American Speed Reborn: The Closest Title Fight Yet

1985 continued the trend of down-to-the-wire ASA championship battles.


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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.

Prior to the 1985 season, it would be hard for the ASA promoters and fans to imagine that racing could top what they had seen the last few years. A crop of young talent - Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, and Alan Kulwicki - had just gone hammer and tong with veterans like Dick Trickle, Bob Senneker, and Mike Eddy race after race, title fight after title fight. The last three ASA titles had come down to the last race of the season, two of which featured the championship changing hands before and after the Nashville finale.

1985, though, was just going to continue the trend of down-to-the-wire championship battles and would ultimately feature the closest points margin to date when all the numbers were added up.

The roster was compelling - nine drivers would realistically have a shot at the title, all of whom had factored into an ASA title fight in the previous few years - defending champion Trickle, previous champs Eddy and Martin, the prolific winner Senneker, plus Kulwicki, Butch Miller, Harold Fair, Bobby Dotter, and Jim Sauter.

Senneker would kick the proceedings off by winning the season opener for the third time in the past five seasons and then Kulwicki won the tour’s first-ever visit to Peach State Speedway in Jefferson, GA. Martin then won the next two races before Miller and Eddy got their first wins of the season towards the end of June.

The field lined up for a show on the tight Kalamazoo oval (Steve Greene photo)

Already, it was abundantly clear that there would be little margin of error for any championship hopeful. Unlike some previous battles where the championship leaders had a mechanical issue or crash crop up every handful of races, the start to the 1985 battle saw everyone keeping their cars clean and collecting top finishes without drama. In the first seven races, Kulwicki finished no worse than 5th, Trickle almost matched that save a 9th at Berlin, Senneker had one finish outside of the top-ten to go with 6 podiums and Miller had just about the same statline as Senneker.

Miller’s win in race eight in an attrition-filled show at Nashville is when the championship battle started to shift a little bit from a multi-horse race to what would be a two-horse battle. It was the biggest win to date for Miller, still in his early 30s at this point of his career. He had been the local terror on the central Michigan short tracks for years, racking up most of his wins at Hartford but winning plenty at tracks like Berlin and Galesburg too. It had been no surprise when the local star won his first ASA race at Hartford in 1978. He had been consistent in ASA competition now for five years, including a 1983 campaign that saw him factor into the title battle for most of the season before finishing 3rd. But 1985, particularly the second half, is when Miller’s rise from competitive ASA star to national short track superstar occurred. From that Nashville race on, Miller was going to be one of the defining forces of ASA history.

His main competition would prove to be Trickle as competitors started to peel off down the stretch. Trickle won at Oswego and Cayuga in races 9 and 10, and combined with Kulwicki’s 28th place finish at Cayuga, now had the points lead by 100 markers with Miller another 20 back. It was the first truly bad finish for Kulwicki, who would have a few more interspersed between here and season’s end to fall out of the hunt. It’s a comment for how competitive the series was in 1985 that even by finishing in the top-five in 75% of the races during the season and having only two finishes worse than 15th, that Kulwicki would wind up nearly 250 points back by the end of it.

Senneker would have a similar fall from the top. He was 30th at Cayuga and, as had sadly been the case many years, would have a terrible second half of the season that meant the driver with the most wins in ASA’s 12-year history would not win the title. His season ended with not being able to start the Michigan Speedway race, and engine failure early at Winchester, and an uncompetitive 12th-place finish at Nashville from early crash damage. His season-opening win would also be his only one of the season for a driver who had averaged 6.5 wins per season in the first five years of the decade. He wound up 5th in points.

Martin never really factored in the title chase even though he would win twice more down the stretch in absolute butt kickings in the long-distance Redbud and Winchester 400s. He was feast or famine from the start of the season and was far enough out of the points by late August he missed a race so he could lock up the Red, White, and Blue championship in Kaukauna instead. He was 4th.

