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American Speed Reborn: Senneker Finally Breaks Through

Bob Senneker, the all-time ASA wins leader, entered 1990 mired in one of the worst stretches of his storied career.


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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 ASA star whose name had started to disappear from these weekly columns in recent installments was Bob Senneker. The all-time ASA wins leader entered 1990 mired in one of the worst stretches of his storied career. He had earned a reputation in the early years of the tour for being the boom-or-bust racer. He won in bunches, more than double of any of his nearest rivals. At one point he even had a years-long winning streak at Winchester, possibly the toughest short track in all of America. But every season it seemed, there was three or four races ended early by mechanical gremlins, and that inconsistency is what cost him the title.

He was 3rd in 1977, 4th in 1978, 5th, in 1979, 3rd in 1980 and 1981, 5th in 1982, 4th in 1983 and runner-up in 1984. During that stretch, he had amassed an astonishing 48 wins. But after the heartbreak of losing the championship in the Nashville finale in 1984, nothing seemed to click. Senneker was undoubtedly still a well-respected star, but the wins had slowed to a trickle. Just four wins in the next five seasons were credited to Senneker, and passing through his mid-40s it was fair to ask if the Bluebird would ever regain his previous form.

But opportunity came knocking. Butch Miller was understandably being called up to NASCAR after three of the most prolific years in ASA history after taking 23 of a possible 45 wins. The owner of that same machine, Leroy Throop, was looking for a new driver and knew Senneker still had something left in the tank. For the first time in his entire career, Senneker agreed to drive for someone other than himself. The driver with the most wins in ASA was now matched with the owner who had that mark in car ownership (if you excluded Senneker himself of course).

“I was expected to win the championship,” Senneker stated after the year would end. “The car was prepared better than any car I’ve ever raced.”

Expected to win, Senneker would. The wins came back, the mechanical gremlins mostly disappeared, and it would all culminate in a convincing first - and ultimately only - ASA championship for the driver most people consider the greatest ASA driver of all time.

You may not have known it would go that way from the first race, however. Just 48 laps into the Columbus opener, Senneker was wrecked out and sitting on a 23rd place finish. The win that day would instead go to a hometown hero named Gary St. Amant, who dominated the latter stages of the race to claim an unexpected win. St. Amant, a future series champion, had put together a handful of respectable but rather unremarkable seasons to this point, but this breakthrough would crack the door open to his future dominance of the circuit.

Senneker rebounded nicely in the next two races, finishing runner-up to Mike Eddy at Auburn’s uniquely-shaped oval and then again to Junior Hanley at Milwaukee. Then he ripped off three wins in the next four races. That last win came in the 500-lap marathon in Alberta, capping off a perfect weekend in which Senneker’s crew won the yearly pit stop competition, Senneker set a new track record in qualifying, and won a 500-lap race for the first time in his career.

ASA action in the inaugural Jennerstown race. (Dave Singer photo)

More importantly, a third of the way through the season, the title contenders were quickly dwindling. Consistent Harold Fair, a surprise runner-up in the 1988 season, was running well enough to keep points pace with Senneker, and young Scott Hansen was running well too. Defending champion Mike Eddy and Junior Miller were also in the race but effectively needed to be perfect the rest of the way after some early season bad finishes.

Ted Musgrave, making his last season in ASA before going to NASCAR full-time in 1991, claimed an ASA win for the third straight year a few days later back up in Auburn. Hansen hit the high point of his season the next Sunday at Milwaukee, having a good chance at victory turn into certainty when rain came 40 laps from the finish and his car well up front.

These events coincided with Senneker’s worst moments. He was out of the Milwaukee event early with engine issues and damage at his home track in Auburn also placed him out of the top ten. The same old questions and concerns that had derailed at least half a dozen Senneker title challenges were back: He was undoubtedly as fast as ever, but could the bad luck hold off? All of his nearest points rivals were back within 80 points of the lead.

But where in past seasons Senneker fizzled, this time he sizzled. His 8-race run to the end of the season would be amongst one of the best in series history - winning at Jukasa, leading over 300 of the 400 laps before settling for third at Berlin, back-to-back fourths, a 5th place at Salem after leading over 100 laps, and then leading over 100 laps in the Winchester 400 (1st), All American 400 (3rd), and the Jennerstown season finale (1st).

Bob Senneker (84) flashes by Gary St. Amant (7) en route to a dominant Winchester 400 win. (Dave Hascall photo)

Not only did Senneker finally claim that elusive ASA crown, he did it with what was the largest margin of victory in series history to that point - 366 markers up on Harold Fair when all was said and done.

Other than Senneker’s streak to the finish, two upset victories highlighted the second half of the season. Rookie Tim Steele, who would go on to be one of the greatest ARCA drivers of all-time, had floundered in his rookie season in ASA. But something about the Salem oval matched his style and, one week after failing to qualify for a race, Steele was in victory lane in a one-lap victory over Tony Raines. Raines’s distant second place finish might even have been a bit closer than it should have been after his car shed ballast weight early in the event. Dozens of pounds light, he nor anyone else could keep up with Steele.

Then St. Amant, who had had a grizzly rest of 1990 after his Columbus victory, stunned everyone by winning the most competitive race of the year - the North v. South All-American 400 at Nashville, holding off the likes of Musgrave, Senneker, ALL Pro champ Jody Ridley, and local track champion David Green.

The title came at a particularly lucrative time for Senneker. New series title partner ACDelco helped push the prize pool for the year over the $2 million mark for the year. Senneker himself walked away with about 10% of the overall money for the year, a nice $169,030 mark.

-Featured Photo Credit: Dave Singer

122 April 1990Obetz, OHGary St. Amant
26 May 1990Auburn, MIMike Eddy
313 May 1990West Allis, WIJunior Hanley
43 June 1990Hagersville, ON, CanadaBob Senneker
510 June 1990Salem, INBob Senneker
630 June 1990Marne, MIMike Eddy
78 July 1990Calgary, AB, CanadaBob Senneker
820 July 1990Auburn, MITed Musgrave
922 July 1990West Allis, WIScott Hansen
105 August 1990Hagersville, ON, CanadaBob Senneker
1118 August 1990Marne, MIMike Eddy
1225 August 1990Anderson, INHarold Fair
133 September 1990St. Paul, MNButch Miller
1416 September 1990Salem, INTim Steele
1530 September 1990Winchester, INBob Senneker
1614 October 1990Nashville, TNGary St. Amant
1728 October 1990Jennerstown, PABob Senneker
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