The Southern All Star (SAS) Dirt Racing Series has been sanctioning Dirt Late Model events in the Southeast since 1983. Since its inception, the tour has sanctioned over 780 events. Throughout its 35-year history, 184 different competitors have picked up wins with the series. In addition, the tour has launched the careers of some of the top Dirt Late Model pilots in the sport.
OneDirt recently caught up with Lynn Acklin, who is the veteran general manager for the SAS series. In this quick-hitting interview, presented by AR Bodies, we talked about the past, present, and future of one of America’s original touring sanctions.
OneDirt: What led to the creation of the Southern All Star Dirt Racing Series?
Lynn Acklin: Alabama racing promoter, B.J. Parker, created the tour in 1983 with Sam Bates from North Alabama Speedway. They started it to give southern drivers who ran weekly Super Late Models a chance to occasionally go to other tracks and run for bigger purses. They held the first event at Gulf Coast Checkered Flag Speedway in Biloxi, Mississippi, in March of that year and went on to have 12 more races, that first season.
B.J. was pretty surprised when the first few races drew drivers from all across the South. He didn’t have a name for the series yet, but when he saw all of the best drivers converging on his races, he decided to name the tour the Southern All Star Series. I guess you could say the rest is history.
OD: What was B.J. Parker’s background?
LA: B.J. did all kinds of stuff. He worked at a gas station and drove a gas truck. He raced on asphalt at Birmingham and the old Iron Bowl in Midfield, Alabama. The irony of him being so known for his dirt racing promotions is that he spent almost his whole driving career racing on asphalt.
When he wasn’t in his familiar number 42 race car, he promoted events throughout the area, and that’s where he really found his niche.
OD: B.J. Parker was known as a very wise man. Do you have a favorite quote or saying of his?
LA: B.J. passed away back in 2011, but his sayings and quotes still rattle around in my head on almost a daily basis. One of my favorites was always, “When I started promoting racing, drivers loved their race cars more than anything and always found a way to race. Nowadays drivers have too many other things to do, so they don’t love their cars like they used to.”
I realize now that he’s right. Guys used to do everything that they could to get to the track each week, and now it seems like some just try to find reasons they can’t go.
You learn more listening than you do talking. – B.J. Parker
Another of my favorite quotes from B.J. was, “You learn more listening than you do talking.” Today more than ever I think we can all learn something from that.
OD: When did you become involved with the series?
LA: I had a regional racing newspaper – called TAG (Tennessee Alabama Georgia) Racing News. We covered racing in the area, until 1988 when Sam Holbrook from Behind The Wheel bought me out.
In 1989, Ben Atkinson and B.J. Parker started the Southern All Star Asphalt Racing Series. They called and asked if I’d like to go work for the series because they knew I had a background in pavement racing. I worked for the asphalt tour until 1999. During that 10-year period, I only went to about a dozen or so dirt races.
Then, B.J. called me in 1999 and said he was scaling back his involvement with the dirt series due to his health and other factors. He wanted me to run the dirt series for him. At the time, I had no clue on exactly what I would need to do, but he told me that he knew I’d do great. Roughly 20 years later, and I’m still the series general manager, so I figure I’ve been doing something right.
OD: When did current owner, Matt Wagner buy the Southern All Stars? How did that situation come together?
LA: B.J. Parker sold the tour in 2003 to Charles Roberts from Hoosier Tire. It, literally, all transpired during the course of a race night at the Dirt Track at Charlotte. Charles owned it until 2013 when he sold it to Matt Wagner. Matt had a background in asphalt racing and had been a long-time friend of mine. He’d mentioned before that he’d like to get involved in dirt racing, and then suddenly, one day he owned the Southern All Star Dirt Racing Series. He’s done a great job with it in the five or so years that he’s owned it.
I often laughingly tell people that I’ve been sold to every owner who has ever bought the series.
OD: Do you have an all-time favorite memory from a Southern All Star event?
