ST. AMANT SAYS PRO CUP IS WHAT ASA USED TO BE by Jeremy Troiano
After Being ASA's “Poster Child,” Gary Now Celebrates Hooters Series
In the glory years of ASA, there were several drivers who were what many people called “poster boys.” These were guys that embodied the spirit of ASA and the ones you'd think of when the term ASA was brought up. Bob Senneker, Mike Eddy, Butch Miller and Dick Trickle were those guys.
just four top-10 finishes and came home 18th in the point standings.
Looking at his season, and that state of ASA in general under new ownership, St. Amant knew that he needed to make a change.
“It almost drove me to where I thought the driving part of my racing career was coming to an end,” said St. Amant. “I guess after you have that kind of year, you know you have to make some decisions. My decision was to go to another series.
“Sure, I went back and I raced a few races in 2004 and it was great to get to race with some old friends, but the ASA I knew from the past was pretty much gone. It hurt in some ways, but it didn't hurt near as bad as the 2003 season did for me.”
“One of the big things that I'm all about is always looking forward,” said St. Amant. “Very rarely do I ever look back. Each racing season I've had since I started racing has been a year-to-year deal. All the years I spent in ASA, there were some great memories there. But again, the worst year I ever had in the sport was the 2003 season. So I just knew I needed to make some changes.
“There were a couple of races I did with ASA in 2004 and it was great to go back and race with old friends, but I really didn't pay that much attention to what was going on there. I paid attention to my friends and to who was doing what, but I didn't get caught up in what was going on in the series. I had a new race team and a new championship to go after. That is what I focused on.
“I heard some rumors of some guys that were bitter toward me when I left at the beginning of the '04 season. That didn't bug me though. I just minded my own business.”
Surprisingly, as the season progressed, St. Amant didn't get too
Gary won a race in his first year with the Pro Cup Series. (Horne Photo)
many phone calls from ASA drivers, but did say that as the season wound down, his phone started ringing just a little bit more.
“At the end of the season, when the handwriting was on the wall for ASA, I started getting some phone calls. I'm sure over the course of 6 or 7 months, a lot of guys looked at me like 'he was jumping ship' and now maybe they think I might just have seen the handwriting on the wall then. I don't know if I did or if I didn't. I know I didn't like the direction the series was heading and the 2003 season showed me that in its own way.”
Now, after a year's experience, St. Amant has nothing but praise for the Pro Cup Series. In fact, it is eerie to him.
“I thought it would be a smooth transition (into the Pro Cup Series), but I had no idea it would be as smooth as it was. I was an outsider from a competing series coming in. We do that down at Pensacola every year (for the Snowball Derby), and they make us feel welcome, but that is for only one race. We did it for 17 races this year. I could have never have dreamt the welcome would be as warm as it was.
So after much deliberation, St. Amant agreed to race with Bullet Racing in the Hooters Pro Cup Series. The move let him start anew, with a new team in a new series with different cars.
“It really rejuvenated my driving career,” admits St. Amant of the move. “That is how I looked at last year (2004). There were lots of challenges as far as new people, new cars and new race tracks, but I know it was the best thing I could have done. It was the best for me. It was the best for my family. And it all worked out. I got with a great team and we were able to be contenders.”
As 2004 unfolded, St. Amant was a constant threat in the
As time passed and Senneker's, Eddy's and Trickle's careers started to slow down, ASA needed a new “poster boy.” Looking at the options, the choice was easy. Gary St. Amant.
St. Amant, a two-time ASA National Champion and always one of the crowd favorites everywhere he went, was a true ASA racer. He embodied the sport.
However, in 2003, that all changed. With ASA trying to become more corporate and more “big time,” the series started to struggle. So did St. Amant. In fact, a year after missing his third championship by just one point (to Joey Clanton in 2002), St. Amant suffered through his worst competitive season ever. He started just 16 races, had
Gary St. Amant has been happy since making the jump from ASA to Pro Cup.
Pro Cup Northern Division. He was winning races, running up front on a weekly basis, and ended up winning the Northern Division Rookie of the Year at the young age of 42.
