Commentary

Weaver: This is Starting to Feel Like the All-American 400

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Now this is more like it.

Back in 1981, All Pro Series president Bob Harmon and ASA president Rex L. Robbins met to discuss the creation of an event that might someday grow into the greatest showcase in the country for short track teams and drivers.

That dream was realized in the form of the All-American 400, an event that grew to be viewed as the most important Super Late Model race of the season — equal to if not greater than the Snowball Derby. It was deemed the Civil War on Wheels, boldly appropriate as it invited teams from both directions on the map to collide in the centralized location of Nashville, Tennessee.

It was important due to its size and scale, but also because any race at venerable Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville is worth savoring. The list of winners include Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Butch Miller, Gary Balough, Mike Garvey and Freddie Query, which makes Victory Lane at the country’s oldest track an undisputed path to greatness.

“You just look at the list of winners and that’s something you want to be a part of,” expected contender Bret Holmes said. “The competition level has always been so evenly matched. To end up on top here said a lot about you, your car and your team.”

But like any event, the All-American 400 has endured its unfortunate share of peaks and valleys. The construction of now defunct Nashville Superspeedway set the fairgrounds back for quite awhile. NASCAR’s decision to strip All Pro away from venues like FSN to send them to bigger tracks certainly didn’t help.

The race was largely lost for a decade, contested using split 200-lap formats between both the Pro and Super Late Models respectively. The Pro All Stars Series had a run at it with a 400-lap Super race back in 2012 but it became burdened by rain and a public relations nightmare.

The 2013 race served as the Southern Super Series championship finale and might have been the most exciting Super Late Model race of the past decade as Chase Elliott won from the back of the field while Daniel Hemric claimed the SSS championship by just a single point over Bubba Pollard.

But such goodness wasn’t meant to last as the track made the decision to switch to Pro Lates for 2014 and 2015. The concept intended to provide a massive payday for the local crate motor teams while also inviting a greater entry list than the two that preceded it.

While the result wasn’t a total failure and drew quality fields while putting on a fun show, it simply didn’t feel like the All-American 400.

“This needs to be a Super Late Model race,” Pollard said. “Look at who has won it and the cars they drove. It became a big race because of that history. Super Late Model teams are the best in the country. The Pros put on good shows but I think of Supers when it comes to what short track racing is all about.

“This is just supposed to be a Super Late Model race.”

The Daytona 500 isn’t contested with ARCA cars. The biggest races generate an air of excitement because they feature the best drivers piloting the most-elite machines in short track racing. And based on the entry list for Sunday’s race, it seems the industry agrees.

Pollard will be joined by reigning Southern Super Series champion Donnie Wilson, Midwest Tour champion Ty Majeski, two-time Snowball Derby winner Augie Grill, ARCA winner Dalton Sargeant and likely NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion Todd Gilliland. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. With 42 cars on the official  entry list, the All-American 400 is actually going to send several cars home.

That’s a rarity in today’s Super Late landscape.

But teams will risk that outcome because this race, or more specifically this version of it is worth it. This is what Harmon and Robbins envisioned when they created the event back in 1981. This is a great showcase for the best teams in the discipline.

So let’s rock and roll.

About Matt Weaver

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Matt Weaver is the owner and founder of Short Track Scene. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He is also the associate motorsports editor of Autoweek Magazine and its website, which allows him to cover the highest levels of the sport.

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