ASL IS UP & RUNNING  by Mike Twist
Former ASA Teams Now Waiting for a Schedule After Positive Meeting
It’s pretty rare for a truly established institution to fail.  Nobody really expected Montgomery Ward to close their doors after 128 years in business; Enron employees were shocked to find their headquarters padlocked a few years ago; and any short track racing fan in America probably thought that the ASA National Tour would be around forever.
However those people might now have something to put their faith into thanks to the birth of the American Stockcar League.  Gary Vercauteren is spearheading the drive for a series to hit the road in 2005 using the same basic rules and equipment of the ASA National Tour.  The series held a meeting this past weekend in Janesville, Wisconsin for interested participants to attend.  Response was very healthy and once again, some people are cautiously optimistic about the chances of an ASA-type series in the Midwest.

“At this moment, we have 41 registered cars for next season,” said Vercauteren.  “We have had 84 inquiries and we have eight definite race dates.  Tracks are also calling us expressing interest.  The problem is that it’s February and their schedules for the season are set, but there are tracks are trying to move things around to accommodate us.”

By all accounts, this weekend’s meeting was a good one.

“The meeting was totally positive,” said Vercauteren .  “We got a standing ovation when we announced that our cars would have their numbers on the doors and not the quarter panels (like in ASA’s final season).  There was no negative conversation at all.”
ASL will help everyone out there who has ASA cars have something to do with them.
Sadly, it became apparent in recent months that the financial woes which the organization struggled with in 2004 would mean that there would be no 2005 season.  Questions outnumbered answers and around 100-teams all of a sudden had racecars that were essentially incompatible with any other form of racing sitting in their shops.

“”I don’t think that we really thought it would disappear,” said veteran driver Bryan Reffner.  “We kept waiting for someone to come in and save it and we waited too long.  A lot of good people supported the ASA and were waiting for the best and that didn’t happen.”
“The meeting was the most constructive one that I’ve ever been to in racing,” said Jim Amstutz, Promoter of Hawkeye Downs Speedway (IA), which will host an ASL event on July 22nd.  “It showed that the management and competition side could get together and try to work out what we both want.  That is to cut costs and get more people to come and watch the races.”

“It was good to go to the meeting and see the support the ASL already has,” said Reffner.  “I want think that we can build this back to what ASA was.” 

A white knight was needed to save this type of racing and he may have been found in Vercauteren.  Competitors are slow to put their trust into anybody after many felt they were misled by the management of ASA, but people are cautiously optimistic about the involvement of Vercauteren
The ASL will have a race at Cedar Rapids' Hawkeye Downs Speedway.
In Northern Wisconsin, Vercauteren  is known as the “Miracle Coach”.  He attempted to retire to the area a few years ago after selling his successful publishing business.  After moving to the resort area in Northern Wisconsin’s Door Country, he became interested in a position as the high school football coach for Sevastopol High School.

After he decided to coach the team, Vercauteren found out about a slight problem.  The team had lost 75 straight games.  That was three years ago.  This past season, their record turned around to six wins and four losses.

Another reason for his nickname is that Vercauteren collapsed during practice a few years ago from a bad virus.  His eyes rolled back in his head and his vital signs were not good, but his assistants managed to revive him just before an ambulance arrived.  Vercauteren was rushed to the hospital and made a complete recovery.

“I guess that I have that nickname for both of those reasons,” said Vercauteren. “I like to turn things around.  I guess that I’m the type of person who is always looking for a challenge and here it is.  I thought that I’d be semi-retiring a few years ago, but I was very wrong.”
Another mark of a well run business is bringing aboard the right people to chart a course.  The ASL has turned to one of the most notable crew chiefs in ASA history, Howie Lettow, for his guidance on how to get started.

“I was asked to serve and it felt a lot like the old ASA Owner’s Committee,” said Lettow.  “I’m helping out with some tech issues, but I’m not involved with the day to day operations or organizing it.  It’s a little bit of a conflict of interest being a competitor in the series, but I’m doing this because I really would like to see it work.  I’ve been running the ASA Series since 1981 and I’d like to see something like it keep going.”
Vercauteren has been promoting the Mid-American cars for several years.
Vercauteren is also well known to those involved in upper Midwestern stock car racing.  He has been involved in the sport since 1972 and currently promotes to MARS Late Models, Mid-American Stocks Car Series and the Mid-American Super Trucks.  That track record makes Vercauteren very creditable to those left out in the cold by ASA.

