Craig Murto: St. Amant regrets biggest mistake

Gary St. Amant doesn’t spend much time looking in the mirror; as racers do, he keeps moving forward, always looking ahead.

But after thrashing as crew chief on Travis Braden’s ARCA/CRA Super Series championship-winning car in the pits at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., and still failing to qualify for the Snowball Derby due to a setup mistake that got the car disqualified, St. Amant — a former Snowball Derby winning driver — took some time to reflect.

The 1998 and 2000 ASA National Champion last raced full time in 2008, in the Hooters Pro Cup Series. Though he’s only been behind the wheel a few times since, he’s kept himself busy. Racing is what he knows.

“I only raced local really for one year, full time; 1986 was my rookie year in ASA,” said St. Amant. “Those first years I raced in ASA against Dick Trickle, Mark Martin, Bob Senneker and Mike Eddy, I was a back marker. I learned how to get lapped; I learned how to be a courteous racecar driver. It wasn’t until I moved back from [working for] Port City Racing in 1990 that I really became a full-time racer.”

Racing’s really all he’s done, even before he became a driver. After seven years working for JEGS, St. Amant took a job at Port City Racing.

“When I look back on my life the best decision I ever made was moving to Michigan and living there for three years [to work for Port City]. It’s funny, there’s so many things in my life that pertain to racing, but ultimately it comes back to real-life situations. Mike Eddy taught me a lot about racing, but a lot of the stuff he taught me was pertaining to life.”

Surrounded by a lot of good people, he learned a lot of useful skills working in the Wolverine state, including how to hang a racecar body.

“Mike Garvey was so good at hanging a body I said to myself, ‘I want to be as good as Mike.'”

St. Amant knew how to be good, and he knew how to be consistent. In 1998 Scott Hansen had six wins and St. Amant had two, but Gary still grabbed the ASA title by more than 200 points. And in 2000, with three wins during the year, St. Amant beat Kevin Cywinski by almost 500 points. Following the two ASA titles, five years of consistency in the Pro Cup series netted two wins and three years in the top-10 in points. But St. Amant gave up full-time driving after the 2008 season.

“Things happened in my life,” St. Amant stated. “That suspension from NASCAR really took the wind out of my sails. We lost funding to do it myself, and we were racing with Brett Butler and went to Bristol, and that’s when it all happened.”

It was Sept. 2009 when NASCAR publicly announced that Gary St. Amant was suspended for violating its drug policy; he failed a drug test. At the time he was working for Tatman Motorsports, which fielded Pro Cup cars for Brett Butler, as well as entering him in a few NASCAR Truck races. St. Amant was crew chief and driver coach.

“I’ve always been a look-forward guy, I never look back,” St. Amant said. “But that’s one thing that I do wish I could have changed. But I couldn’t and I’ve dealt with it.”

Dealing with it wasn’t easy.

“I always remember that first PRI Show (Performance Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis) I went to after it happened and I felt like I was walking into a different world,” St. Amant revealed. “Here’s all my friends looking at me after I had a drug issue supposedly — I smoked a little pot and tested positive for THC.”

He felt uncomfortable, and wondered if he still belonged. But it didn’t take long at the show for him to realize it would be OK. He walked up to a parts manufacturer he knew who brought up the suspension and told him, “Hell, you still look like the same Gary St. Amant that I’ve seen race over the years.”

“From that point on I started to feel more comfortable and felt like everybody still looked at me as the same person, which meant an awful lot to me in the racing world,” said St. Amant.

He can’t change what happened, but he can make sure it’s history that doesn’t repeat itself. He learns from his mistakes, and keeps looking forward.

“Definitely not worth it; never see me doing that again.”

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.