ST. AMANT SAYS SPLIT WAS A BUSINESS DECISION by Jeremy Troiano & Bob Dillner
Frankie Grill Says Team Will Move On With Younger Driver
Before the season, it looked like a match made in heaven. Gary St. Amant, a two-time ASA Champion and arguably one of the best ASA drivers of all time, was teaming up with newcomers to ASA but not to racing, Frankie and Augie Grill and their Grand American Race Cars. On top of that, they had sponsorship from one of ASA's longest running supporters, Jani-King.
Unfortunately for all those involved, it didn't turn out to be even close to the dream season they had hoped for. And now, St. Amant and Grill have parted ways just six races into the 2003 season, but plenty of questions and opinions still linger around the pairing.
"It was kind of a tough decision to make, but then again, it wasn't," said St. Amant, who informed team owner Frankie Grill of the news on Monday. "I felt bad for Frank and Augie because we have wrecked race cars and they have worked their asses off to get what we've gotten. On the other side, we are six races in and we still haven't gotten there.
"For the most part, it was a mutual agreement that things weren't working out. It was a good opportunity to make the break. I hate it for Jani-King and Frank and Augie. Things weren't working out and it was time to make a change."
The picture St. Amant paints is not as rosey as it seems. You see, two weeks ago at Cedar Rapids (IA), St. Amant heard rumblings that the winds of change were about to sweep through the Jani-King team. And those gusts, even before he crashed with rookie Scott Lagasse Jr., involved Gary and not the Grill's.
The #7 has had it's share of trouble this year, causing St. Amant and Grill to part company.
"What made me know that it was inevitable was that before the race in Cedar Rapids, I was told by someone, not Frankie, but someone who heard it through him, that it was going to be my last race (in Grill's car). The fact of the matter is, THAT is what spurned the whole deal. Was it a rumor, or truth, I don't know, but it came from a pretty reliable source and that is really what made everything happen."
It probably didn't help that St. Amant, a driver known for his consistency, accumulated two DNFs, a best finish of only 12th, best starting position of only 16th and that he never
finished on the lead lap in any 2003 event so far. And this coming from a driver who only failed to complete a total of eight laps in 20 races just a few years ago. And let's not forget, he only lost last year's championship by one single point.
"It absolutely had me questioning my ability. There is always that question there as a driver. The key to a race car driver's success is his confidence. When things go the way they went, I started doubting my talents and where I am at."
St. Amant states though that he believes changes were going to be made, even if he hadn't tendered his resignation with the team when he did. After rumors and the animosity grew among some of the crew, even Frankie Grill knew changed needed to be made.
"With the kind of luck we were having, it was trying on everybody," said Grill, whose team has been through three drivers since entering the series last season with Florida hot shot Wayne Anderson. "It was a mutual thing between the two of us. We both knew it needed to happen.
"Really, I am not going to say anything derogatory about anybody. Gary has a family and makes his living racing, so he felt that he needed to do something different. That is where it is.
"It can be a chemistry thing; maybe it was. You always think that will work out, but sometimes it doesn't. But when you start have animosity among people, the best thing to do is to go your separate ways. That is kind of what we did. We will work forward from here and hope it gets better."
When will it get better is the question. Chemistry can be a problem between a driver and team, but when it happens with several drivers, and successful ones at that, questions about the team itself begin surfacing. And after all, it's not like Gary St. Amant forgot how to drive an ASA car.
"At Cedar Rapids, the crank shaft bolt fell out in practice," said St. Amant. "At Toledo, the engine missed the whole first practice session. No one had practice at Concord and we got wrecked in the race. We've had some engine problems that seemed to hinder what we are doing each weekend. That is one thing we never had at API (Automotive Promotions Inc, Gary's former team with Bud Gebben) was engine problems. You get used to that and when you start seeing some problems, you start questioning the team."
And the fact is that the team changed spark plug wires at Toledo to ones that Grill wanted to use instead of sticking with what had worked with St. Amant for three years of this current engine program. Like the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Teams are always looking for an edge, but one driver told us recently, 'Frankie Grill thinks he can reinvent the wheel in ASA and he can't. He's good, he's smart, but he needs to stick with what works and he doesn't."
Frankie Grill (center) and Gary St. Amant thought they had a match made in heaven. It seems it didn't turn out that way.
But then again, Grill says insists that the problem has been chemistry. He says the team has been through it before and will hopefully bounce back its former winning ways.
"You just have to go on. You just can't dwell on the past, especially when it has been as dismal for us as it has been," said Grill. "We wasn't worth a flip in Lakeland. We have had a pretty good race car, we just can't find any luck anywhere; I am not saying a winning race car, but a top five race car. The luck wasn't coming and we were a part of a lot of wrecks. A lot of the problems we had are rectified now, but that doesn't undo the damage that is already done.
St. Amant's (in helmet) season started with this fight on pit road after an incident with Brett Sontag.
Grill says the Jani-King team will run the remainder of the season, but with who in the cockpit is yet to be determined. (Editor's Note: The team has recently announced Ricky Turner will be their driver)
"We will probably go with some younger guy that we can build with. Problem is if they wind up being pretty good, they will move on. The phone has been ringing off the wall at the shop with people calling and wanting to drive. We have our preferences, but Jani-King has to approve it too."
For St. Amant, he quickly found a home in a place that does have some irony.
"I called Steve (Dale) and Mark (Gundrum) at ASA and was talking to them about the potential of me not having a ride and they started talking about the people I maybe needed to give a phone call to," said St. Amant. "One of them was Scott Hansen and Bob Harshbarger at Appalachian Motorsports. At the same time I was talking to Steve, I had a call coming in and it was Scott Hansen (who serves as team manager for Appalachian Motorsports). That is how it started.
"I found out that things were going to be alright no matter what happened. I went down and met with Bob and Scott and worked out some details and now we are going to be at I-70 and beyond."
As for St. Amant's infamous #7, he still isn't sure if that will be on the car or not. (Editor's Note: Gary will run the #7 the rest of the year) But he does think he has a bright future with Hansen and Harshbarger. The team also runs a full-time car for rookie Stephen Leicht.
"I am looking forward to driving for Scott Hansen. A couple of big selling points to that operation is the way they have everything together and organized. To walk in to that right there, I saw the possibility that there could be a big future with Bob.
It hasn't been the same smiling St. Amant in the pits this season.
"The number one thing that makes me know that it is going to be a good fit is because of how much I respected Scott Hansen on the race track. There wasn't one single other driver on the race track that I respected like I respected Scott Hansen back in the days. Now there are guys like Kevin Cywinski and Mike Garvey and those guys, but when Scott was there, he was one of those guys I knew I could race with closely and never have to worry about.
"I know that with his Busch and Truck experience, he knows how to do it the right way. And Bob is someone who loves racing and could be here for along time."
Once fierce rivals, Scott Hansen will hope to lead St. Amant back to victory.
As of now, plans call for Hansen to serve as crew chief for St. Amant at I-70 and beyond. Two guys who used to battle each other door-to-door on the track and who battled to a one-two finish in the point standings during St. Amant's 1998 championship season, will now be chasing a championship of their own, together.