Written by Susan Wade.

Losing NASCAR Race at Clermont Track Could Evoke Clause in Naming Rights Contract

Hoosiers understand it and appreciate it more so than anybody else. But the cozy five-eighths-mile oval at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis -- home of drag Forrest_Lucas_pic1racing's storied U.S. Nationals -- is a NASCAR fan and driver favorite for its close-to-the-action, grassroots feel and reasonable ticket prices.

Now NASCAR has yanked away its Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series events from NHRA-owned Lucas Oil Raceway in Clermont, saying its participation in the annual Kroger SpeedFest lineup July 28-30 will be its last there.

NASCAR announced July 6 that starting in 2012, the NASCAR Nationwide Series event will move down the road to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That will consolidate its Brickyard 400 Spring Cup Series program. A new location for the Camping World Truck Series event has yet to be determined.

Wes Collier, general manager of Lucas Oil Raceway, said NASCAR "was under pressure to inject some excitement into that event."

Collier said the decision left the NHRA and its interests "on the outside looking in." And it left the drag racing sanctioning body and its Midwest marquee facility with another major problem.

Forrest Lucas, president and CEO of Lucas Oil Products, wants to negotiate his naming-rights lease. His issue is not with the NHRA, but rather with the actions of NASCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Just the same, the situation has changed since Lucas Oil became title sponsor of the facility in January.

"We're going to have to get the negotiating started. We did have a clause in there that if we lost it [NASCAR's business], we could back out, because that's the main reason we did it," Lucas told Thursday.

"We have some dealings with NASCAR. We're sponsoring three pick-up truck races. We have one this coming weekend in Nashville that we sponsor. The last several years we've done the one in Phoenix and Iowa Speedway. We want to have some something to do with it," he said. "But this [at Indianapolis] was going to be our biggest part of all because we have the Nationwide part of it."

NASCAR's Nationwide Series (and its previous iterations) have competed since 1982 -- a dozen years before the Brickyard race came to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- at the facility located between the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the enclave of racing shops in Brownsburg. NASCAR's truck series began racing there in 1995. Legend A.J. Foyt won the first oval race there in 1961, when the track was a dirt track. So the facility has a rich NASCAR tradition.

Lucas and wife Charlotte are native Hoosiers. He's from Corydon, Ind., where his global company's production plant is located. And Hoosiers are known for having common sense as their compasses. So it's no wonder he sees the switch as an ill-considered decision that he has been told NASCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway made jointly.

"It's truly about the fans who are going to suffer emotionally. So I hate it for them," Lucas said. "People come there [to Lucas Oil Raceway] to watch those races. They plan their whole year around having a vacation to come there and watch that weekend of racing. And the people there have suites and season tickets and all these things they've had for years -- just to watch that. The money they've invested has certainly lost a great deal of value."


General Manager Wes Collier gathered his Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis nationwide-series-at-indystaff last week and put on the happiest face he could. He broke to them the news that NASCAR had decided to move two of the racetrack's highest-profile events down the road to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
What's known today as the NASCAR Nationwide Series race will make its 30th and final appearance there next week as part of the popular Kroger Speedfest that includes USAC Midget and Silver Crown and ARCA events. The Camping World Truck Series will leave Lucas Oil Raceway, as well.
The Brickyard 400 undercard had been a fixture at the Clermont, Ind., facility since 1982 -- 12 years before the Brickyard 400 arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The trucks had competed since 1995 at the facility that hosts the NHRA's oldest and most prestigious event, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.
"When one door closes, one door opens," he told the staff. "We're disappointed. It's the end of an era. But don't get too down about it."
Both he and Scott Smith, the facility's senior communications manager, said Lucas Oil Raceway has been fielding inquiries, as well as reaching out to other entities about filling the void NASCAR caused. And both said they're optimistic about quality events coming to the NHRA-owned facility.
"We have no shortage of options," Collier said. "The phones have been ringing off the hook. The number of inquiries is greater than the number of nights we have available. It's just a matter of doing our due diligence. We're excited about the future. We're moving ahead, full-steam ahead. We're not going to focus on the negatives."
A glaring negative might be the certainty that Forrest Lucas, president and CEO of facility title-sponsor Lucas Oil Products, has said he wants to renegotiate his multiyear agreement in the exodus of the NASCAR events.
"We're anticipating it," Collier said. He and Smith both said they expect to continue the positive relationship Lucas Oil and the NHRA have enjoyed.
Smith said, "Our stance is that we don't discuss negotiations outside of the company."
But he confirmed that Lucas Oil Raceway immediately sought replacement events for the two NASCAR races: "Most definitely -- that morning."
He said, "We weren't 100 percent surprised, but we were disappointed. With a facility like this, we get inquiries all the time. Right now, nothing except the two NASCAR races is off the table. We're looking at all the different options."
Collier told he would like to be able to announce by next week's Kroger SpeedFest what will be in place for next year but that likely would be too soon to secure new events. He did say he hopes to be able to share Lucas Oil Raceway's 2012 schedule by the NHRA's Mac Tools U.S. Nationals this Labor Day weekend.
Both Collier and Smith said they are trying extra hard to fill the schedule gap for the fans, Lucas Oil, SpeedFest sponsor Kroger, and the memory of Bob Daniels, who helps bring a  NASCAR presence to the Midwest and to Indianapolis.
"The fans have fallen in love with this facility and the style of racing we have here," Smith said. "And each year they come back, they see a progression of the drivers. That's one of the neat things about that (Kroger SpeedFest) weekend."
The NASCAR decision left Collier "extremely disappointed for the people who poured their hearts and souls into this, people like Bob Daniels. Kroger has been here for all 30 years of it. And I'm disappointed for the fans in particular."
So maybe the 267-acre facility, which includes the famed quarter-mile dragstrip and a 2.5-mile, 15-turn road course, will acquire some entertaining, high-profile events that will salvage potentially lost income and preserve the Lucas Oil title sponsorship. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
He said he feels the same way about his own investment. And he has some definite opinions about why Lucas Oil Raceway is a far better choice than the IMS from a fan's viewpoint.

