ASA's FUTURE STILL UNCERTAIN by Jeremy Troiano, Bob Dillner & Matt Dillner
Wheeler, Veterans Talk With Speed51.com About Money Problems
By now, it is no secret what is going on in the ASA world. Financial problems plague the series. Unpaid bills run rampant. Unpaid teams are fed up. Things, so sad to say, are looking rather grim.
But what does everyone have to say about this? No one really knows as everyone, from series owner Steve Dale to the series veteran drivers and owners, have been pretty quiet on the matter, hoping things worked out following a series of plans that were outlined earlier in the year. They sounded good on paper, but those plans fizzled just as quickly as they began.
Everything came to light late last week when the series reached Lowe's Motor Speedway (Concord, NC) for the next to last event of the 2004 season. Things, you could say, finally boiled over on all ends.
By the end of the Thursday night event, after countless meetings with drivers, series officials, owners, team members and LMS track officials, things came to a head with LMS officials confiscating ASA's assets at the track, including the series tech truck, pace car, souvenir trailer and various technical equipment used during inspections, including PCMs and other materials.
Things really started to take shape well before LMS officials took control of ASA's stuff.
I've contacted some people that might have an interest in it and trying to help them out to get the thing sold. He's worked real hard at the thing, he's just in a stiff wind right now.
“(Atlanta) is an ongoing story as they say. And we don't know what will happen. We would like to see it happen, of course, as we have already sold quite a few tickets for the race and the fact that Reed (Sorenson) is a Georgia boy doesn't hurt anything. But it is a little early to speculate on how this thing is going to turn out. I hope it is positive. They have a good group of officials and guys running it. It is certainly not their fault that things are where they are.
“ASA is very much needed, particularly on the bigger speedways. It is a place where Reed Sorenson can go and learn how to drive against good drivers before they move up to ARCA or Trucks or whatever because it is very inexpensive. It is the most inexpensive form of racing we have on the superspeedways, so it needs to continue.”
When ASA told the competitors that it couldn't guarantee the purse during the first driver's meeting on Wednesday and that they didn't know when the Kentucky Speedway purse would be paid (or if it would be paid), things boiled over. There was talk of boycotting the race (as read about first here on Speed51.com), but those talks fell through when many drivers said that since they had already spent the money to come to the track , they were planning to race. Kevin Cywinski, the ASA points leader, was high on the thought of a boycott.
And with Dale not again in attendance at LMS to front a Q&A session with the angry drivers and owners, the emotions took over and the people spoke out.
“A lot of this started before Kentucky,” said veteran driver and current points leader Kevin Cywinski. “He's missed it by a week, but you'd get your pay. The slap in the face came this weekend. A lot of the teams have been asking questions and haven't been getting responses. The leader of the company hasn't been here to answer questions. (ASA officials) say Steve is working on a long-term plan to help secure our pay. We've already sat down with him to discuss this and it hasn't happened. How many opportunities does one person have? Our bills are still there.
“It doesn't only affect us. It also affects the people that work for us. We have no sense of direction (at CJR) as far as our ASA stuff. No word of what is happening for next year or even if there will be a next year. This is a company. We do this for a living. We have even had to lay people off because of the insecurity of what the future holds.
“A lot of the smaller teams are hurting even worse than we are. Take Peter Cozzolino for example. He's told us that he is maxing out everything he can to hope for the future of this series. He's got no answers. He needs answers too. He has no aspirations to go run Nextel Cup. But he enjoys this series and wants to support the series. How can he continue doing that?”
So what can make it better?
“What can make this better is new ownership. A renewed TV package. We have the toughest short track series in the country. The people that are here are here because they know when they win at an ASA event, they are doing something big. I think Steve's trust can't be renewed. It is long past that point. The current state of ownership and leadership will never have the trust level it once had.
“You could race under his banner again, but there would have to be a whole different set of circumstances. You would need some sort of board of directors that you could trust to know that the bills are getting paid. Someone you could trust going to that would listen. Knowing that there was someone making decisions and thinking it out.”
There were also the rumors that NASCAR had looked into buying the series, but terms of the sale included Steve's departure from the helm.
“I've heard a lot of rumors. I can't say if for sure that's happened. If it had happened, I wish he would have taken the offer for the betterment of the series. If it happened, I don't know why he would have turned it down.”
At this point, with the lack of payment to the teams and the eventual seizing of ASA's equipment, the big gripe continues to be a lack of trust shown by Dale. Many say he's lied to the teams. And when he hasn't, he's given them a very PRish type response.