Former ASA champ Mark Martin rolls to a dominant Winchester 400 win (Gary Ponzani photo)

So it would be Trickle and Miller to settle it. Michigan proved to be stellar for the local boy Miller as he grabbed two more victories - one at Berlin and then show at the two-mile oval in Brooklyn. Trickle grabbed the show at IRP in between those wins. For a driver who had earned a reputation for relentless winning, Trickle had won his 1984 title largely on the back of logging top-five finishes while others won and 1985 was proving to follow the same model. By the time of his IRP win, Trickle still had just that one 9th place finish early in the year as the only time he had yet to be a top-five finisher.

But the Brooklyn race - race #14 of the 16-race season - is where the door opened for Miller. That race was one of the absolute best in ASA history. 8 drivers led the 100 lap affair with a mind-boggling 27 lead changes. A red flag for rain on lap 91 only tightened the field back up and when the final lap began it was Miller narrowly leading Trickle and Kulwicki. Trickle barrelled the car into turn four trying to get a strong enough run to pull alongside Miller, only to see his car snap sideways and spin out. “We were all running so close together that the air around me changed and I spun”, Trickle reported soon after climbing from his mount. Miller, the winner, had just taken advantage of what would be Trickle’s only finish outside of the top-ten in 1985 (13th) and had the gap down to just 32 markers with two races to go.

A similar late-race miscue would cost Trickle further the next week in Winchester. He had been the only person who kept up with Martin most of the day but blew a tire late and slammed the backstretch wall. He limped to pit road and repaired the vehicle enough to finish the race in 10th place despite being 13 laps off the pace. Miller lost some laps late himself, but few enough that he was able to survive the test-of-endurance with a 5th place finish.

And so, if the ASA season had ended at Winchester, it would have been a tie with 2128 points apiece. Luckily it would not and one grand finale at Nashville would settle the question. For either driver, their accomplishments would have been one of the best individual seasons in ASA history. Trickle had 14 top-tens in 15 races and three wins. Miller had won four times, grabbed 13 top-tens and finished no worse than 20th. But as it was, they had the unfortunate luck to have an all-time great season at the same time as someone else and would need to reach down into their bag of tricks to get one more top finish in the finale.

The math was relatively simple even with ASA awarding bonus points for leading and qualifying and then Miller and Trickle made it even simpler by qualifying next to each other and both leading a lap early in the race. Whoever would finish in front would be the champion.

Former ASA champion Rusty Wallace and Southern star Gary Balough dominated the race, ultimately finishing 1-2 in that order. But for the ASA regulars, the real battle was occurring right behind them. As fate would have, Miller and Trickle ran with each other throughout the afternoon. Miller pulled ahead of Trickle often, but Trickle’s pit crew was a touch better and could usually reclaim the position. That despite the fact that Trickle’s crew blew through their pre-purchased set of tires by lap 300 and had to borrow sets from fellow racers for the final few pit contests.

As they flashed across the line, it would be Trickle edging Miller by just four feet to repeat as ASA champion.

“We lost every pit stop to Trickle,” Miller said afterward. “He could really pull out in traffic all day. I’m disappointed, but we had one heck of a race and we both finished. It went down to the wire and that’s what counted.”

-Featured photo credit: Terry Lynch

1985 ASA National Tour Race-By-Race




Auburn, MI

Bob Senneker



Jefferson, GA

Alan Kulwicki



Kalamazoo, MI

Mark Martin



Hagersville, ON, Canada

Mark Martin



Oregon, WI

Butch Miller



Marne, MI

Mike Eddy



West Allis, WI

Rusty Wallace



Nashville, TN

Butch Miller



Oswego, NY

Dick Trickle



Hagersville, ON, Canada

Dick Trickle



Marne, MI

Butch Miller



Anderson, IN

Mark Martin



Brownsburg, IN

Dick Trickle



Brooklyn, MI

Butch Miller



Winchester, IN

Mark Martin



Nashville, TN

Rusty Wallace