“Any business has its course decided by the quality of the people running it,” said Chas Howe of Howe Racing Products, one of the premier car builders in ASA’s history.  “The people trying to do this have very good intentions.”
One thing that is needed for a successful series is a strong line-up of tracks.  The series looks to debut on April 29th at I-70 Speedway (MO) and other venues are in line for race dates as well.

One of those tracks is Hawkeye Downs Raceway in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  The track has a long and rich history with the ASA.  It is where the concept of the LS1 crate engine was announced in 1997, it was the last track to host two events in a season back in 2002 and it was the first track in the ASA Member Track program.  Even with all that history, last year the track didn’t host any ASA National Tour events.

“ASA was a big deal in Cedar Rapids,” said Amstutz.  “It was like the circus coming to town.  Fans would line up to watch the haulers come in.  We had meet and greets and the drivers were in demand all over.  They loved coming here because of that.”

But as ASA outgrew their roots and focused on going to speedways like Kentucky, Atlanta and Charlotte, the smaller tracks started to get
Howie Lettow will help sort out some of the tech issues, but will not be invovled in the day-to-day operations of the series.
pushed aside.  Hawkeye Downs filled that void last year with an ASA Late Model event and their approach to promoting the event could be a winning formula for ASL race dates.

“We sold that as our biggest race last year,” said Amstutz.  “We brought in Gary St. Amant, used his name in promoting the race and only charged $15 for the fans.  We ended up with a bigger crowd than our last National Tour event.”

ercauteren mentioned that several regulars from the ASA National Tour would likely compete in ASL events.  That list included Kevin Cywinski, Bryan Reffner and Peter Cozzolino.  But the series also hopes to draw in some other competitors as well.

“Guys don’t quit racing, they just move to another series,” said Howe.

“We are real pleased with the interest we have gotten,” said Vercauteren .  “Some of the bigger Midwestern names that were not involved in last year’s series might be coming back.   I can’t really talk about who yet, but they are guys that are well known.”
ASA had its strong points as well, and its likely that a few of those will transfer to the ASL.

“A racecar is a racecar, but I liked the competition that we had in ASA,” said Travis Kittleson, a competitor on the ASA National Tour.  “You are only as good as the people that you race against and you had some good racers there. It looks like the ASL might have that as well and running against guys like Cywinski and Butch Miller is how you learn.”

The ASL races will be shorter than what fans have been used to seeing in ASA and that might cause a little bit of adjustment at first.

“Personally, I’d rather see shorter races,” said Amstutz.  “I like sprint races where there is no riding around.  The format of 150 lap races split into two segments with a halftime break would be great.  It lets guys who are almost going a lap down to adjust on their cars and get back in the race.  It bunches up the field.  I think it is an excellent idea.”
Reffner hopes he can be doing some burnouts again pretty soon.  (Milner Photo)
The ASL will inherit cars and drivers from the ASA National Tour, but they also hope to be able to learn from what went wrong with the series.  Supporters of the new concept really think that sticking to basics is its key to survival.

“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.”

“ASA grew into a mini-NASCAR,” said Amstutz .  “With the TV package and the speedway races, it got bloated.  A lot of money changed hands, but nobody really made anything.  Now we are saying, ‘Let’s not spend so much.”
Some fans might not like it.  When the National Tour cut their races from 300 to 250 laps, we had a lot of complaints and phone calls from the fans.  We also heard some of that with the ASA Late Models running 100 laps.”

There will be challenges that the ASL will need to overcome to prosper in its first year and the clock is ticking when it comes to figuring out how to deal with those.

“They’ve come a long way in a short amount of time,” said Lettow.  “The timeframe that they are working with is pretty tight though.  If this was November, they would have a lot of time to figure things out, but it’s February and they don’t have much time to make this work.”
ASL races will be shorter than ASA races, which will help cut some of the costs.
One of the positives of the ASL is that equipment that had been useless without the ASA National Tour is now capable of being raced somewhere.

“We all have this equipment, but no market for it,” said Lettow.  “Even if the series starts up and we don’t participate, this gives us a market to sell our equipment.”

Not everyone is ready to commit to the new series, but there is a high level of interest among competitors who are considering the jump.

“We’ll definitely look into it,” said Kittleson.  “We want to see where the races are and what the purses will be, but we can’t spend $5,000 to tow from North Carolina to I-70 Speedway (MO) and race for a $3,000 to win.”

The bottom line is that there is now hope around the remains of the ASA Series that did not exist up until a few weeks ago.  Those interested in the ASL are cautiously optimistic.

“I think that anything that keeps this type of racing alive is a good thing,” said Howe.