CHASE HOWE SPEAKS OUT ON SHORT TRACKIN' by Mike Twist
Says ASA Is Gone Because It Lost Sight of Its Roots
In a nation obsessed with NASCAR Nextel Cup racing, some people view short track racing as merely a proving ground for future big-time talent to fill TV screens across the country on any given Sunday.
And more importantly, Howe is a fan of short track racing and he doesn’t always like what he has seen lately.
“Short track racing has always offered something that national racing couldn’t,” said Howe. “We have gotten away from that. It used to be a goal to be the best short track racer in the country. Now, it’s a goal to graduate and move up through the system.”
Howe (L) talks with Steve Dale in the days when ASA was still active. (51 Photos)
Those are the people that may have sat in the grandstands of an ASA race last season and kept their eye on Reed Sorenson. They did so not because he was teenager with a ton of driving ability who wasn’t afraid to mix it up with bullring veterans like Mike Garvey and Kevin Cywinski, but because he is going places; and his autograph might be worth something on eBay someday real soon.
Chas Howe isn’t one of those people. He’s the second generation man at the helm of Howe Racing Enterprises – the company in the upper Midwest where steel and hardware go in the back door and winning racecars go out the front door.
Howe believes that the emphasis that the ASA National Tour put on themselves as the place where future stars developed, helped to lead to the demise of the series.
“Somewhere along the line ASA stopped being a major short track series and became a minor league for NASCAR,” said Howe. “That is how ASA lost the respect that they had earned through the years.”
ASA gained its reputation as one of the premier short track tours in America by balancing two types of racers. The series always had its up and coming drivers from Mark Martin, Alan Kulwicki and Rusty Wallace in the earlier years to Johnny Benson, Jimmie Johnson and
Howe has always had a close relationship with Mike Eddy, one of the short track legends that helped build ASA up to a nationally recognized short track series.
David Stremme in recent seasons. Plus, there were plenty of legends that made ASA their preferred tour for much of their careers. Those were guys like Bob Senneker, Dick Trickle (until he became a 50-year-old NASCAR Rookie), Mike Eddy and Butch Miller.
But with the latest (and quite possibly the final) marketing campaigns of ASA, the idea that a driver would make his entire career there seemed to imply that they weren’t good enough to get a ride with Hendrick or Roush at the next level.
“ASA had the slogan ‘We build champions’,” said Howe. “I told Steve Dale that implied that we didn’t already have champions. I preferred ‘We are champions’. That really discouraged guys like Gary St. Amant, who were great drivers that weren’t going to move up.”
Howe also lamented the idling of ASA’s National Tour because it helped the bottom line of his own company (it was mandatory that all ASA cars use a Howe Racing center-section) – not directly, but as a marquee form of short track racing.
“The bulk of our business is in parts, but the pride of our business are our cars,” said Howe. “ASA wasn’t the largest part of our sales, but it was always our top class. Now we don’t have a top class to show people. There are ASA Late Models, the CRA and other series trying to fill the void left behind, but right now there is no clear top class in short track racing. We miss that as a business.”
Howe also served as the spotter for Robbie Pyle's #63 WalTom Racing team in ASA. Here the whole operation appears in victory lane last year at Mansfield.
And the presence of veteran drivers is what always made ASA a good proving ground for the youngsters.
“You can’t just throw a bunch of young drivers together and expect them to get better,” said Howe. “We need to have the experienced drivers there alongside them to learn from. A series needs to have the right mix.”
“Guys like Bob Senneker moved up to ASA when they were already past their NASCAR aspirations. The young guys coming up through the series had to race with those guys before moving on and it taught them well.”
“We have sold 30-cars to customers in England,” said Howe. “We have a company in South Africa that builds cars over there to save on the duties. That is because of the ASA. We could point to our cars there and people knew what we were talking about.”
And with ASA seemingly gone, maybe forever, that leaves plenty of the series supporters in the lurch.
“We are all like the Palestinians,” said Howe. “We have no homeland.”
However, the American Stock Car League could be the new piece of property that ASA supporters have been looking for. The new group has organized a 10-race schedule for 2005 starting on April 30th at I-70 Speedway (MO). It will use the same specs of the ASA NT cars. Whether the tour can pick up where ASA left off, and avoid some of their pitfalls, remains to be seen.
Veteran ASA crew chief Howie Lettow (L) and Howe at the track.
“They will need to go back and do what ASA should have done a few years ago,” said Howe. “They will need to drop back and regroup. It needs to get back to its short track roots. ASA tried to outgrow that and it killed them.”
But whether it is ASL, the ASA Late Models, NASCAR Touring or strong local tracks, there still is hope. Howe is still a believer in short track racing and he believes that it will rise again.
“Things go in cycles,” said Howe. “I believe that we’ll see short track racing grow once again.”