CONCORD, N.C. — The CARS Tour is one of the top late model organizations in the Southeast, putting on well-attended shows across the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic.
Some of the top drivers in the formula — Josh Berry, Deac McCaskill, Tommy Lemons Jr. and others — are regular participants and they draw the big hitters from other groups on a regular basis: drivers such as Phillip Morris, Bubba Pollard and Peyton Sellers.
What the CARS Tour reminds me of, quite honestly, is the American Speed Ass’n when it was in its heyday during the late 1970s.
That’s the feeling I got recently while attending the Old North State Nationals at Orange County (N.C.) Speedway. It didn’t hurt that I attended an ASA race at Orange County that was televised on The Nashville Network, so it was easy to compare the two.
Sure, the ASA back then (2000 or so) was bigger than the CARS Tour. It had TV, sponsorship from ACDelco and others, and featured drivers the likes of Gary St. Amant, Tim Steele and Kevin Cywinski. The competition was fierce, as the .375-mile oval is built for close competition.
There are other comparisons.
In the old ASA, which I grew up around, had its factions. If you were a Bob Senneker fan, you didn’t mix with the Mike Eddy crowd. Dick Trickle was popular, but his fans were loyal to him and no one else.
It’s that way in the CARS Tour, too. Berry fans and Brandon Pierce fans aren’t cooking out together during down times, and there are other rivalries that are rather either/or.
That said, there is a feeling of us against the world when you get right down to it, and that is what makes the series great.
The ferocity of the racing is also similar. Nobody is giving an inch on the track when the money is on the line. For example, in the late stages of the Old North State Nationals, Berry and Lee Pulliam went at it for the $30,000 winner’s check. That late-race battle saw both drivers work to get the other into the marbles at the top of the track and take advantage.
Berry went first and didn’t get Pulliam high enough. Pulliam came back and did get Berry enough into the rubber that it killed his momentum and dropped him back to fourth. Pulliam wound up with the big money.
Many times, I saw the same thing happen in ASA with Trickle, Eddy, Senneker or Mark Martin winning a late-race battle for big stakes and the checkered flag. Like those battles, neither Pulliam nor Berry punted the other, and the race played out between the lines and without an egregious bump-and-run that resulted in one or the other — or both — in the fence.
The CARS Tour competes with the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series for drivers and prestige and while there might be more NWAAS races, there is not a lot of daylight between the two in terms of competition.
The CARS Tour seems to be more of an all-star tour, where the best drivers and teams go. It has that family feel, too, like the one Rex and Becky Robbins engendered in building ASA from local tracks in Indiana into a Midwestern powerhouse that at one point rivaled NASCAR.
Many drivers used ASA as a springboard to the big time. They include Rusty Wallace, Martin, Ted Musgrave, Glenn Allen Jr. and Jimmie Johnson, who ran a season with Howie Lettow for Chevrolet before going on to the NASCAR Xfinity Series and eventually winning seven NASCAR Cup Series titles.
A lot of what ASA did, I see the CARS Tour trying to do, and with a fair amount of success. Ty Gibbs is a frequent competitor, as is Layne Riggs, and development drivers such as Christian Eckes, Anthony Alfredo and Sam Mayer did a season or so in the CARS Tour before stepping up the ladder to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series or ARCA Menards Series.
If the CARS Tour continues to grow — and it will, I think — it could be the second coming of the American Speed Ass’n. The drivers you read about today could be the champions of tomorrow and that would be a wonderful thing.