ASA: REACTION TO RESTRUCTURING Part II by Bob Dillner
Honesty, TV, Sponsors & the All-Mighty Dollar
Steve Dale, current owner of ASA, has opened his books and poured out his heart to the series he loves. In the last few weeks, he has been honest about the current state of ASA and the financial difficulty it is in, but is it a little too much too late?
Part of his solution was announced last week with the current ASA restructuring plan. Now ASA is hard at work trying to find ways to make sure all the bills get paid for this season and, most importantly, to find a series sponsor for next year.
If you are a competitor, finding out midway through the season that two of your races have been cancelled, your TV exposure has been cut in half and the money you will receive throughout the season has been cut, or all together suspended, is a bitter pill to swallow.
And while most support the effort Dale and the series are making to reinforce the series, most also wish he were more “up front” from the beginning. In fact, some feel this honesty is ill-timed.
“It was a rude awakening,” continued Todd Kluever. “I think if he would have come out a little sooner and said, ‘Hey, this is the deal, we have some financial troubles. We are working on getting you guys some checks and they may not be on time;’ I think a lot more people would have been understanding of it (had he taken that route). It makes people believe in you more if you tell them before something like this actually happens.”
In an emergency drivers/owners meeting last Wednesday, series officials outlined a plan for teams to be paid for the races they were missing checks for. At that point, teams
had not received payment for three events. In the payment structure that was announced, teams were to be paid for the race at Lake Erie Speedway last Friday (July 2). The teams we have spoken with since that date have received their checks.
“I'm glad ASA stepped up and now they are going to be paying us for the races,” says Travis Kittleson, who is eighth in the current National Tour standings. “It is a big relief for everyone because we've been racing for free too long. Hopefully, they can stick to the schedule of paying us. It is going to be nice to know when you are getting paid.”
ASA is still behind on the payments by two races (Mansfield, OH and Berlin, MI) but that is to be rectified on July 31st at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Events from here on out are supposed to be paid the second Monday following each event. Ironically then, the next event, at Madison Int’l Raceway (WI), will theoretically be paid out before the other two races that will be more than a month overdue.
All around, teams that compete in ASA regularly are looking at less money this year… bottom line. The purses have been increased, but the points’ fund has been decreased by nearly three-quarters of a million dollars and the winner’s circle program (which awarded teams for consistent competition in ASA) temporarily suspended pending future sponsorship of it. Getting rid of the winner’s circle money is a thorn in the side of veteran teams in ASA.
“The loss of the Winner's Circle money will be hard to swallow for the teams that have been around for a while,”
claims ’99 ASA champ Tim Sauter. “There isn't much incentive to be a regular. I know when we were on the program, that was guaranteed money you could count on. Without that, even if you've been a regular, you could go home with just start money. That is tough.”
“The Winner's Circle program is going to be missed without a doubt,” states two-time and defending ASA champ Kevin Cywinski. “We go into the season, set a budget and know what it is going to cost to do this thing our way based on the income we will receive from competing. Not having that Winner's Circle Program there really eats into a lot of guaranteed income this team had. We work our tails off year in and year out to keep ourselves on the Winner's Circle deal, so for it to just slip away is something that is going to take a lot of looking into. Not having it is going to be an extreme factor in some of our decisions as a team.”
“I had two cars on the “A” program and I don’t think anybody else had that so we probably took the biggest hit there,” claims Ken Smith, car owner for three-time ASA champ Butch Miller and rookie Kyle Krisiloff. “I also have a third car that is on the “C” program, so that’s all relative revenue that I lost.”
“We worked really hard to get on the “A” program,” adds Kluever. “It really helped. Take a look at Lakeland; we hauled all the way down there (Florida), and with all the troubles we had, we finished like 31st or something. Yet I still came home with a decent amount for where we finished and that was because of the winner’s circle program.
Ken Smith owns the #06 (seen here) as well as two other cars in ASA competition. He says he will be hurt by the suspension of ASA's winners circle program.
Kluever says. “It is frustrating. And now Steve says Berlin was never going to be on TV. You (Steve Dale) told us that all the races were going to be on TV. If you knew then, why didn’t you tell us?
“When I got my deal with SK (Hand Tools), I promised them 16 races. I felt kind of mislead about that. It puts a lot of teams in a difficult position with their sponsors when they were promised something by ASA (at the beginning of the year) and now it is not happening and some of it sounds like it was never going to happen.
“If SK wants to go somewhere, where there is a better TV package or more loyalty, than that’s where Todd Kluever is going too.”
“I wish all of the races were going to be on TV; it means a lot to us younger kids who are trying to make it in racing and trying to get noticed,” says rookie Casey Smith. “People and sponsors love TV these days. Fans, especially, are going to have a hard time trying to follow us if we are not on TV. They will have to just rely on reading things on 51 and learning stuff from word of mouth.”
