American Speed Reborn: The White Knight Rises

By 1984, very few people had accomplished as much in racing as Wisconsin’s Dick Trickle.

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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.

By 1984, very few people had accomplished as much in racing as Wisconsin’s Dick Trickle. He had grown up in poverty, worked in agriculture as a teenager, and skimped and scraped just to be able to buy a 1950 Ford. He loved speed from an early age, trying his hand at drag racing before taking his meager earnings to try circuit racing with a jalopy that cost him $36.50. After a few years of being a backmarker, Trickle built his own car and the rest was history heading into the 1960s.

If there was a short track race in Wisconsin, Trickle was there. If Trickle was there, there was a good chance he would win. Back then in Wisconsin, during the spring and summer, there was a race almost every night at a track. The wins racked up quickly. It’s possible (if not probable) that the legend of Trickle’s successes might be a bit inflated - it’s hard to keep track when Trickle raced as often as he did - but some estimate Trickle won over 1,200 times in his racing career and turned over a million laps.

All of that might have been little comfort to Trickle at the start of this particular American Speed Association season. ASA was the biggest stage Trickle had competed on yet. The local star had proven his skills translated to the top level of short track racing, as he entered the year with 19 ASA wins already on his résumé. But he had finished 2nd in points for four consecutive seasons. The previous two seasons had been particularly heartbreaking as he missed the title by the closest of margins, including crashing out of the points lead during the 1982 finale.

Trickle entered the year as the championship favorite after previous title holder Rusty Wallace had moved elsewhere. His stiffest competition would be the ever-consistent Eddy, the returning wunderkind Mark Martin, and a man whose winning and narrow championship losses mirrored his own in Bob Senneker. Senneker had earned a reputation for boom or bust in ASA competition, but 1984 would prove to be his best season to date. Then there was the underrated Jim Sauter, who had just won two races in his rookie season.

Mark Martin returned to ASA for 1984 after a few years trying to break into NASCAR (Mark Martin photo)

So for the third straight season, ASA was about to see a drag-out, knock-down championship heavyweight thriller.

Senneker was the dominant driver of the spring. He would win 5 of the first 8 races, racking up the trophies (and valuable bonus points) at Queen City, the Ozark Fairgrounds, Indianapolis Raceway Park, hometown Berlin and Winchester. Trickle had been rock solid too, starting the season with finishes of 2nd, 2nd, 5th, 2nd and 3rd. By the halfway point he also had a win at the Ozark Fairgrounds. But Senneker and Trickle both had a few bad finishes too and found themselves a little down the pecking order. Martin started off as a stiff challenger too - winning the inaugural visit to Slinger and keeping pace up with the other title contenders until the bottom fell out for him after falling out of the lead at Winchester. He would not finish any better than 16th for the next 5 races and a podium streak at the end of the season could only propel him back to 4th in the final tally.

So, it was actually Sauter who found himself at the top of the ladder as the season wore on. He won the prestigious Atlanta event in the spring and then powered on to win 3 out of 4 in the mid-summer. After 13 of 19 races were in the books, Sauter had exactly a 200 point cushion on Trickle with Senneker another 50 points further back.

Jim Sauter led the way for most of the 1984 season before terrible luck in the last three races cost him a nearly-certain title (Steve Greene collection)

Everything began to change at Anderson Speedway for the Redbud 400. Senneker’s 7th win of the season brought his batting average to an impressive .500. Sauter led a good portion of the event until some backmarkers crashed in front of him at the halfway point and 70 points of that cushion disappeared in the Anderson junkyard. Trickle, who fell out himself late in the going at Anderson, came into the next race Milwaukee on a mission. “You can win the pole and be a hero for a day, or win the race be the hero for the week”, he told NSSN correspondents after the race. Easy to say when he did both - he won the pole, fell back as far as 13th to conserve his equipment, and then took advantage of fresh tires to storm back to the lead with 85 laps to go. Senneker was 3rd and cut Sauter’s (6th) lead under 100 points.

Four races now remained. Senneker would win again in the prestigious Minnesota Fair show to Trickle’s 3rd and Sauter’s 8th. The eighth win of the year for Senneker would also set a new single season ASA record, all the while pulling him within about two dozen points for the lead.

Three races. Eddy would find a highlight in what had otherwise been a disappointing season, taking the prestigious Michigan 2-mile affair over Martin. Senneker edged pole sitter Trickle for 4th while Sauter departed the event early with an ignition failure and now Senneker was within single digits for the lead.

Two races. Senneker would win again, leading half of the Winchester 400 but still having to hold off a hard charge from Mark Martin on the last lap as 400 laps came down to a scant .65 second margin of victory. His unfathomable 18th career Winchester ASA victory came at the most opportune time as Jim Sauter had to hit pit road for an extended period of time with steering issues. Senneker had led the series after the first race and now was back on top heading into the last race.

The finale. Bob Senneker and Dick Trickle, the two most snakebit drivers in championship history, would almost now certainly leave the Nashville All American 400 as an ASA titlist. Their stats lines were nearly identical - 13 top-fives each in the first 18 races of the year. Senneker, of course had the advantage 9-to-2 in wins. But Trickle had something the Bluebird did not. 5 poles. Back then ASA awarded points for qualifying, and it was that bevy of bonus points in the fall (plus his own consistent finishes) that had kept Trickle fairly even with Senneker even though Senneker had finished no worse than 3rd for two months.

It would prove to be a mirror image to the 1982 finale that saw a crash determine the championship, but this time it would be Trickle taking advantage instead of having his heart broken. Points leader Senneker was caught up in a mid-race crash in front of him. Despite repairs, Senneker could do no better than finishing well back in the running order while Trickle could merely log laps to win the title. With his 9th place finish, Dick Trickle - forever a legend in short track racing - had his crowning achievement. He was an American Speed Association champion.

Interviewed about his title in the ASA official yearbook Trickle said:

“I like to say winning is an option,” Trickle said after the points tally was confirmed, “But if you’re competitive, winning is possible. The biggest priority is the want - the fact that I enjoy it (racing) and go for it - I really want it. I put 120 percent into racing. I don’t second-rate it to anything.”

With his 1984 ASA championship, Trickle was now over the $200,000 mark earned in ASA. Not too bad for a guy who gave it all just to buy a $36.50 car just 25 years before.

`1984 American Speed Association Season

Race

Date

Track

Winner

1

4/8/1984

West Chester, OH

Bob Senneker

2

4/29/1984

Hampton, GA

Jim Sauter

3

5/19/1984

Slinger, WI

Mark Martin

4

6/2/1984

Springfield, MO

Bob Senneker

5

6/9/1984

Brownsburg, IN

Bob Senneker

6

6/16/1984

Marne, MI

Bob Senneker

7

6/24/1984

Hagersville, ON, Canada

Alan Kulwicki

8

7/1/1984

Winchester, IN

Bob Senneker

9

7/8/1984

West Allis, WI

Jim Sauter

10

7/14/1984

Springfield, MO

Dick Trickle

11

7/28/1984

Oregon, WI

Jim Sauter

12

8/5/1984

Hagersville, ON, Canada

Jim Sauter

13

8/11/1984

Marne, MI

Bob Senneker

14

8/18/1984

Anderson, IN

Bob Senneker

15

8/26/1984

West Allis, WI

Dick Trickle

16

9/3/1984

St. Paul, MN

Bob Senneker

17

9/24/1984

Brooklyn, MI

Mike Eddy

18

9/30/1984

Winchester, IN

Bob Senneker

19

10/14/1984

Nashville, TN

Gary Balough

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