“The All Stars are a place for guys on the way up and guys on the way down.”
Both series head-honcho Bert Emick and Competition Director Rick Nichols repeated that mission statement often back when Bert, his wife Brigitte, Jean Lynch and Earl Baltes were the owners of the sanctioning body.
It was a series that always knew what it was, and it serves a vital purpose in winged sprint car racing.
After Ted Johnson launched the World of Outlaws in 1978 and it began to take form – with a real schedule and real hot dogs traveling the circuit – transitioning from local weekend racer to traveling racer with the Outlaws was a daunting challenge.
So, as Bert and Rick both said, it was a great place for drivers growing their career who weren’t yet prepared to jump into a difficult – and expensive – commitment of a full World of Outlaws tour. A team could race 60-plus shows with the All Star Circuit of Champions, mainly centered in and around Ohio limiting travel costs, and many of the racers that made up the field were also able to hold down day jobs, as they could always be home by Monday morning.
Most importantly, that driver/team was able to learn to compete against top-level racers, learn to adapt to multiple tracks, and learn to work out of a trailer out on the road (even if it was on the other side of the state, as opposed to the other side of the country).
As for the “guys on the way down,” the series also served them well. The saying didn’t refer to has-beens, but more to racers whose situations no longer allowed them to stay out with the Outlaws. If a racer had to pull off the Outlaw trail, he could have a place to run with the All Stars. Kenny Jacobs, Dale Blaney, Tim Shaffer and Chad Kemenah are examples of racers who pulled off the Outlaw schedule and had great careers with the All Stars.
Bert always did his best to leave the schedule open for his racers to compete in the Knoxville Nationals and other premier Outlaw events, and never went head-to-head with local Outlaw shows, allowing his regulars to compete with them if they desired.
The All Star lineup was always tough. In 1997, for example, the top-10 All Star point finishers included champion Frankie Kerr, and runner-up Kenny Jacobs, with Keith Kauffman, Dean Jacobs, Dale Blaney, Tyler Walker, Danny Smith, Terry McCarl, Brian Carlson and Tim Shaffer making up the balance of the top 10.
Seven out of those 10 are National Sprint Car Hall of Famers (Shaffer was to be inducted in 2020 but, due to COVID, will instead be inducted this year).
However, in 2002, the series was sold to Illinois car owner Guy Webb, and there’s no delicate way to put it: the series was suddenly facing an uncertain future. There were still talented racers competing with the All Stars, but the series was much less stable … on several fronts.
Thankfully, the ASCS National Tour was still a stable training ground for drivers looking to learn how to travel and run with the Outlaws. Despite using 360ci powerplants as opposed to 410s, the series has helped advance the careers of several of today’s top sprint car drivers and continues to do so.
Simply put, winning an ASCS National Tour event ain’t easy.
Finally, in 2015, when Tony Stewart purchased the All Stars, a stabilization period began. Today the series is secure, and it appears that it will serve its intended role for years to come.
This season, Aaron Reutzel, the series’ three-time consecutive champion, moved to Dennis and Teresa Roth’s No. 83 and a full-time ride with the Outlaws.
On March 30, 11 full-time runners were announced for the new All Star season.
Reigning point runner-up Cory Eliason has returned to battle for the title. Third-place finisher and Rookie of the Year Zeb Wise is back full time as well.
T.J. Michael has run two full All Star seasons in the past. The Texas racer lives in Fremont, Ohio, during the summer and has returned for a third full-time run with the ASCoC.
Justin Peck has joined forces with Buch Motorsports and, after starting this season with Pennsylvania wins at Port Royal Speedway and Williams Grove Speedway, won the first All Star points race in a bid for the title.
Tyler Courtney and Hunter Schuerenberg are both working to transition from success in non-winged sprint cars to winged racing. A full season with the All Stars is a smart move for them.
Kyle Reinhardt has proven he can win at tough tracks like Port Royal and Selinsgrove Speedway, and is transitioning from PA Posse to traveler by running a full All Star schedule.
Bill Balog won 12 IRA Outlaw Sprint Series features in 2020 on his way to earning his record 10th IRA championship. The Alaskan hotshoe hopes to earn an All Star title in 2021.
Brent Marks and Lucas Wolfe have both been successful with the PA Posse, and both have been full-time Outlaws. This year, both are running full time with the All Stars.
Veteran World of Outlaws racer Ian Madsen has signed on to compete for the All Star championship. Without a full-time Outlaws ride, it’s tough to make a living in sprint cars racing near his Iowa home. At this writing, 62 events comprise the All Stars schedule, making the All Star tour a perfect choice for the younger Madsen.
Here’s to the All Star Circuit of Champions and what should prove to be another exciting season!