Joey Clanton and Steve Dale Motorsports win the 2002 ASA Championship WINCHESTER, Ind. (October 7, 2002) - By the closest margin in American Speed Association (ASA) history, Joey Clanton and the Camp Fire USA Georgia Council team captured the...
Joey Clanton and Steve Dale Motorsports win the 2002 ASA Championship
WINCHESTER, Ind. (October 7, 2002) - By the closest margin in American Speed Association (ASA) history, Joey Clanton and the Camp Fire USA Georgia Council team captured the 2002 National Championship Sunday at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway. While the trophy will be heading home to Georgia, the championship nearly slipped through the team's fingers after Clanton was involved in two late-race accidents that nearly destroyed the No. 83 Steve Dale Motorsports Chevy.
When the green flag dropped for Sunday afternoon's event, Clanton sat just 11 points ahead of two-time ASA champion Gary St. Amant. Prior to the race, the team calculated that in order for St. Amant to steal the championship, he would need to finish better than two positions ahead of Clanton.
The race looked like it would be Clanton's to lose. After starting the event in third and despite his dominant car, Clanton fell back to allow others to lead. After a speedy pit stop following the third caution of the event, his pit crew at lap 111 put Clanton into the lead. Leading the race for one lap allowed the team to gain five valuable bonus points.
With a $200,000 championship purse on the line, as well as bragging rights, Clanton once again fell back to allow others to pace the field through nearly the next 200 laps. On lap 316, Clanton was behind leader Mike Garvey when Garvey's car suddenly slowed. Clanton and Garvey made contact before Todd Kluever's car smashed into the back of the No. 83. With the right rear of the Camp Fire USA Georgia Council Chevy heavily damaged, Clanton drove into the pits twice to allow the crew to fix the car. Despite the valiant effort by the team, the car and Clanton were in trouble.
While the team made the needed repairs, rival Gary St. Amant crept into the lead. Clanton drove the No. 83 Chevy back onto the track, but the car was hardly in race form. On lap 340, just as the right rear tire of the No. 83 began to go, St. Amant edged up onto Clanton's bumper. St. Amant, unaware of Clanton's tire problem, hit the back of Clanton's slowing car. The damage to the No. 83 Camp Fire USA Georgia Council Chevy was extensive.
Following the second accident the team's hopes for the championship were nearly crushed. With less than 10 laps left in the 400-lap race, St. Amant was leading the field while Clanton, several laps down, was struggling to maintain his position in fourth. If the event had ended at that point, St. Amant would have won the championship by four points.
But as luck would have it, Clanton and the No. 83 Camp Fire USA Georgia Council team caught the break of a lifetime. Rookie Kyle Busch was running in the third position when his left rear tire blew. The incident took Busch out of the race and allowed Clanton to advance into the third position. With St. Amant riding in first and Clanton in third, Clanton was back in contention for the championship with just five laps to go.
The field took the restart at lap 396 and Clanton knew he would need to nurse the No. 83 Chevy to the finish line. Clanton held on and crossed the finish line third, while St. Amant claimed the win. With Clanton finishing third, St. Amant's victory wasn't enough. The team's margin over St. Amant in the championship race was just one point.
It was the happiest Clanton has ever been following a third-place finish. "This championship is for Camp Fire USA and our car owner Steve Dale.
"Thank you to Steve, Linda and his whole family," exclaimed Clanton. "Nobody thought that we would be able to do something like this when the year started. But we hung in there and this is just awesome."
Awesome just doesn't seem to sum up the Steve Dale Motorsports efforts in 2002. Joey Clanton and his team finish the season with nine victories, the most laps led and the quickest pit stops on the circuit. Awesome maybe, but the team went above and beyond this year. Team owner Steve Dale could hardly sum up the words to express his feelings.
"I've been in racing my entire life and I have seen my father win races, I've won races and I have watched Joey win races," explained Dale. "But this is best moment of my racing career. To win a championship in ASA means you have beat the best short track racers out there. Gary [St. Amant] has won the championship twice and he gave us a run for our money right up to the end."