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New SAS owner's angle: 'What would B.J. do?'

May 1, 2012, 6:56 am
By Joshua Joiner
DirtonDirt.com staff writer

The Southern All Star Dirt Racing Series is returning to its native state with the sale of Dirt Late Model racing’s longest running tour. Matt Wagner of Huntsville, Ala., purchased the series from Tennesseans Charles Roberts and David Miller, series publicist Lynn Acklin announced Monday.

Roberts and Miller purchased the series from legendary tour founder B.J. Parker of Graysville, Ala., in 2004, and Wagner, 51, is a close friend of the Parker family. Along with operating Wagner Racing Tires, Wagner works with Gail Parker on the Southern Superstars Short Track Series, an asphalt tour B.J. Parker operated before his death last April.

“It’s going to be a new experience. I’ve been in racing all my life. Mainly asphalt, but I’ve done some dirt racing,” said Wagner, who also owns asphalt race cars driven by his son Chris Wagner. “I knew B.J. most my life and going into this, I’m going off the model ‘What would B.J. do?’ ”

Wagner, who is making his first foray into series promoting, plans to continue with the current series staff, including Acklin, a protege of Parker who has been involved with the series for many years. Acklin announced Tuesday the series had hired Chris Tilley as the tour's race director.

“As far as promoting, I’ve never done it so it’s new to me,” Wagner said. “Lynn, he’s been doing this for long, long time so he’s in charge of the daily operations. He knows how it runs. We’re just gonna kinda pull from his experience and everything he learned from B.J.”

While he’ll leave the day-to-day operations to Acklin, Wagner plans to make sure the main focus of the series is to attract more sponsorship and make following the tour less expensive for race teams. The tour enjoyed title sponsorship from O’Reilly Auto Parts from 2001 to 2007.

“Obviously, we’d like to find a (title) sponsor, but another thing I want to do is get more product and contingency sponsors for each race,” Wagner said. “Anything we can get to help the drivers, we want to do it. I’m a racer myself. Owning a couple asphalt cars, I know how expensive it is on drivers so I want to do everything I can to help them and make sure they can afford to come to our races.”

Making the tour more financially attractive for drivers was a major concern for former owners Roberts and Miller over the offseason as SAS faced competition from other regional tours that offered lower purse structures.

Miller said at December’s International Motorsports Industry Show in Indianapolis, Ind., that officials were weighing whether to compete with the option of a lower purse structure or add more $10,000-to-win races to draw more distinction.

For 2012, the Southern All Stars ended up releasing a 17-race schedule with two $10,000-to-win events along with eight races paying $3,500 to the winner after a number of years without sanctioning races under $5,000.

Wagner said increasing race payouts was something he’d like to do, but that it wouldn’t be a change the tour would make immediately.

“With the economy the way it is, you’ve got to be smart about how you do things, so we just want to kinda go back to basics and keep it simple,” Wagner said. “I wish every race could pay more money, but we’ve got to keep it where tracks can afford to host our races.”

The Southern All Stars launched under Parker’s direction in 1983 and the tour’s list of champions includes Don Hester, Jerry Inmon, Ronnie Johnson, Jeff Purvis, Mike Head, Clint Smith, Dale McDowell, Chris Madden and Rex Richey.

The series has hosted two events in 2012, with Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., and Vic Hill of Mosheim, Tenn., splitting victories. Wagner will attend his first race as the series owner Saturday night when the tour visits Talladega Short Track in Eastaboga, Ala., for a $3,500-to-win event.

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