As for NASCAR, Lucas said, "The one thing they're going to give up is a really good race where the fans love the race. It's good television and the fans can watch it, where the race they're going to, I can't see 'em having any fans. They might be part of the general, overall weekend -- they might make the weekend bigger to have all three classes there.

"There are some races that are better to watch on a short track. If it was left up to me, they'd all be on short tracks. We can see the whole thing," he said. "We build our own tracks, and they're all built so the fans can watch the whole race."

Lucas Oil owns racetracks in Wheatland, Mo., and Blythe, Calif.

"On a great big race track, especially if you build a bunch of houses across there, you can't see anything on the backstretch," Lucas said, referring to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway." So basically all you get is a big vrrroomroomroomroomroomroomroom and then you sit there and wait for them to come around again. It's not at all interesting. So I think if anybody wants to watch that, they'll have to watch it on television. It WAS interesting [at the Clermont facility].

"I think the trucks especially should be on a half-mile track, three-quarters at the most. Nationwide's the same way, as far as I'm concerned. Cup is best-watched on short tracks. A mile's plenty. I'm sure they need to change it up with different kinds of tracks, just to make it more interesting, so they don't all look the same, but that's just me talking," he said. "I like road courses. They're more interesting on road courses than dad-burn same old circles over and over again.

"They're just now getting the Indy Cars close enough together. They're getting the technology down to have a good IndyCar race. The track is designed for IndyCar racing. It makes a good race -- if you watch it on television. If  you watch it live, again, you don't get anything. You only see a little bit of it. But it does make for a good race," Lucas said. "Nationwide, I think it's going to bomb, and the pick-up trucks, oh my God . . . Those guys, they're not even close together with same kind of powerplants. Again, I'm talking about maybe things I don't know about, but it's just my opinion on it."

Lucas shrugged off comments by IMS president Jeff Belskus that referred to "our friends at Lucas Oil" and pledged support for the neighbor racetrack.

Belskus said, "Our friends at Lucas Oil are important to us, and we've supported them for a long time. We're going to continue to support them and try to continue to find ways to work with them."

Responded Lucas, "He didn't say anything one way or another. He didn't admit to anything, any wrongdoing. He avoided everything -- just said some pretty words and that was it.

"There's nothing he can do to support us. He has his agenda, and we have our agenda. He doesn't have anything to do with NHRA one way or another. He doesn't have anything to do with the track one way or another. The only thing we had in common was these two races," Lucas said. "I see no common connection of any kind where he can support us at all in any way, not that he ever did."

NASCAR's decision, which might seem curious, for Lucas Oil has sponsored three Camping World Truck Series races. They include this weekend's event at Nashville Speedway.

"Maybe there are things we don't know about. Maybe they think they'll get more fans and make more money than they did over here," Lucas said. "They might be coming back with their hat in their hand in three years."

Maybe NASCAR will. Maybe NASCAR won't find any worth in its 30-year association with Lucas Oil Raceway. Either way, Lucas indicated, he will be fine.

"There's a lot of things going on in my life, and they're not all great. I've learned to deal with things," the pragmatic businessman said. "and this is another thing I have to deal with."



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