(Editor's Note: This is the second of a two-part interview with ASA Owner and President Steve Dale about the current state and future of ASA. Lately, there have been all too many rumors concerning ASA and its future (and we have stayed out of that scene on our site), so speed51.com wanted to help set the record straight. Dale talked exclusively with our Bob Dillner on Monday afternoon. This is the conversation as it was recorded between the two for Speed51.com. ASA's Ross Wellman, Rob Albright and John Clark all joined Steve during the conversation and offered their answers, as noted.)
Bob Dillner (BD): “Several of the drivers (on the ASA National Series) have told me they have not been paid for the last two or three races, could you comment on that?”
Steve Dale (SD): “I've already addressed this situation and will discuss this further next week.”
and making plans for 2005 and beyond. So, we certainly can't stop anybody from selling equipment and changing series’. They need to do what they feel is right, but for them to have equipment that is just sitting around is kind of jumping the gun prematurely.”
Rob Albright (RA): “That is a very legitimate concern for team owners and I'm sure Steve had this come up years ago when he was a team owner. Teams may feel they have to look at alternative plans because they are investing equipment, investing people and they may have contracts with drivers. In human nature, if you feel a product is in any way in jeopardy, you are going to look at alternatives.
“On Friday, Ross, John (Macik) and I divided the registered car owners list in thirds. We made phone calls to those registered car owners to explain to them what was going on. We told them that we are working very diligently as a group to have a formal plan we can present to them in the near future, by next week. They will know what Steve and ASA's intentions are for the rest of this year and have an explanation to them of what we are trying to do marketing-wise to bring in new marketing partners and sponsors to the racing series. How open are they going to be with us, I don't know. But, they all expressed concern and 100% of those that I talked to, and I think Ross would say the same thing, in essence said this... 'We know Steve Dale's intentions are good and his heart is in the right place. We had no idea until the meeting at Berlin how big the nut was he was trying to crack and we will do whatever we can on our part to continue and make this be a success. Just tell us as soon as you can what the game plan is.'
JC: “One of the things we are facing now, and you, Bob, probably know as well as anybody, is that there are a bunch of rumors floating around. Some are based on facts and some are ludicrous. People will say what they want to say and hear what they want to hear.
“Our costs there aren't any greater there than at running at Berlin or somewhere else. In fact, we bring less people (to the speedways). The tracks are all geared up for and they house so much of the services we now have to contract for (on the short tracks). They already have that as part of the package
BD: “Has it been a burden for the teams?”
SD: “Honestly, I don't know how to answer that. The few that I've talked to were happy to be there. The tires cost a little more. As far as any other additional cost being greater, not much.”
Some drivers say that running the speedways is expensive.. others say it is not.
BD: “How much has Humpy Wheeler and SMI (Speedway Motorsports, Inc.) been helping out this year?
SD: “They've lent an open ear. They have always been kind to listen. That is pretty much it.
BD: “Is there any chance in the future you and Humpy could be partners in the series?”
SD: “I can't answer that. I don't know. It has never been discussed.”
BD: “Is there any truth that the LM Series is in jeopardy?”
BD: “Acquiring all of these series... has that been a positive or has that created a burden of work for you guys?” (EDITOR’S NOTE: ASA now sanctions four racing series in America. They added all but the National Series in a single year.)
SD: “It has put more work on our people. We've worked through the initial phase, which was really at the beginning of the season with new memberships and procedures. I don't think anyone else feels different.”
JC: “I think, if anything Bob, it has helped us in a couple of ways. One, being an increase in membership and two, in an increase in exposure of ASA in different parts of the country, like in the Northwest and the Southwest.”
SD: “We don't own those series. We sanction them. We work with them on potential rules; we work with them on membership; we work with them on uniforms; we work with them on virtually anything and everything that is part of putting on an event. We work with them on the big picture on an event by event basis. They do a lot internally on a local site. We also work with them on a weekly basis to work through any issues there might be.
“The ASA Late Model Series (which ASA does own and operate) has been viable and has been a great addition. We did that because we knew that was a strong part and one piece of our future. That is a series that, whether people want to give us credit or not, is going to take the country by storm. It works. It is affordable or at least as affordable as racing can be. They put on a great event and it affords people a great opportunity to race at the late model division. The tire rule we have with the BFGoodrich radial they are using has worked out really well. We did that because it is one of those pieces for the future. And certainly, given enough time, it would be a very positive piece of the future for ASA.
“But the simple fact of the matter is there is a meeting scheduled for the 30th and in that meeting the goal is for Steve Dale to be able to outline his plans now and into the future. I think once that meeting is concluded, people are going to have a lot better of an understanding as to where we are going, what it is we are doing and how it is we are going to achieve those goals. I would say maybe not 100% of all the questions will be answered, but almost all of them will be at that time. I think in the next week, a lot of these rumors and questions will get answered.”