Like Kluever and others have pointed out to us, a lot of teams’ futures are in a holding pattern right now. They want ASA to succeed, but are concerned about the immediate future.
“Three strikes and you are out and he’s had a couple pitches that he’s tipped and fouled off into the bleachers,” says the personable Mike Cope, a former NASCAR Southeast Series champ turned ASA competitor. “If he swings the bat again, he better hit the ball.”
“It would have been nice as a team owner to know, but in the same sense I understand why everything was kept under wraps,” explains Todd Kluever. “I own my own business too and you can’t let everyone know everything that goes on all the time. At the same time, it would have been nice to know before we started not getting checks in the mail.”
When a series does not pay you for a race you competed in, it’s a good sign that the series is in financial trouble. It was also the first sign, ASA drivers say, they had that things were in bad shape.
“It’s a big factor for us. I’ve been there, done that and all I have are the t-shirts to prove it. But, Charlie White (of Florida Auto Auctions of Orlando) is a big supporter of mine, has been for 14 years and TV is big to him,” explains Mike Cope, the way only he can. “He’ll bring people to the races three or four times a year, but his big deal was to sit down on Saturday night, maybe with some business people and watch the races on TV. Without that (TV), there may not be a lot of reason for him to support this deal.”
“The reason we came to ASA is because it was on TV,”
“We’ve run six races; there is supposed to be ten left; the winner’s circle program is worth about $40,000 a year to me, now I’m out $20-25,500 there,” Kluever continues. “Here’s another example; fifth in points pays $18,000 or something now and last year it was about $55,000. You add all that up and by the end of the year I’m going to be out $60-80,000 of where I was compared to last year. That’s quite a change.”
Some teams say the winner’s circle program is something that really should not, no, let me rephrase that, CANNOT be thrown away. Teams tell us they were sent a winner’s circle contract at the beginning of the year that they signed so they feel it is a binding agreement. Of course, ASA says the winner’s circle program revolved around sponsorship of the series and without a sponsor right now, it cannot afford the program.
TV is another issue with similar ramifications. Teams say they were told at the beginning of the year that their races would be on TV. Well, now four of the last eight races are without TV and the Berlin Raceway race did not have any as well. That does not sit well with drivers, owners or sponsors.
“To be honest, we have a lot of decisions to go over here with the team now that we've seen the outline of what is going to supposedly go on,” explains Cywinski. “We need to meet with Joe (Miller – owner of Country Joe Racing) now and decide where things are going. He is aware of what this is and what the outlook is. The bottom line is that they have cut out a lot of incentives.”
“I’ve been in business for over 25 years and I have had some very tough times; I’ve been brought to my knees before,” Ken Smith explains. “I know what Steve Dale is going through with his financial situation. You have to lean on your best instinct and that’s what he is doing right now.
Kevin Cywinski says his team (Country Joe Racing) has a lot of decisions to make. Last year's ASA champ says the money reduction will contribute to what they do.
“He’s leaning on us right now and saying ‘give me some breathing room while I restructure some debt and work hard personally to get this money in.’ As partners in this, we have to make our own decisions. Am I willing to spend the next two races (competing in ASA) to see if he does it (keep his promises)? Yes I am. Some people may not be, but I do not know how a guy can be more honest with what his financial situation is.
“The last thing you want to do now is hang him out to dry now because his credibility right now needs to be elevated,” continues Smith. “I hope that this is a conservative program and maybe he can pay it (race purses) sooner than he says. It’s something he has to commit to and do. By us racing and not getting paid right away is our commitment to him. If you can’t do it, that’s
OK; wait for your money and they come back and race. “
“I understand where he is coming from,” admits Mike Cope. “And I know he has to do what he has to do from a monetary standpoint. On other hand, in January they said they were going to pay x-amount for points, have an “a-b-c” program and we were going to race at all these tracks and things just keep on changing. Some of the things are out of ASA’s control, but at the beginning of the year they knew the amount of money it was going to take to make this happen and now it (the schedule, points fund and so forth) has all changed.
“He’s (Steve Dale) doing all he can. He could have thrown his arms up in the air and walked away from this deal and said, ‘Sorry fellas, you’re screwed.’ He has a passion. If he started doing what enabled him to buy this series in the first place we would not be in this predicament. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Steve Dale was a successful business man for many years in his previous business ventures). On one hand, I applaud him for what he is trying to do and on the other side I think it could be a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.
We at 51 will continue to follow this story as it progresses. Look for ASA Reaction to Restructuring Part III in coming days on speed51.com.