ASA STARS National Tour
American Speed Reborn: Miller Time
May 27, 2023
There’s a lot to unpack after Thursday night’s Tar Heel 250 at Hickory Motor Speedway…
ASA Makes Triumphant Return to Hickory Motor Speedway
The Tar Heel 250 marked the return of the ASA brand to Hickory Motor Speedway for the first time since 2000, and only the second time ever.
1996 ASA National Champion Tony Raines was joined by 1988 ASA Rookie of the Year Jeff Neal as Guests of Honor for the event, and the two participated in pre-race ceremonies. As a special surprise to the big crowd on hand, 1986 ASA Rookie of the Year Kenny Wallace joined Raines and Neal during pre-race, getting the crowd fired up in a way only Wallace could.
More Special Guests
In addition to former ASA greats Raines, Neal and Kenny Wallace, the Tar Heel 250 featured country/southern rock artist Kevin Dedmon, who perfomed the national anthem, and Travis Brown, better known as “Moonhead,” who gave the command to start engines.
Dedmon, lead singer for the band Dirty Grass Soul from nearby Shelby, NC, nailed his rendition of the Anthem, before Moonhead – a social media influencer in the Foothills region, rocked the crowd with a loud, boisterous command.
Coming Out Party for Gio
By some measures, it’s almost hard to believe that the ASA STARS National Tour Tar Heel 250 was the first Super Late Model win for Gio Ruggiero. The 16 year old racer from Seekonk, MA burst onto the national scene last summer driving for Anthony Campi Racing finding success in Pro Late Models before signing with powerhouse Wilson Motorsports for 2023. Taking over the No. 22 from current NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Sammy Smith, Ruggiero powered his way into victory lane in just his fourth ASA STARS National Tour race.
Close, But No Cigar – Again
Ruggiero beat current NASCAR Cup Series points leader William Byron to the checkered flag by just .036 seconds Thursday night at Hickory. It was Byron’s second runner-up finish in the ASA STARS National Tour in 10 days, after following Bubba Pollard to the checkers at North Wilkesboro Speedway on May 15.
Mixed Results for Points Leaders
Drivers and car owners sitting at the top of the point standings entering the Tar Heel 250 had mixed results Thursday night.
Points leader Casey Roderick, who finished 10th at the end of stage one and sixth in the second stage, salvaged a 12th place finish after suffering heavy body damage to the rear of his Chevrolet very early in the final stage. Roderick’s team scrambled to reassemble the rear body panels and windows during the stop, which allowed the Pulaski, MS driver to return to the track and stay in the title hunt.
Bubba Pollard, whose runner up finish at Madison and win at North Wilkesboro vaulted him back into championship contention, suffered mechanical problems during stage two of the Tar Heel 250, ultimately forcing him to retire on lap 193. Prior to the mechanical gremlins, Pollard, who started 14th, drove to the front during the first half of the event, advancing to fifth by the end of stage one at lap 100, and into the top-three when the caution flag waved on lap 172. Pollard drove his No.26 down pit road under caution, and his team immediately went under the hood during the stop. Just 20 laps after the restart, Pollard’s car stalled coming out of turn 2, ending his night. The DNF dropped Pollard to 23rd in the final running order.
Matthew Craig set fast time during Go Fas Pole Qualifying, earning a $1,000 bonus, but also suffered misfortune. The Concord, NC driver was forced to make a pit stop for a flat right rear tire, going down three laps prior to the end of the first segment. He was unable to make them up, finishing 15th.
On the other side of the coin, Cole Butcher and Ty Majeski had solid, if not spectacular nights, strengthening their hopes of a championship.
Butcher, teammate to Ruggiero, finished third and led the Tar Heel 200 for a brief period during the second stage (laps 173-187, unofficially). The Hantsport, NS racer also finished in the top ten in every stage (third, ninth and third), earning valuable bonus points.
