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Seth Bergman, driving Wayne Johnson’s No. 2c car, won the ASCS season opener at Super Bee Speedway. (Tommy Best photo)

ASCS: What’s Next?

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part story investigating the sale of the American Sprint Car Series. It explores what’s next for the 33-year-old sanctioning body.

Change has been the theme of the American Sprint Car Series throughout the first half of 2024.

On March 1, the day originally scheduled as the season opener for the ASCS National Tour, World Racing Group announced it had acquired the 360 winged sprint car series, which currently features a national tour and eight regional series.

A week later a new point fund and tow-money structure were revealed. Several schedule changes occurred in the following weeks as the ASCS National Tour shifted from 49 races scheduled by previous owner Terry Mattox to the current plan of 37 races. The race night format and rules were adjusted as well.

Lonnie Wheatley was hired as the series director and Cody Cordell as competition director.

It was certainly a lot to manage with the season opener occurring on April 19.

“The biggest thing we had to do once it was all said and done was figure out what we acquired,” said World Racing Group executive Brian Dunlap, who oversaw the acquisition of ASCS. “What schedule dates were firm. There were some events that were co-promoted or promoted by the previous ownership. There were a lot of handshake deals. It took Lonnie Wheatley calling and working race by race. With that there were some holes. How do we fill these holes? And how do we make more financial sense for teams?”

A point fund of $152,000 was established with the 2024 champion earning $40,000 and the top-10 eligible drivers receiving at least $6,000. The tow money for the top five in the ASCS National Tour standings is $400 per night with drivers sitting sixth through 10th in the standings receiving $300 per night. Also of note, the second night of a two-night event offers 50 percent tow money.

“It’s all about the balancing act,” Dunlap said. “Whatever we do it has to be sustainable. We saw that it was easy to overpromise and then not be able to deliver on that for the long term. For the health of the sport, we need a show that is priced so the race tracks are successful and the teams are successful and we can keep it sustainable going forward. As we pick up sponsorship and dates, we’ll gladly look at restructuring for everyone with teams and tracks.”

The new point-fund and tow-money structure was met with some frustration from the drivers.

“I’m big on start money being $500 and tow money being $500,” said Matt Covington, who has been a regular with the ASCS National Tour for more than a decade. “A local guy that maybe doesn’t have the nicest stuff is pretty sure he isn’t going to win the race, but he has a chance to start the race. When the National Tour was in its heyday in ’09, ’10 it was $500 or $600 to start and $500 tow money.”

While Covington is committed to running full time with the ASCS National Tour this season, Jordon Mallett — last year’s third-place finisher in the championship standings — has selected a pick-and-choose schedule.

Jason Martin takes the checkered flag during last year’s ASCS National Tour visit to 81 Speedway in Kansas. (TWC photo)

“Once they released the new point fund and tow-money plan … we wouldn’t run because they didn’t match what we have had,” he said. “They had cut 25 percent off the championship purse. I’m devaluing myself and showing them I’ll run for less money. I felt they should at least match that. With that said, I’ll still support the series and will race. I just won’t run for points. That doesn’t mean that if next year the point fund and tow money go back to where they’ve been the last few years, we won’t return to be a full-time ASCS National Tour racer.”

Defending ASCS National Tour champion Jason Martin hasn’t officially committed to racing with the series full time this year.

“I was supposed to be getting double tow money, so $800 per night,” he said as the previous champion received double tow money under previous ASCS ownership. “They said everybody in the top five is getting $400 and sixth to 10th is getting $300. I didn’t appreciate the fact they cut that and my tow money was cut substantially. We were supposed to be getting double tow money and 50 races. At the end of the day, I have to worry about making a living driving a race car.”

While the financial part has been a point of contention, all three drivers attended the ASCS National Tour’s season-opening race and stated it is obvious World Racing Group is making an investment into the series.

“I think it’s a good thing for the sport going forward because of the stability of it,” Martin said of the new ownership. “They’ve already invested a lot of money in it. There was more personnel at the race at Super Bee Speedway (on April 19) than I’ve ever seen around ASCS.

“There are still some unanswered questions about what’s the direction of the series. There’s a lot of rumbling about what we are going to do with motor programs and rules. I will continue with the series until I get a warm, fuzzy feeling, or not.”

With the cost of 360 sprint car competition on the rise, Dunlap noted that World Racing Group officials are eying changes that are helpful to the teams financially.

“It’s going to be very tough on the engine front,” he said. “We need to sit down and have conversations with engine builders about their thoughts and ideas. Clearly, parts are parts, so it is tough to ask an engine builder to charge less because of the cubic inch of the motor. We need to get our hands around what we need to do to make rules that make things live longer. Adding stability also adds resale value to motors and other items. It makes those assets an easier investment for a team knowing there is going to be an outlet to sell them.”

Along with some rule changes and procedural changes that aligned with other World Racing Group series, the ASCS National Tour will have a dedicated fire and rescue team at each race and all shows will be streamed live via DIRTVision.

One of the biggest question marks surrounding the acquisition is what the long-term plan for ASCS competition is at both the national and regional level. One idea that was shut down quickly was the thought that World Racing Group bought the series to eliminate 360 sprint car racing. Another popular opinion voiced is that ASCS was acquired for the content it provided DIRTVision. 

“Our biggest driver for this was really what the role ASCS plays in sprint car racing as a whole and the need we have to be thinking about what sprint car racing looks like five and 10 years from now on a national side,” Dunlap said. “We need strong, regional and local sprint car racing to build up to ensure the strength of the sport as we look down the road. We can’t just have nationally traveling sprint car teams.

“We see it with it building fans. It gets sprint car racing into markets and race tracks that may not get to host a World of Outlaws event, but they can host an ASCS show. We can hopefully build a sprint car fan base and teams up to use as a stepping-stone.”

Dunlap hopes a strong foundation is laid throughout the 2024 season that can be built upon.

“A strong national tour has always been a priority and still is, but I also want to take and expand that to the regional level and build strong regions of sprint car racing throughout the country to help the entire sport grow,” he said. “I want to focus on that regional side of things so when the ASCS National Tour comes through there’s cars to race and when the Outlaws come through there’s fans excited because they’re exposed to it.”

Stability is the common word used by several of the national drivers as well as Dunlap.

“There was lot to dig out from under,” he said. “It’s a legacy that’s important. The sprint car fan in me, it played a big role in my life. You hate to see that tarnished. We felt we could come in and provide that stability to get it back to where it was a viable product.”


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