The battle of the use of the ASA name came to a head this past weekend during the running of Oktoberfest at LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway (WI). On Saturday afternoon, reports started coming out of the track about what was going on with the enforcement of a court order by Dennis Huth and his ASA Racing group as well as what was said in a drivers meeting of what had been known up until that point as the ASA Late Model North Series by its owner Ron Varney.
As soon as Speed51.com reported these issues on their Facebook Feed page, passionate figures from both sides of the argument came out to comment on the situation. Meanwhile, we got to the bottom of it all and tried to bridge the gap between what people may have heard at the North Late Model drivers' meeting and what was intended to have been said. Our own Bob Dillner communicated with both Huth and Varney repeatedly during the next few days.
This situation hits Dillner as well as he was a part of the old ASA National Tour as a television commentator for the series. When Dillner founded Speed51.com, the ASA National Tour was the cornerstone of our
short track coverage and it was Dillner who first reported about the troubles that eventually led to the demise of the tour. So he was the natural person to cover this latest situation. Due to Dillner's behind-the-scene knowledge, this wasn't just written as a news story, but as an editorial that both reported the facts and very openly contains Dillner's editorial views.
The definition of an acronym reads as such, “a word formed from the initial letters or groups of letters in a set phrase or series of words.”
In racing there are many forms of acronyms, NASCAR, NHRA and F-1 are a few examples. In pavement short track racing, there may not be one more prominent through the years than ASA.
The American Speed Association was born under the direction of founder Rex Robbins in 1973 and was bolstered by tough-nosed racing on the short tracks of America. Names such as Mike Eddy, Bob Senneker, Dick Trickle and more became infamous with the ASA brand of racing. In the late ‘90’s Rex’s son, Brian took over the reins of ASA. Finally, in the early 2000’s, Steve Dale purchased the brand from the Robbins family. After much turmoil, what was once the most prominent short track series in the country was shut down amidst plenty of accusations of malpractice.
During his tenure, Dale partnered with the Varneys, Ron and Sandy, who owned the old USPRO Late Model Series in the Midwest. With Dale’s prodding, the Varneys changed their name to fly under the banner of the ASA Late Model Series, which would serve as the stepping stone to the ASA National Tour. Yet, when Dale’s demise became apparent, he sold the naming rights and trademarks of ASA to former NASCAR top brass Dennis Huth.
That’s where the “Lesson in Acronyms” begins. Through the course of the last several years, Huth, a lanky, but serious man who usually wears black to the racetrack, has fought a long legal battle with the Varneys. The battle over the Acronym came to a head this past weekend during the Oktoberfest event at LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway in Wisconsin.
An agreement, dated December 17, 2008, allowed Varney to utilize the ASA Late Model Series name. On Saturday, during a raceday for Ron Varney’s series, Dennis Huth brought to Varney’s attention a new federal court order that restricts Varney from ever again using the ASA acronym. The court order came, as Huth explains, after several violations of a two-year old agreement.
“According to the (new) court order Ron Varney is not allowed to use the ASA Late Model Series name or anything with ASA in it from here on out,” explained Huth.
“In a nutshell, we had settled a lawsuit a couple years ago that specifically spelled out that I owned the ASA Late Model Series name,” said Varney. “Well, over the course of the next two years we had a couple press releases that went out without the disclaimer on it (that was required according to the agreement). And one of my officials was at Oktoberfest last year and it was about 30-degrees and the only jacket that he had brought with him was the old logo jacket. He ended up putting that jacket on and they took a picture of it. They used a bunch of little things to say we had breached the agreement of the settlement.”
“There were a myriad of things. It’s not just one or two things, it was a plethora of items that came about,” continued Huth. “My problem, Kevin Ramsell, who is my PR person, became a watchdog. We were constantly writing letters and trying to get the series to follow the agreement.”
The new court order states the following, “Defendants (Varney) have misused the Plaintiffs’ (Who are ASA Racing and Huth) federally registered trademark, ASA, and misused their own ASA LATE MODEL SERIES trademark in breach of Paragraph 3 of the Settlement Agreement; Defendants have failed or refused to place required disclaimers on their advertisements and media publications in breach of Paragraph l0 of the Settlement Agreement; and, Defendants have failed to use their best efforts to stop the use of Plaintiffs’ ASA red oval trademark logo in breach of Paragraph l3 of the Settlement Agreement.”
“This was totally a business decision,” continued Huth. “We had an agreement two years ago and the lines were crossed way too many times and I do have to protect the ASA mark. I said to Ron, ‘I want to make this as palatable as we can knowing that it’s not the best thing.’ I had to make a business decision and it wasn’t anything personal against him.”
The duration of the meeting between Huth and Varney differs depending on whom you speak with. Huth says it was “five minutes, tops,” while in a text message, Varney says “30 seconds.” Nevertheless, due to the court order, several things needed to take place for Varney’s series to continue with their race weekend.
“We had to pull the hauler out of the infield,” explained Varney. “Obviously with the big (ASA) stickers on side of it, it really wasn’t feasible to remove those stickers because that’s a huge job that would have taken all day. It was pulled out of the infield at about 3:30pm, I believe.”