RA: “I am not on Steve's payroll. I have been concerned over the last couple of months because I knew of the situation with the television because I am involved with the broadcast. Steve came in one Friday morning, pulled the key people in this office together and said in essence, ‘I
Bob Dillner (BD): “Some teams say they are looking into other series’ and others tell us they are worried that their cars “will turn into planters in their backyards.” What would you say to teams to convince them that things will be ok?”
Steve Dale (SD): “Bob, here is what we are going to do. We are going to do everything we can to continue on and make the series as good as or better than it has ever been. Are there guarantees that I can give? I don't know right now what that could be? I honestly don't know how anybody with any other series could give that either.”
John Clark (JC): “One thing that we need to remember is that we are continuing to race this year. There will be more ASA races on the schedule. We are moving forward
ASA Owner and President Steve Dale talkes with chassis builder Chas Howe.
have two options here. I could shut this thing down and go back to Georgia where I have a home and I know how to make money and I know how to run successful businesses. The reason I was able to buy this series is because I've been successful. That is the easiest and surest course of action. Or I could stay, make the changes that need to be made; make the hard decisions; prune the branches the way branches need to be pruned for the long term health of this series and stay the course.’ He said, and this is his real quote, 'everybody sitting in this room will quit before I quit. I am committed to do all I can do to make this thing work.'
“Working for Action Performance at ASA, it was very encouraging to see he was not walking away from it, which would be the easiest thing to do and probably, from a purely business perspective, the smartest thing for him to do and go do. But he is committed to doing what he needs to be done. Short term sacrifices for long term gains, we've all heard that. Hard decisions need to be made in the short run. What people need to know is that this thing is not, by any means, shutting down. We won’t know what is exactly going on for the next nine days, but that is because everything is under hard evaluation right now. The game plan is everything is going to remain status-quo with the National Tour and we are going to make the changes that need to be made in the short term and hopefully assure us that it’s financially secure.
BD: “Has running the speedways attributed to some of what we are seeing this year in ASA?” (EDITOR’S NOTE: ASA returned to the big tracks this year for the first time in several years.)
SD: “Not at all. That was one of those changes that needed to be made from a financial standpoint. People will buy the shows and pay fair market value for those shows much quicker than they will for say, the short tracks.
Ross Wellman (RW): “I think another thing that we've seen since we started the Member Track program is that we consistently provide opportunity to the member tracks that maybe not all of them take advantage of. For instance, we provide them space on our website. We provide them assistance from a PR rep. Not all of them take full advantage of what we offer to them. Is that a short coming on our part? I don't believe so. But it is an opportunity there and maybe not everyone is taking full advantage of or using it to the ultimate level that they could.”
SD: “I think it is a learning curve. Look at NASCAR. They are under siege every day of the week because people say they don't do this right and they don't do that right. A lot of what this is about is that people want to belong to
“The next one is the Member Track Program. The Member Track program has been very positive. It is good for helping to build the brand. It has been good for those local tracks that can't attach themselves to an organization. And I want to mention, we have not signed even one NASCAR track. We worked pretty hard at not signing any of the current NASCAR tracks. We haven't wanted to create any issues with them. In fact, we have backed off in several occasions when we had the opportunity.
"We have tried to nurture that relationship as best we can. I have personally made two trips and met with all of the NASCAR people. I have met with Jim (France), I've met with Mike Helton, I've met with Brian (France) and I've met with George Pyne, and I've had conversations with others as well. We toot their horn anywhere and everywhere we can and we mean it. If we get our guys for a period of time and they then move on to NASCAR, that is great. That gives us a great tie to something as well. It really has been our history. I think everyone recognizes that has been ASA’s history and the niche that everyone has been played. I've just been more open to simply say that and to speak loud as to what our intentions are as opposed to the past.
“Right there, if you include our sanctioning bodies, we have 18 (things to handle). We have four sanctioning bodies and 14 Member tracks. I believe that the interest is there. Obviously, people hear these different stories and rumors and so forth and that probably doesn't help it, but I think when we are able to move forward, it spins a positive message. And membership is important to the overall organization as well. In the future, you are probably aware Bob, that we just did a deal with PrimeMedia and with Circle Track and Stock Car Racing (Magazines). We are going to be promoting the National Tour, the LM Series and the Member Track Program and will have some feature articles periodically throughout the year with regards to everything that is going on that encompasses ASA's properties. I think that is going to be very, very positive.”
BD: “Is the point-fund money for the Member Tracks still sound?”
BD: “Do you think you've been able to help them in terms as being able to promote their tracks.”
