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Reigning ASCS champion Jason Martin (36) races under Evan McElhaney at Super Bee Speedway in Louisiana. (Tommy Best photo)

ASCS: How Did We Get Here?

Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part investigation into the sale of the American Sprint Car Series. This week, we focus on what happened, while next week’s conclusion explores what’s ahead for the 33-year-old sanctioning body.

The drama behind one of the hottest storylines of the offseason has been as juicy as any gossip heard at the neighborhood bar. It involved hot checks and a well-known racing series being repossessed and then sold to a company some feared was the enemy.

Sour feelings overshadowed the recent transition of the American Sprint Car Series from Terry Mattox back to series founder Emmett Hahn, and eventually to World Racing Group.

A chaotic few weeks began in early February, when point fund checks were being returned due to insufficient funds. On March 1, a lot of uncertainty was quelled when World Racing Group announced it had acquired ASCS — the top 360 winged sprint car series that features a national series tour and multiple regional tours.

However, that brought up a new concern about the division’s future since World Racing Group owns the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series and therefore is assumed by some to hate the 360 sprint car division.

During those wild weeks in February and in the months since, Mattox’s reputation within the sprint car industry has taken a beating. Yet, there has been a surprising source of support for him — several of the drivers who are currently owed thousands of dollars in unpaid point fund money.

“All of us have been pretty quiet about it,” defending ASCS National Tour champion Jason Martin said. “Once the dust settled, the situation was a lot more complicated than it seemed.

“Once you hear the real story, we all feel a little bad for the situation he was in.”

Hahn founded ASCS in 1992 and owned the series for three decades. There was a public split with longtime competition director Tommie Estes Jr. in early 2011 after he served a dozen years at the helm. One of Hahn’s grandsons, Matt Ward, was hired as the competition director early in the 2011 season and he held that title through the end of 2021.

Prior to the 2022 season, Hahn sold ASCS to Mattox, who had worked in a variety of roles within both national and regional competition for several years. Mattox ran into a couple of speed bumps during his two seasons as the owner, particularly last year.

The series lost Lucas Oil as the title sponsor — a reportedly six-figure sponsorship that offset the $200,000 point fund for the ASCS National Tour.

There was also a streaming shift at the last minute away from FloRacing following an alleged contract disagreement. RacinDirt took over streaming ASCS National Tour races on a short-term basis before a partnership was created with ASCS to make it the streaming service for the remainder of last season.

Mattox was unable to secure a title sponsor, leaving a significant hole in the national and regional point funds. He said he had a “chunk” of money coming from Hoosier Racing Tire that he was going to pay toward the 2023 point fund. Mattox acknowledged it was short of the total amount needed.

“We were supposed to be getting direct deposit the week after the Chili Bowl,” said Jordon Mallett, whose point fund share was $25,000 after finishing a career-best third in the ASCS National Tour championship standings. “I got the check in the mail on Jan. 30. I got the call from my bank about three days later.”

Jordon Mallett in action during this year’s ASCS opener at Super Bee Speedway in Louisiana. (Tommy Best photo)

Mallett and many of his fellow competitors began swapping stories as the checks came back bad due to insufficient funds. Most of the national and regional drivers kept the situation private throughout February.

“This is how we provide for our families,” Mallett said. “When you take about half of a year’s salary after working for it all year, that’s tough. You’ve budgeted and got stuff taken care of. You don’t work when the new year starts. We start working in August for the next year as far as engines and parts so it comes in in December and January. You’re counting on that money. You’re left with bills and have to scramble to pay.

“I’ve always said racing is a risk. Every part of this is a risk. Everything about the business side is a risk. There is always one guarantee and that’s your point fund money. Your risk on a race is that you wad up your car or you don’t make the show or you burn up a bunch of tires. The one kind of guarantee to get you through the offseason is the point fund money.

“I had a child coming. Things around here were shored up and when you take that hit it leaves your racing program in limbo. I’m fortunate to have sponsors who support me and back me, but at the end of the day there’s no excuse to not receive your point fund money.”

Mallett and Martin kept in contact with fellow drivers, comparing information and updates from Mattox as early February turned to the middle of February and eventually late February.

