In 1981, AMSOIL signed on as series sponsor of the ASA Circuit of Champions, replaced two years later by Silver Creek Smokeless Tobacco. By the end of the decade ASA had partnered with Dan Duvall and Group Five Sales, leading to a historic deal that transformed ASA into the ACDelco Challenge Series.
With a high-profile national sponsor in place, ASA and Duvall set their sights on acquiring a television partner. The late 1980s and early ’90s was a dynamic period in cable television and among the rising stars was The Nashville Network. In 1991, TNN began televising a limited number of ASA races and eventually carried the entire schedule on a live broadcast basis.
What followed could only be described as dizzying success. By the end of the decade, ASA had signed a groundbreaking deal with BFGoodrich and had introduced a series-specific chassis and the GM Vortec 5.7-liter V-8 as a mandated series powerplant. Television ratings were strong and a new generation of racers continued to draw fans through the turnstiles.
But disaster was just over the horizon. A round of acquisitions and mergers soon swept through the media industry and in 1997 TNN was acquired by CBS. Soon CBS was purchased by Viacom, which dramatically changed the dynamics of ASA’s broadcast partner.
TNN President David Hall was an avid and loyal motorsports fan; the accountants and lawyers with New York-based Viacom were not. TNN began a rebranding process that eventually wiped out the network’s identity, the name becoming a footnote to history. Despite having a contract in place, Robbins was informed his races would no longer be televised. Legal wrangling eventually led to a settlement that brought the ASA events to television through the 2002 season.
The earlier business model of a network paying a short-track series for broadcast rights had disappeared; now the series would be required to pay production costs and purchase broadcast time in order to get on television.
ASA found itself in an impossible scenario: without television, it was impossible to attract series sponsors and the dollars needed to keep the series viable. Two options remained — significantly downsize the series, or close the doors. Rex and Becky Robbins decided to sell the series to Georgia-based businessman Steve Dale, who took over for the 2003 season.
In late 2004, the series ceased to exist, setting off a legal scramble for ownership of the ASA name. When the dust had settled former NASCAR executive Dennis Huth emerged as the owner of the ASA brand, and ASA lives on as a sanctioning body for weekly racing throughout the U.S. (Editor’s Note: Huth’s ASA has since folded).
Race fans of an earlier generation doggedly remember the ASA Circuit of Champions as one of the most entertaining and dynamic series in history. The names — Senneker, Eddy, Trickle, Sauter, St. Amant, Wallace, Martin; legends, all. Bring that roster to great venues such as Winchester, Cayuga, Berlin and Milwaukee and those events will live forever in the memories of those who were present.