Majeski, who entered the evening second in points behind Roderick, finished fourth. Although he did not lead the Tar Heel 250, he also finished in the top ten in each of the three stages (sixth; third and fourth, unofficially)
Clean and Green
The rock-solid field of 25 Super Late Models that made up the starting line-up put on quite a show for the large and boisterous crowd at the .363 mile Hickory Motor Speedway. The first 100 laps segment went green flag-to-flag; the first organic caution flag did not fly until lap 172 for a single car spin by Michael Hinde. Pollard’s mechanical problems brought out the second caution on lap 193, and the 200 lap mark ended the second stage.
As things heated up for the final 50 lap sprint to the finish, the action got more intense, with Roderick’s incident resulting in a caution for debris on lap 203, and another two car tangle on lap 209 bringing the yellow flag out for the sixth time.
The No. 98 of Blaine Rocha stopped on the track in turn three on lap 240 for caution number seven, and on the ensuing restart Jesse Love spun his Toyota off turn four before a full lap could be completed for the eighth and final caution of the night. That set up a ten lap shootout to the finish and the stunning photo finish win by Ruggiero. The time of race for the 250 lap, 90.75 mile race was 2 hours and 7 minutes, including the two stage breaks which allow the teams to service the cars without losing track position.
Welcome to the Winners Circle
The Tar Heel 250 was race four of ten for the ASA STARS National Tour. The event marked the first milestone for eligibility in the Team Construction Winners Circle Program – the bonus program that rewards teams for full-time participation.
Teams are allowed to miss one race during the season and remain eligible for the bonus program. Entering Hickory, a total of 29 teams were vying for the 20 spots in the program. However, 11 teams that were eligible prior to the Thursday event in North Carolina did not make the trip, falling off the program. The remaining 18 teams who are eligible will receive a per-race bonus after each race (the top ten will receive $700; the rest $200 each per race), as long as they meet the minimum eligibility requirements. The 2023 Team Construction Winners Circle Program will also help determine the program and placement for the 2024 season.
The ASA STARS National Tour Tar Heel 250 will air on MAVTV on Monday night, June 5, at 8:00 PM Eastern. In addition, the ECMD 150 from North Wilkesboro Speedway is scheduled to air on MAVTV this coming Monday Night, May 29, also at 8:00 PM Eastern.
The ASA STARS National Tour will return to action on Sunday afternoon, June 18 for the Father’s Day 100 at the legendary Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, WI. Practice is scheduled for Saturday, June 17, with qualifying and racing set for 1:00PM local (central) time on Sunday, June 18.
Tickets for the Father’s Day 100 are now on sale at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds ticket office, or online by clicking here.
The Milwaukee Mile Father’s Day 100 replaces the originally scheduled July 11th event at Slinger Speedway.
For the full ASA STARS National Tour schedule, plus Super Late Model rules and other information, please visit the series website at starsnationaltour.com, or be sure to follow the series on social media (Facebook: STARS National Series | Twitter: @racewithstars | IG: @starsnational).
ASA STARS National Tour
The ASA STARS National Tour debuted in March of 2023 for Super Late Model racing in America. Announced last October, many of the best drivers in America will compete in the ten-race national tour with a minimum $100,000 point fund. The championship team will be guaranteed $25,000.
The ASA STARS National Tour is made up of three races from each of the regional pavement Super Late Model Series under the Track Enterprises banner; the ASA CRA Super Series, the ASA Midwest Tour and the ASA Southern Super Series.
The Team Construction Winner’s Circle program has been announced as a part of the ASA STARS National Tour for licensed drivers/teams with perfect attendance. The program provides additional financial incentives to those teams who support the Series, thanks to Team Construction.
Track Enterprises, a Racing Promotions Company based in Illinois, will operate the ASA STARS National Tour. It announced the acquisition of the CRA sanctioning body in January and followed that up with the purchase of the Midwest Tour in July. In October, Track Enterprises President, Bob Sargent announced a partnership with the Southern Super Series which set the table for the formation of the ASA STARS National Tour.
-ASA STARS National Tour Release
-Photo credit: Will Bellamy/Racing America