SD: “Some of them, I think better than others. Some of them, there is only so much you can do. You can never make somebody do something. You can only make suggestions and recommendations. One that comes to mine is a good friend of yours and mine, Mike Cope. He has a tiger by the tail and he's had it. He is in a market where he is somewhat under siege, if you will. On Saturday night, he has someone (another track) just down the road. His market is a little bit weak. I think that the weekly racetracks this year are struggling mightily. Most are. Specifically talking to Mike, I think some of the recommendations we've made he is considering. I think he is going to try some Friday nights. His fan base and his car count are even down a little bit. There are others that were facing similar situations. There are others that are doing very well in a tough market. We can’t make them do anything; we can only suggest.”
Friendship Motor Speedway in North Carolina is one of the ASA Member Tracks.
something. You can't run their business for them. If that was the case, I have a lot of recommendations for you. There are a lot of things about 51 that I am not real keen about, but you don't hear me calling you and telling you, do you? (EDITOR’S NOTE: The 51 team has been and always will be big advocates of ASA, as evident by becoming a partner with ASA by sponsoring its Most Popular Driver Award. We will do anything in our power to help the series; although, at the same time, we are here to report the news.) Something’s you are just saddled with. There isn't a lot you can do about it. You can work at it and continue and try and support, but ultimately you can't do it on your own. Again, Mike Cope comes to mind because I know he is feeling a lot of pain down there. And his particular market is a tough one. Frankly, it is tough just because of weather. How do you overcome those things?
“Each track has its own unique situation. If you need help, you want help, we are going to try and offer to help you.”
BD: “What is going on with the lawsuit filed against you in an Indiana court by Rex Robbins (former owner of ASA) which claimed you missed a couple payments in the purchase of the series?
SD: “We are working things out. We have a good relationship. When we talk, we always speak about other things, like fishing and the new Late Model Series which he is a big fan of.”
BD: “Are you pleased that the contract with SPEED (Channel) is going through for next year?”
SD: “They have submitted one to me to go through 2006; I just have not signed it. It is not for any reason. I am not, per say, unhappy with SPEED. I personally like the people and I know what they are doing. I don't have the right brand to be able to take full advantage of it. I have found all of them to be great to work with. With the group we have this year, with Pete Richards, Rick Miner and others there, they've all been great. But the downside is, we are not able to really do our own schedule. That does create some problems. Like with everything, there is good and bad.”
BD: “Is owning the series harder than you thought it would be?”
SD: “It is not that it is harder than I had envisioned. I counted on people to do certain things and that didn't happen in some instances. There are certain things that I should have done and I'm disappointed I didn’t do them right away.”
BD: “A lot of sleepless nights?”
SD: “It has not been fun in that respect. When you go to bed you are thinking about it. When you go to sleep you are thinking about it. When you are sleeping you are thinking about it. When you get up you are thinking about it. The very thing that made me pretty good over the years is the thing that now hurts me. I've always had a lot of pride and have always taken the attitude that I don't need your help. If you want to help, just come help, but I'm probably not going to ask you for it. I'll figure out a way to get it done. Now that we are a year and a half into this, there are some things I could have done that would have alleviated the situation we've got now. I got so comfortable for so many years. I had been out of my business for seven years already. Honestly, it has taken me that long and I'm still not up to par. I've never really hit on all cylinders. No special reason. When you are in business for as many years as I was and you quit for as many years as I did, it is hard to completely get going again. For some it may not be, but for me, it is.”
Dale poses with last year's ASA Champion Kevin Cywinski.
The ASA community will come together on the 30th on this month to discuss the future plans of the series. (Bob Milner Photo)
BD: “Do you think the competitors understand what you've told us?”
SD: “I don't know. In all honestly, I would like to think that they do. I would like to think that they really care, but I don't know. For a lot of people it’s, 'what have you done for me lately.’ I don't know if that is the case here or not.
“To back up, I did this for all of the wrong reasons. But they were personal and I'd given my word that I was going to do it and I went ahead and did it. What I mean by that, we stood up in front of all those competitors at the banquet (in 2002) and we told them clearly what we were going to do; certainly enough so they believed we were going forward. So when all of the pieces
Steve says Humpy Wheeler (right) has been a great friend to bounce ideas off of, but that is all. (Speed photo)
internally fell apart, I didn't have the ability, the guts or whatever, my pride didn't let me, maybe a combination of those all, to go back on my word. My word has always been very important to me. That is what is hurting me now.”
RW: “Today, we've talked about things for the balance of 2004 and we've talked about some other plans and we've left those in kind of generality. Part of that is loyalty to our team owners and people that have supported the series and been so loyal to us. Some of those things are what we are trying to decide in the next 9 days so when we get together with those car owners on June 30th, we can tell them this is our plan to move forward. At that point, we want to be able to lay out for them our plan and convince them that the plan will be executed. If we were to say here is our plan, and not be able to fulfill, we would damage the credibility to our team. As the person who has spent more time here than anyone, I am in my 11th season here, and having seen what Steve has put into this program, I am still excited about the future here. With what all he's done with his vision and his dream to make this the strongest racing series it can be, I am very excited and hopeful for the future.
