Senior staff writer
Shortly after the late Rex Robbins founded the American Speed Association, he developed a way to receive surprisingly positive input from the stock car series’ top drivers.
Robbins eventually developed three levels (simply A, B or C) to distribute moneys above the purse paid out at each event. The “A” drivers were the top six drivers in points from the previous season. They were rewarded with the most point fund money the next season because they were the drivers most used in promoting each ASA event.
The system worked, but just as surprising was the input that he received from the top six drivers who made up an advisory group for Robbins that included history-making short track stars Dick Trickle, Mike Eddy and Bob Seneker among others.
I was constantly amazed at the honest advice that they provided Robbins because they bought into the concept of cost containment for all competitors and turned thumbs down on the latest “gimmick” or unproven fad that could make stock cars go faster at a price.
ASA is the group that sent numerous drivers to NASCAR, including superstars Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Alan Kulwicki, Jimmie Johnson and Trickle, who became NASCAR’s oldest Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year.
Make no mistake, Robbins ran ASA with a firm hand but he was a very good listener.
In its founding years, NASCAR czar Bill France Sr., ran the new sanctioning body with an iron fist and even carried a gun to meetings with track owners and car owners. The France family has pretty much operated NASCAR the same way for decades of not allowing drivers to have a unified voice.
Those days are gone thanks to NASCAR chief Brian France and the formation of a drivers’ council more than a year ago. Its members consist of Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kyle Larson.
They have been heard as NASCAR has taken some downforce off its stock cars and recently returned to its five lug nut rule.
Earnhardt backed Stewart’s actions and NASCAR’s decision.
“For a while you had half the people arguing that it policed itself and then you had another group over here that thought it was a safety issue,” Earnhardt said. “It appears that we have everybody on the same team, which I think is great for moving in a better direction. I’m happy that they (NASCAR) are making some choices that are good for the drivers.”
After voicing his opinion of NASCAR’s revised rules at a NASCAR-promoted event last month, Stewart was fined $35,000 by NASCAR officials basically for the way he said it.
Stewart did not have any availability with the media during Goodyear tire tests last week at the Speedway but he did talk about it in a press conference at Talladega. He said there was a sense of urgency to have the lug nut rule changed to the way it was. The Hoosier racer had praise for NASCAR’s Scott Miller and the Driver Council.
“I’ve been trying to figure out how many more $35,000 rules changes I want to make,” Stewart joked with the media at Talladega. “I’m still wondering why I’m paying $35,000 for something that got changed three days later.”
Stewart added that he paid the fine and didn’t want the council to pay it, so the council contributed the amount to charity (Autism Delaware).
At Talladega, Stewart recalled that CART was too politicized when he raced Indy cars. He believes the NASCAR Driver Council will be far more effective.
“It’s validation to NASCAR that this isn’t about one individual group and what we want to help ourselves,”
Stewart observed. “It’s what we think as a group is best for everybody. That is why it’s so important to have this started. NASCAR had done a great job with it … I feel really strong that there is a lot of good leadership on the council right now and that the foundation that is being laid there will carry on for years to come down the road.”
Stewart did get one benefit from voicing his opinion: he now has Brian France’s phone number.
*The fourth annual Ed Bishop Memorial 75-lap Figure-8 championship unfolds Saturday at the Indianapolis Speedrome. Bishop was a longtime Southside automobile dealer and member of the track’s Hall of Fame.
Opening night Figure-8 winner Austin Tunny is the defending event champion. Racing starts at 7 p.m.
*Popular CRA Super Series Late Models return to Anderson Speedway for a 75-lap race Saturday at 8 p.m. Seeking his third straight series title, Franklin Township’s Jack Dossey III won the McGunegill Engine Performance Late Models feature on opening night. The series resumes May 21 at 8 p.m. Hope Hornish, a niece of Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr., competes in the series.
*A few reserved seat tickets remain for the 100th Indianapolis 500 with a sell-out assured for the first time in many years. General admission tickets also can be purchased at ims.com or call 492-6700 as well as tickets for Angie’s List Grand Prix road course race (May 14) Parking inside the track is sold out for Carb Day (May 27) and Race Day (May 29) but still available for Legends Day (May 28).
*Indianapolis 500 winners Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan plus drivers James Hinchcliffe, Will Power and Conor Daly will be contestants on “Celebrity Family Feud,” against five Sports Illustrated swimsuit models. Air time will be announced later on ABC-TV.