“The checks bounced,” said Martin, whose winner’s portion of the national point fund was $50,000. “I never even deposited mine. Mine was delayed like 10 days from everybody else’s.

“We all expected there might be a little delay in getting our funds because that’s how it’s been with the large amounts. Apparently, some things happened that delayed that process.

“I know Terry doesn’t have that money and he’s waiting on sponsors to pay so he can pay us. We all get it and understand it might be delayed. That was what we were expecting it to be and by the first race in February we were hoping to have our money. Things changed pretty quick when we started getting phone calls.”

This is where the story takes another sharp turn.

On Feb. 21, Mallett said he had three phone conversations with a representative for Hahn.

“He said, ‘I need to ask you a question and you can answer with a yes or no,’” Mallett recalled. “He said, ‘Was your championship check good?’ And I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘We’re finding out nobody’s championship checks are good. (Emmett Hahn) is wanting me to gather this information because we’re trying to do damage control.’

“He called me back an hour later and asked me the amount my check was for. I told him and that was that. I asked him if I was the only one. He told me no and he rattled off there was over $200,000 missing. I called him back shortly later and said, ‘A., is ASCS going to fold?’ And he said, ‘No. It’s not going to fold, but will likely be sold.’ I said, ‘B., am I going to get paid?’ He said, ‘Everything I’ve gathered from him, I believe he is going to pay you all.’”

The night before World Racing Group announced the acquisition, Mallett had his final conversation with the ASCS founder’s representative.

“About a week later I got ahold of him and he told me it was getting sold to the Outlaws,” Mallett stated. “I said, ‘Am I getting paid?’ He said, ‘All I’m going to say is if you want to get paid, you’ll have to go after Terry.’ They were using us as pawns. They had no intention to pay us from the get-go. We all started talking and the reason they were portraying it that way was so we weren’t going to put a lien on ASCS. I’m not stirring the pot. That conversation was extremely frustrating and it was a total 180 from the original conversation when they needed something from me.”

Martin confirmed he also had conversations with the ASCS founder and his representative in late February.

Ward explained things from the Hahn family perspective.

“Right after the Chili Bowl, me and (my wife) Ashleigh went skiing like we always do,” Ward said as he recalled the timeline. “Once we got back, I got phone calls from people saying they didn’t get money or (had) a bad check, stuff like that. Over the next week or two there was more and more. My grandpa was down in Daytona at the time and I waited until he got back.

“I told him the situation of what was going on. The next day he went to his lawyer and drew up some repossession papers and we went and repo-ed the motorhome and trailer and got all of our stuff back,” Ward explained. “Literally two days after that (World Racing Group Chief Executive Officer) Brian Carter was at our office and the rest was history. It took them awhile to get things rolling because there was a lot of moving parts.

“What was said from me to (the drivers) was as soon as we find out what’s going on we would try to get them paid through the previous owner, the one who was running the series. I told all the drivers that I talked to that mentioned my grandpa or World Racing Group, as a business owner yourself if you bought a company that had last year’s whatever they were doing and they owed $200,000, are you going to pay that for them?

“A lot of people thought we still owned it. My grandpa carried the note, but paperwork-wise and legal-wise to the State of Oklahoma and the United States of America Terry owned ASCS. A lot of people still think me and my grandpa still had everything to do with it when we had nothing to do with it.”

Ward said the agreement with Hoosier Racing Tire for money provided to the series each season had stayed in Hahn’s name after the series was sold to Mattox. Ward added that Hahn took interest money he was owed by Mattox before giving him the balance of the money that came from Hoosier.

“The Hoosier money still went to my grandpa and he dispersed it,” he said.

Something was lost in the translation during the week of phone calls between when the series assets were repossessed — when Hahn and Ward had Mattox sign a document that returned ASCS ownership to Hahn — and it was sold to World Racing Group.

Tyler Harris (24), Brandon Anderson (55b) and Jacob Harris (26) battle for position at Louisiana’s Super Bee Speedway. (Tommy Best photo)

Multiple drivers said they were led to believe the 2023 point fund money would be paid as long as they kept quiet and didn’t pursue legal action against ASCS while the sale to World Racing Group was pending.