BD: “How much can rumors hurt a particular series, specifically ASA?”
SD: “Rumors, as you know, can be very, very damaging. They can be spiteful. I have to admit I don't look at your message board much, but I've heard things through several people about what this person said or that person said; those things are pretty hurtful. Those kinds of rumors are extremely dangerous. Worse yet, people are not telling the truth and some are just being mean spirited. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Our message board is a chance for fans to voice their opinions. And there is a disclaimer on the front of that board that states “the opinions you see here are not necessarily the views of speed51.com.”)
“Yes, they (rumors) are hurtful. They are never a good thing. But I can only say what I know is right to overcome those things. That is not going to be good enough in many respects because lots of people like to see people fall on their rear (end). Maybe some of these people don't like me for one reason or another, but it is not helpful to the series.
“Rumors are normal and natural; that is the other side of it. When things are going along fine, there are still rumors that aren't always positive.”
JC: “Rumors aren't limited to teams or about certain individuals, they can be damaging to relationships with people looking to come to ASA and potential sponsors that are potentially wanting to become involved.”
SD: “Today I've had two calls, one from an existing and one from a potential sponsor, both wanting to know, based on items they read on the 51 message boards, what is going on. And I can't even answer it.”
RA: “The two important things are number one, if it is in print, people tend to believe it. Number two; there is no accountability when you can be anonymous.”
BD: “What do you see in the future for ASA and where it is going?”
SD: "We are just going to continue to make the changes we have to and continue to work on the product and make it the best series we can for competitors, fans and certainly our corporate partners. If hard work gets you where you want to go, then we will get there.”
“I think the rule change, where all the lead-lap cars that are ahead of the leader are allowed to move around the pace car and to the tail of the field, has worked really well. I think the strategy of taking tires or fuel has worked really well. It has two effects. One, it has created a safer pit road and it also created more strategy (by the teams).”
“The fact that you can't refuel AND change tires has been big. In fact, I can tell you that we haven't had one fire (since that took effect). I think that is huge. Our guys are not Busch or Cup guys. Most of them are part-time guys. They are not training on a weekly basis, certainly not to put out fires. I think that has been good. I think that if teams were honest with you, they are not carrying as many guys, and therefore they've cut their budgets substantially.
“Running 16 events has allowed for more teams to run all of the events. This year, with 16 events, we have sold more annual passes than in recent memory. That tells me, Bob, that 20 races is a number that was hard for them to afford, but 16 is a number they believe they can do. Some say 'why don't you run 20 races?' It does cost more money.
“You don't make money likely at this level. Most don't. Maybe the champion, if he has a decent sponsor, might make a little money; likely not much, though. Virtually everyone else is working hard to break even, and most don't, so it is really just controlling cost. My belief, having been an owner, is fewer events create for a stronger field of cars. They are better prepared. They have more money to make any repairs and keep them in good running shape in doing the maintenance that needs to be done. Not running as many events, they do not have to have as many employees, because it relieves some of that pressure as well.
“The only reason our schedule is not even better than it is, well, is because it is really dictated by TV. If we didn't allow TV to dictate our scheduled, we could really make a friendly schedule. Then again, TV is an integral part of what makes ASA what it is.
“I know how to save more money. If I never have races back to back, I could save every team money. That would give them more time to turn their cars around because they could do it with less people.
“On another front, the Safety Team and what Scott Issacs has done with that group is terrific. It is going to, and has already, paid a big dividend.
“The no testing rule has cut down a lot on the cost of testing. Someone like myself, it costs me just as much to go test as if I went to a race weekend. I traveled everybody (on the crew), so all of those costs were the same. I probably spent as much on tires as I did on a race weekend too.
“I'm proud that we have been leaders in safety and in cost containment. That is really what this series is all about; safety first, cost containment and a competitive product as well. Now, I have to fix the financial side of it.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: We appreciate Steve Dale’s frankness with us. And again, we hope that everyone bonds together and helps make ASA what it has always been, one of the premier racing series in America.)
BD: “What are some of the positives that you and this organization have provided the series in the last year and half?”
SD: “What maybe I perceive as a positive may not be perceived that way by others. I think that having come from being a car owner and a competitor myself, I understand and know enough of the cars and the racing situation, certainly with the ASA cars. I know what we can and can't do, what's good and what's not. I think that we did establish some additional credibility in our tech procedures in our fairness and quality of that. Not that it pleases everybody, but I think, overall, it pleased more than it didn't.