LA: The final lap of the very first March Madness at Cherokee Speedway in 2003, with Duayne Hommel, Earl Pearson Jr., and Chris Madden, is forever burned into my memory. Hommel was running Third on the final lap and made a banzai move to go three-wide with Pearson Jr. and Madden coming to the checkers. Hommel ends up spinning all three of them, and Fourth-place Donnie Moran sneaks past for the win.
Hommel made them even madder, when after the race he said, “I came to run First, not Third.” Pearson Jr. and Madden thought the $10,000 First-place money should’ve been split between them, but I told them I couldn’t do that because Moran snuck past all of them for the win. It was quite the event.
OD: The SAS series has launched some great careers. Who do you think are the top two or three most talented drivers that the tour has produced?
LA: I’ve always said that if you look at the top guys over the years from series like Hav-A-Tampa, the World of Outlaws, and the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, a lot of them started racing with us. Drivers like Dale McDowell, Clint Smith, and Chris Madden all cut their teeth with us.
At the time we started the series, there was just SAS and the National Dirt Racing Association (NDRA). If it wasn’t for B.J. Parker taking a chance, you wouldn’t see all of these other regional series that you see today. He showed them how it was done and what could be accomplished.
Our series is designed for a Friday and Saturday night regular guy. In fact, I was most proud at this year’s Governor’s Cup at Talladega Short Track. I had 45 cars for a $10,000-to-win race against a $50,000-to-win show at Florence Speedway in Kentucky. That night, there wasn’t a guy in my pits who races for a living. The national tours are designed for the guys who race for a living. We are for the working guy.
OD: What’s the biggest challenge for running a Dirt Late Model Series in today’s world?
LA: A promoter wants one thing and the driver wants something else. It’s a double-edged sword. Sometimes you can’t appease both. It’s hard to find that happy medium where promoters can have a special event they can afford, and racers can afford to race for the purse posted. My number one goal is making sure promoters make money, but at the same time, I’m always doing all that I can to look out for our racers.
I also want to say that bodies are the biggest problem we have in Dirt Late Models right now. These bodies require more expensive shocks to keep the cars glued to the ground, which also allows teams to run bigger motors. With the way the cars are sealed off to the ground now with no air, we are getting one step away from pavement racing.
OD: There’s lots of great tracks on the tour now, but what’s the one track that’s no longer in operation that you miss the most?
LA: I really miss Cleveland Speedway. Joe Lee Johnson was the first promoter to ever pay B.J. Parker a sanction fee. He believed in what B.J. was trying to do and supported him wholeheartedly. As a series, we loved going there, and the drivers did too.
OD: The SAS has some great sponsors, and AR Bodies is definitely one of them. How important has their support been for the Southern All Star Dirt Racing Series?
LA: I’ve been working with the guys at AR Bodies since all the way back in 1989, when I was working with the SAS Asphalt Racing Series. When they ventured into the dirt racing market, they joined our SAS Dirt Racing Series. Jerry [Criswell] and Roy [Dies] have been an integral part of our series.
This season, they not only sponsored our series but also once again spearheaded the AR Bodies Challenge. The program offers an additional point’s fund to drivers, who are running an AR Bodies nose. It’s companies like AR Bodies, who make a difference in our sport. More than that, they are great friends and great people.
OD: What are some of the goals for the Southern All Star Dirt Racing Series as you embark on the next five years?
LA: Honestly, survival is the biggest goal. Right now, you never know what’s around the corner, so you have to handle things on a day-to-day basis. It’s not just us. It’s all the series. We’re in this battle together. After having them on board for 10 years, we lost our title sponsor, O’Reilly’s Auto Parts, to NASCAR in 2009. Earlier in our existence, we lost Busch Beer as a title sponsor to NASCAR.
Somehow, someway I’d love to add another title sponsor.
Last, but not least I’d love to get more $10,000-to-win shows for our guys.