out. Thus, with five drivers near the top of the table, it would just come down to seeing if anyone could keep out of their own way and log top-tens in the final stretch of the season.
Bobby Dotter couldn't quite match the frontrunners on speed but logged laps to lead the points at the halfway point of the season (Steve Betchel Collection)
It would wind up being Wallace. In those first seven races, he had led 477 laps but fallen out often. In the final 14 races, that blistering speed seemed to slip, but maybe it was a trade-off to stop the mechanical gremlins. He put together a string of five top-fives in six races in the summer to get back near the head of the table and would finally clear the field following a 5th place finish at Coeburn in August. His autumn would be highlighted by one win - a dominant romp at Michigan International Speedway that now gave him two ASA wins at NASCAR superspeedways - and enough top-tens to keep the field at bay.
Not that Trickle wasn’t trying. While Miller and Senneker could continue to win races and log podiums, they couldn’t prove to keep their car on the track at the finish of many races and they slowly but surely fell behind Wallace and Trickle. Trickle kept the heat up mostly through qualifying. ASA would award points at that time based on time trial results and Trickle would ultimately start on the front row for 50% of the 20 races in 1983 with seven poles and three outside poles.
Those qualifying points would keep him within shouting distance of Wallace down the stretch run even with a few finishes outside of the top-ten. But he’d also need Wallace to have a bad race, which Wallace would simply not do. Entering the finale at Nashville, Wallace knew a decent race would secure him the title.
He won the pole and paced the early going, but found himself with a tire going flat around the lap 60 mark. Ten laps later, he had gone from the lead to being a lap down. He stayed out hoping to catch a caution so as to not lose many laps, but finally came down pit road on lap 83. Disaster nearly struck - he skidded into pit wall at the entrance and damaged the nose of the vehicle. Luckily, the damage was rather superficial and he was able to rejoin the field just a few laps down. Attrition throughout the race would see Wallace recover to 11th. Trickle, who had now lost two close title fights in a row, would be 23 points back of Wallace in the final tally.
“When she started sliding for the pit wall, you can’t imagine what went through my mind,” the champion quipped after the race. “All I could think about was all the work it took to get to that point and it looked like it was going right out the window.”
His title in hand, Wallace would be going Cup racing in 1984 - joining the potent DiGard Racing Team and the famed #88 Gatorade machine. A year of success on the toughest short track circuit in America had earned Rusty his next shot. Trickle and Senneker were still waiting their shot and the top, and one less tough competitor increased their odds heading into the next season.
1983 ASA Circuit of Champions Schedule