Cywinski said that the CJR team has even had to lay some people off in these hard times.
Even after this week's dramatic events, Dale released a simple statement on the ASA website that really led to no great info on what is happening now or might in the future.
“It’s certainly no secret that ASA is undergoing some financial troubles,” the statement read. “I spend nearly every waking moment working towards a solution so that we can continue to meet the obligations we have to our race teams and all our creditors, and most of my staff is also focused on resolving this situation. As of today, I have been unable to finalize an agreement with either a series sponsor or a partner in the business and this has obviously been a factor in the predicament that we now face.
The ASA cars looked beautiful under the lights of Lowe's Motor Speedway.
“I have said it before, and will reiterate it now, that it is my goal to find a long-term solution so that we may fulfill the obligations that we have and continue on well into the future.”
But the lies have torn a hole in the drivers that may never be able to be sewn up.
Todd Kluever has no idea what the future, from Atlanta to 2005, will hold for him or the series.
“I really have so many thoughts going through my head about it now,” said Kluever. “There doesn't seem to be any solution. We are stuck with this. And we shouldn't be stuck with it. Out of common respect for people, he's gotta understand, this is people's lives and a lot of money. This isn't local short track racing anymore. We don't just park our car and go 'oh well, this didn't work out.'
“It's hard because I would expect someone who owned a business, if there were full-time employees there and they knew they were going under, that out of common respect, you would give them adequate notice so if they needed to find new jobs, they could. It is the same situation. If we all need to find a new place to go next year, I would love to see ASA step up and say it.
"I'd love to race here next year. The problem is they can try and make everything sound so good and say we have a TV package and this and that, but how do I bring back a sponsor and say we are going to have TV all next year when we were supposed to have TV all this year. I'd love to stay here, but how do you believe anything they say anymore. I would love everything to be back the way it was. But it is probably not going to happen.
The seizing of equipment was led by LMS front man HA “Humpy” Wheeler, who performed the same actions on the World of Outlaws sprint car series a couple of years ago following an event across the street from LMS at the track's dirt track. It was a result of LMS standing up and telling the drivers and teams that the track would pay the race purse even though it had already sent the money for the purse to ASA some time ago. Where that money is, no one knows. But until things are sorted out, the ASA equipment remains on the LMS grounds.
Wheeler talked with Speed Channel's (and Speed51.com Editor) Bob Dillner on Friday night at LMS following the unfortunate turn of events that transpired on Thursday evening.
“Unfortunately, ASA is on some hard times right now,” said Wheeler. “They are just caught in this flat economy and have been unable to get a sponsor. They've had to promote their own races, which is really tough for a sanctioning body. I really hope they come out of it because I like Steve Dale. He just got caught in this thing after he bought it from the Robbins family.
“What we did is that we held their assets that they had here at the speedway because the purse money was not here. We sent the purse money up to them last week. Steve has been very forthright about this. He said he didn't have the money the other day. I thought he was working on it and he'd show up with it, but it didn't happen. So we told the drivers that if ASA didn't pay the purse, we would do so. So we need some collateral because you don't want to pay the purse twice.
“Well, I certainly understand the drivers' frustrations. It is customary and a long-term practice to pay the purse as soon as the race is over. Steve and I have talked twice today (Friday). I'm trying to help him find someway to get out of this financial predicament that he is in. This racing business… everyone looks at it like it is roaring and on fire, but this flat economy that we've been in since the year 2000 has impacted racing fairly significantly. So he was caught in this in not being able to get a sponsor and everything.
“As far as (Speedway Motorsports Inc) buying it, I don't see that. We have enough to say grace over right now.
Many outside observers said the ASA race at Lowe's was one of the best of the year.
“It's always scary when the guy isn't here either. Nothing against Steve personally, but you can tell by the look on people's faces around here that they want answers; they don't want short answers anymore. He probably doesn't want to come because he knows he'll get jumped. That all could have been avoided, though. People would be willing to work if they were treated fairly. Treat people like you want to be treated. If we had that from the start, we'd be in a lot better of a position right now.
“I love ASA and I'd love to be here next year but will it happen, the more and more it goes on, probably not. It is pretty unfortunate. I feel hurt. Out of everything, what upsets me the most is that when I came to this series, it was probably the best series in the entire country. It still could be. It still might be when you look at all that is gone on and all the dirty laundry and the fact that there are still 42 cars showing up at a race.
“It is so disappointing that we have something so great and now it is so destroyed.”