“We were told it was going to be taken care of and it wasn’t,” Martin said. “That’s why we kept our mouths shut. We were misled and we didn’t know we weren’t going to get paid until after the sale went through.”

Mattox told SPEED SPORT he was working to find a way to pay the 2023 point funds and that he was preparing for the 2024 season when he was told the best thing for everyone was to turn control of ASCS back over to Hahn. 

“I’m sure things could have definitely been handled differently,” said 2023 ASCS National Tour runner-up Matt Covington, whose point fund amount was $30,000. “Terry got put in a hard spot, no doubt about it. It isn’t a deal like Terry is a crook and stole a bunch of money from us. I know Terry, a good guy, and there’s a possibly he’ll pay the other half of my point fund money.”

World Racing Group executive Brian Dunlap, who is the director of broadcast for DIRTVision and who was critical in the development of the Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series for World Racing Group, oversaw the acquisition of ASCS — a move he said didn’t begin until late February.

“(Emmett) was in the process of selling it to Terry,” Dunlap said. “When he took everything back over, he called us. It was a matter of how we all work together. One, are we interested? And two, how do we work to make this succeed and move forward to carry on ASCS?

“We only worked with Emmett on the deal. Emmett called us shortly after taking the series back from Terry.

“The purchase was a trailer, timing and scoring equipment, not a ton of hard assets. Their mailing lists, domains and logos, their intellectual properties. For us to go out and start something new this would have to flounder away and that ultimately hurts the sport. It’s better for the sport to continue a legacy.”

Ward said Hahn originally offered to sell ASCS to World Racing Group in 2021.

“They were on the fence and weren’t quite sure and hesitant,” he said. “That’s when my grandpa said, ‘Let’s give it to Terry and see how it goes.’ There were no talks again (with World Racing Group) until the day my grandpa went to the lawyer to draw up the repo papers. He had either Bryan (Hulbert) or Steve (Hahn) send Dunlap a text message.”

Mattox spoke candidly during a 30-minute phone interview in late April, but he respectfully wrapped up the phone call by saying he didn’t want to be quoted for fear of retribution. He also asked that certain information shared about conversations and the process be kept private to avoid any further confrontation.

Several months after the fiasco began, frustrations continue to be pointed in three different directions. One, at Mattox, who mailed point fund checks that didn’t clear the bank. Two, at Hahn, whose representative allegedly told multiple drivers they would be taken care of regarding owed money and weren’t. And three, at World Racing Group, which didn’t pay any of the point fund debt from previous ownership.

“We got burned on the deal,” said A.G. Rains, whose team finished fourth in the ASCS National Tour standings last season. “I hate it happened. Why it happened I don’t know. I have my suspicions.

“I think it’s shitty a company buys another company knowing there’s debt involved … (and) the previous owners that were financing it didn’t step up and pay anything. I don’t understand how you do business that way.”

Mattox has since paid approximately half of the point fund money owed to the teams — confirmed by Martin, Covington, Mallett and Rains — and he said he intends to pay the balance.

Ward said Hahn didn’t have any desire to continue as owner when he reclaimed ownership of ASCS in February and that he is relieved to finally have the series completely out of his hands.

Meanwhile, World Racing Group is using this season to calm the waters around the ASCS brand.

“There was pressure (to pay last year’s point funds to the drivers) and our big thing was we have to look at this and … we need to invest in ways to help it grow going forward,” Dunlap said. “How does this help make ASCS continue on and move forward and grow in that way? That was our biggest objective. We would have loved to be able to pay all those points funds. We just had to look at what we were buying and how could we best allocate resources.

“It’s tough. We look at every dollar sent to the racer usually gets spent five or six times within the industry. Shorting racers $200,000 shorts the sport about a million before it gets out of the industry.”

There is a lot to untangle from how ASCS transitioned ownership. With several perspectives and each party keeping some of the information out of the public’s eye, aiming to discover the exact truth could lead to the most intense game of connect the dots.

In next week’s Insider, we’ll look at what’s next for ASCS.


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