As 2004 unfolded for ASA, the series' financial problems came into light in an ugly way. Drivers and teams were getting fed up with series' owner Steve Dale. Bills were not being paid. Teams were not being paid. It all came to an ugly light at Lowe's Motor Speedway, where ASA's assets were seized due to a lack of payment to the teams. The final two races of the year were essentially put on and the purses were paid by the tracks themselves and not ASA.
Now, as the 2005 season is steamrolling upon us, those ASA mainstays have no where to go. Many are jumping ship to other series, while others are still planning out what 2005 holds for them. The one certain is that there will be no ASA in 2005, at least under the “ASA sanctioning banner.”
As the events of 2004 played out, St. Amant looked like the great “Karnac.” He got out of ASA at the right time and was able to turn 2004 into something prosperous, rather than search through the muck for the light, as many ASA teams were forced to do during the year.
“I feel like being in the (Pro Cup) series for the year now, that this was a sleeper series to the racing world. After being there for a year, I can say that where it is at now is where ASA was 10-15 years ago. It’s just got that kind of feel to it.
“I remember back in the days when you would see all of the ASA drivers hanging out, playing cards with each other and just being so friendly. Not that they weren't friendly before, but it wasn't ever the same. But you see that in the Pro Cup Series. I can remember getting into some cards games this year with guys like Johnny Rumley and Shane Huffman. I mean, that is the way ASA used to be. That is the way Pro Cup is now.”
With St. Amant, the names like Senneker, Eddy and Miller still come up and remind him of the current state of Pro Cup.
“When you talked about having guys that were like teachers in ASA, like Bob Senneker, Mike Eddy, Butch Miller and Dick Trickle, they were real racing teachers. But now when you look at the Hooters
series, there are a lot of drivers there that can teach you a lot. There are guys like Bobby Gill, Jeff Agnew, Johnny Rumley and Mardy Lindley. I think it is huge. Not to say there weren't teachers still around in ASA, cause there were. But it is just amazing to see how much I look at the Hooters Series and see what I used to see in ASA, from the whole atmosphere of things.
“You add to that the addition of Mike Garvey, Wayne Willard and Steve Wallace and you are just making this a bigger and bigger series than what it already was. I just see the growth in the next couple of years being just he same as it was in ASA. As far as the car count goes, 2000 was the best year for ASA, and I see that heading toward the Hooters Series now.”
St. Amant's transition into the Pro Cup Series on track was a good one. He finished second in his first event. Fifth in his second race. Third in his third race. He then won later in the year at Lake Erie Speedway (PA) before wrapping up nine top-fives in 17 races. He finished second in the Rookie of the Year standings and eighth in the overall points standings.
In 2005, St. Amant is back with the same team, with the same sponsor, but with loftier goals.
“It isn't finalized as of yet in terms of all the particulars, but we know JEGS is coming back as our primary sponsor. There are going to be some different colors on the Bullet Number 11 this year. Because of that and a year under our belt, I think we are going to be a title contender for 2005.
The Pro Cup Series is growing like ASA was several years ago according to St. Amant.
In ASA, Gary was a fan favorite
“(2004) was a big learning curve for us. There is still some learning to do too. I can't help to think that 2005 isn't going to be a bigger and better year for the team, especially with having JEGS come back as a major sponsor.
“The biggest difference was the race car itself. The handling of the cars was different. Working on the cars was different. Guys that have raced these cars for the history of the series have an advantage. Like the ASA car, this is a different type of race car.
“And we weren't without our challenges. We had a lot of new people working together for the first time. I was lucky
Gary's Pro Cup ride.
for the fact they'd been in the series and they knew the procedures already to what it took to get the car around the track.”
So now, St. Amant hasn't lost a step. His career has continued on without a hitch, which is something many of last year's ASA drivers are struggling to figure out how to do.
However, when asked about what he'll remember the most about the 2004 ASA season, St. Amant answered in a typical “poster child” form.
“My favorite memory? Mike Eddy winning. That was awesome. It doesn't get better than that.”