“It would have been very easy for us to walk in and just say, ‘That’s it, no more, bam,” stated Huth. “We had to make sure that we both understood that this is a federal judge that signed this order. I told him I wanted to see the (ASA) stickers off the racecars, and the trailer that had the big logo on it out of the infield. The series also needed to be called something totally different and I told him that was up to him.”
Was Huth being unreasonable? In my opinion, I think not. As he said, he was protecting his brand that he owned according to a federal judgment. Any business owner who has pride in their product will protect their turf. In fact, Huth pointed out that he allowed Varney’s officials to wear their ASA shirts on Saturday as to not upset the order of business too much.
It’s easy to paint Huth as the “Bad Guy” and that this was just a snap judgment on his part, but that is not the case according to the owner of ASA Racing.
“He (Varney) had all the opportunity in the world to respond, since August 13th (when the ‘Plaintiffs Motion to Enforce the Settlement Agreement was filed) and (he) didn’t,” said Huth, who said a copy of that motion was mailed to Varney’s office and delivered to him at LaCrosse as well. In addition, Huth claims Varney’s own lawyer wanted to withdraw from the case and to do to it, the Chicago court system ordered that lawyer to notify Varney of the motion through fax, email and overnight letter delivery.
“What I was hearing on Saturday, and this is the part I didn’t want to get lost in the shuffle,” insisted Huth, “was that this was an ‘all of a sudden’ thing and that we just sprung it on him. Poor Ron and we’re trying to pick on him at a race. That wasn’t the case because he’s known about it all along. Circumstances that happen like this just don’t happen overnight.”
Not long after their meeting at LaCrosse on Saturday, Varney dropped a bombshell during his own “drivers meeting.”
“I made them aware of what happened with Dennis Huth and the ASA Late Model Series name,” Varney told me. “I basically told them (the drivers) that, in effect, we had run our last race under the ASA Late Model Series name.
“But as far as the future of the series, I told them everything was still good. We are putting together our (2011) schedule now that we will have released by the first of November; it’ll probably be around 13-15 races. I told them everything was full steam ahead for next year. And I also announced that, at this time, I was going to take a step away from the Director of Operations position of running the day-to-day operation at the racetrack. I am in the process of interviewing people for that job. I am still going to control the series and run things out of the office back home.”
Whether you like Varney or not doesn’t matter. Some say he’s bold, arrogant and even pig-headed at times, but in all honesty, his path for his series was always paved with good intentions.
“This year has taken a lot of wind out of my sails,” admitted Varney. “I’ve been fighting this lawsuit with Dennis Huth now for what feels like five years. Just all the negativity towards me and the series (has taken its toll). I think at this point it would be a good thing to bring in a new management staff; put a new face at the racetrack for the series and still own the series and run it from the background. People might have had differences with me and/or maybe they don’t like my personality, so maybe by me not being there we can entice these people to come back (to the series).
Varney did explain to me that the North Series will, for all intents and purposes, not exist in 2011. Instead, he will roll that series into his National Tour, which is currently sponsored by Sunoco and has two events remaining in 2010, at Illiana Motor Speedway in Indiana this Saturday October 16th and on October 31st at North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina.
(EDITORS’ NOTE: We will have more on Varney’s developments for 2011 and some personal insight into Ron Varney on Thursday here at Speed51.com).
Legal battles such as this can take its toll on everyone, the direct parties, its teams and racers, and even the fans. On Saturday, however, the one innocent victim in all of this was Varney’s 2010 Late Model Champion, Eddie Hoffman.
“I feel bad for the sponsors and the teams that didn’t get to celebrate the championship,” said Varney. “This was done intentionally on Saturday to where we couldn’t even crown Eddie Hoffman the champion of the series because we weren’t even allowed to announce the name of the series. To me that was the most unforgiveable thing. It’s one thing to have a problem against me and do whatever you feel you have to (against me), but to intentionally go out and harm the racers or the sport of auto racing itself, in my opinion, is just inexcusable.”
“One of the things that I wanted to make certain of was to not impact the racers or the racetrack. The track did come to me and said that they appreciated that we didn’t put them in the middle of the issue,” said Huth.
“The sentiment at the racetrack was that this could have been handled a hell of a lot better,” continued Varney. “It could have been handled on Sunday or Monday after the season was over with. One of the stipulations (of the court order) was that they (the track) could not announce our race as the ASA Late Model Series. We had to drop the ASA and it was basically called the North Late Model Series. We weren’t allowed to put up the championship banner with the logo on it. He (Eddie Hoffman) was not able to be announced as the ASA Late Model North champion. It wasn’t really fair to him. I made sure I apologized even though it wasn’t necessarily my doing.”
“It did impact, to a small respect, that Eddie could not say that he was the ‘ASA Late Model Series Northern Champion,” stated Huth. “There are going to be some issues that happen that none of us want to see happen, but this was something that had to be done. I’m sorry that Eddie was caught up in that particular phase. Eddie Hoffman is a champion in my book and always has been.”
Both Dennis Huth and Ron Varney are hard-nosed business men, who love racing at the same time. You may not agree with one side or the other about how certain things are handled by either party at times, but you cannot argue with the passion each have for that special acronym in short track racing… ASA. This time, however, it’s clear, that acronym is Dennis Huth’s property.