REPORT CARD FOR ASA's BIG TRACK TEST by Bob Dillner
Driver, Car Pass With Flying Colors... So What's Next?
To say that a big track is on the ASA schedule for 2004 would be a little premature, but not necessarily out of line. After a successful test at Lowe's Motor Speedway recently, series officials are seriously looking to set a date at the North Carolina Speedway and other "big tracks" around the country.
When people discuss ASA going to bigger tracks, the question that always comes up is, "Why?"
"Why not? That's my response to those people," said ASA's rookie owner Steve Dale. "These are big, beautiful facilities with a lot of great race fans. Man, I'd give just about everything to be here (at LMS) and be part of that pageantry. NASCAR has done such a great job and to be anywhere a part of it, would be a big thing for us. We are a support series, we know that. We have our niche and they are the premier division and if we could be a part of that, it would be great for us."
And if ASA is part of that pageantry, it appears as though it would come in May as part of the speedway's "600 SpeedFest" celebration. But just being part of something special is not the only determining factor. Dale thinks if there's one thing ASA is missing, it is that big track appeal for its drivers.
"That is the one thing we are lacking," admits the former Georgia businessman. "We are really good at the short tracks; we offer great racing, we teach guys to be really good racecar drivers, but I do feel one of the elements that we are maybe missing is bridging that gap to give our guys some bigger track experience. We have the radial tires and good racecars with a good engine package; we've got everything, but racing on larger tracks. That's the one element I think we are missing to help these guys gain the experience to help them make the next step. As you can tell, I'm not here to keep guys; I'm here to help them move on to those other premier divisions if they want to. They'll go on to race at the top and we'll keep on building champions."
Experience on a big track is key to anyone wanting to move up to the NASCAR "Big Leagues" and experience around the one-and-a-half mile oval at LMS would be important. But, Dale and the folks at ASA are tinkering around with the idea of running a "modified oval" at the superspeedway to help keep speeds down. Cars would enter an "inner-loop" just past the tri-oval on the frontstretch, then race down a portion of pitroad before re-entering the track in turn number-one.
Most of the recent two-day test was spent on the original configuration of the "big track," but lead test-driver Mike Garvey did attempt the "modified oval" seven times during one morning session he made it successfully in five of those attempts.
Giving its driver experience on the big tracks is what ASA is hoping for by going to places like Lowe's Motor Speedway.
"You get so used to going around the big track, then you let off to get through there and it feels like you are going 10 mph," explains Garvey, who has won three ASA races this season. "You go from 165-170 mph and you get down to 40 mph; that's a big change of speed. When we are racing, there would be a whole pack of cars going through there. I don't know if we would make it, but it would be pretty fun! The racer in me, though, would like to see us race the big track."
Three-time ASA champ Butch Miller was also at the test both days just to check out what was going on. Originally, Butch was in favor of running the "inner-loop," but when we both went to check it out during day-two of testing, he was having some second thoughts.
"Oh boy," Butch sighed as he and I walked on the track.
"What's the matter, I thought you wanted to race the inner-loop," I asked.
"Not this one," Butch laughed.
And so the verdict is still out on whether or not ASA would use its "modified oval" at LMS or any other big track.
"The truth is, it's a tough call," Dale tells us. "I'm a racing purist at heart and that means, man, I want to see them going
Miller walks the LMS track and inner loop.
door to door all the way around the track on the big oval. I do think, however, that I want to be different. I changed the rules on pitstops this year and it made it a little more exciting.
"I'd like to say this is my idea, but it's not. Humpy (Wheeler, Lowe's Motor Speedway President and General Manager) put the idea in my head and at first I said, 'Oh boy.' But the more I've thought about it, the more I liked it and now that we've tested it, I really truly think it'll be a great race. I think it will inspire a lot of passing. I think our competitors will really like it too. It offers a lot of challenges and it'll offer a lot of excitement for the fans. And you know what, that's what we're all here for."
"Like Steve told me, he is afraid if we ran on the big track. The guys who have run on them before would have a big advantage," reiterates Garvey. "I am sure everyone in ASA could adapt to it."
"I would just assume run the big track," admits Robbie Pyle, who was the only other driver to try ASA's test car at LMS. "If you have guys that have never been here before and they're trying to learn how to go fast and then also brake hard and do the turn-right thing, it may be a little too much to ask for."
And that leads to a whole set of other questions, one which is, 'Are ALL the drivers ready for it?' Garvey says, 'Go for it!'
"I think it'll be OK for the guys who have never raced here before, but it will be a big learning experience. It's nothing that they won't be able to catch on to. It's like St Louis (Gateway Int'l), the draft came into play there and I think we had an awesome race.
"It's like when we went to Dover a couple years ago; the guys that are real, real brave on the short tracks, well, they come to a place like this and that bravery leaves them a
little bit," recalls Garvey. "They realize it's time to think about what can happen. I think respect of the racetrack goes a long way at a place like this."
"I think what's going to happen is you'll have some guys with a considerable amount of experience here, then other guys with a little experience and some with absolutely no experience and for the first couple races you'll have quite a difference between the fast cars and the slow cars," adds Butch Miller, who has run Busch Series races at LMS. "As the experience builds, I think it'll be like a Daytona race; I think it'll be that good.
"And with the way they have the ASA cars, it is really hard to out-engineer the next guy. The horsepower is going to be the same with everyone because you can't put a Robert Yates engine in for the race, so I think it's going to make for really close racing."
"That's true," Garvey says, agreeing with Butch. "We have the same engines, the same cars and tires, so it will be a good race. It's not like we have a 100-horsepower discrepancy in the field."
"My worry is that there will be Busch and Cup guys that will rent cars and wax us all through their experience," Pyle concludes. "I think for the sponsors and everybody this is going to be huge, but I think it's going to be a steep learning curve for a lot of these drivers. Only a small handful of drivers in our series have been on a track like this before."
"There are definitely different things that you have to do with the racecar, but everyone will figure it out," Garvey continues. "Plus, Steve (Dale) will plan a test date for everyone to come here and that will be important."
Even more importantly, Steve Dale says they'll be more testing before an official decision is made.
"We are going to test more. We are going to go to some other tracks. Pretty soon, we will have set some additional dates."
Stay tuned to this ongoing drama.
ASA Owner Steve Dale says "why not" to places like Lowe's Motor Speedway.