Charlie Allen, president of Firebird International Raceway, confirmed earlier this month that the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) has not renewed the track's 30-year lease that will expire April 6, 2013.
And that affects Forrest Lucas and Lucas Oil, which is heavily invested in three different kinds of racing on the property near Chandler, Ariz., just south of Phoenix.
The unsponsored Feb. 22-24, 2013 Arizona Nationals and the Lucas Oil Series divisional races are expected take place as scheduled at Firebird International Raceway.
NHRA President Tom Compton said in a prepared statement that the sanctioning body is working with the GRIC and that he's "very optimistic that the venue will be on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule in 2014."
Lucas, too, is protecting his drag-boat and off-road interests on the site that borders Interstate 10. He said he isn't particularly interested in taking over the dragstrip there, isn't considering building a new facility in the region, and isn't in any way competing with the NHRA's efforts to preserve its well-established events there.
However, he is actively building his relationships with the GRIC, particularly on behalf of the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series presented by GEICO and the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Racing Series. But he said he will be visiting with the tribe about its plans for the dragstrip property.
"We've been working on that for several months, as soon as we found out about it," Lucas told Competition Plus during Sunday's racing at the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals at Las Vegas.
"We have the off-road track there that we built, which we're racing [on] this weekend [for its Best in the Desert event]. We flew down there yesterday [Saturday] and talked with the tribe. They said we can keep that. Now we're going to try to hang onto the lake, too. I think we're probably going to make a deal for that," Lucas said.
"The NHRA track, the drag strip, we talked to them about that, too. We haven't really got a deal but I think next week some of our people are flying down there to talk to them about that," he said.
"Also, NHRA was talking to the dragway about that. I don't care. I'd just as soon not have the drag strip myself. I'd just like for it to stay there. I hope they [NHRA officials] have a deal going with the tribe.
"Like I said, we've got somebody going over this week from my office to talk to them about the drag-boat track, our [off-road] track, and maybe that one [dragstrip]. If it takes us getting involved with it to keep it, as long as it's a reasonable deal, we could," Lucas said.
He emphasized that such an undertaking would be a last-resort type of measure and only if conditions worked within an acceptable business model for Lucas Oil.
"I know they want it fixed up," he said of the GRIC's expectations for Firebird International Raceway. "It needs a lot of lipstick, you know. It needs it real bad. They know that. I wouldn't want my name on something that was looking crappy. They really want it fixed up bad. It needs to be fixed up. But it cost a lot of money to do those kinds of things. And if it has a short lifespan . . ."
That's a common dilemma with a track operator who doesn't own the property. Often neither side claims responsibility for maintaining the facility. A prime example of that years ago was with Pacific Raceways, near Seattle.
"Anytime somebody owns the place, and you expect them [the operator] to fix it up and that's their job, you'd better stay on top of it, because it could slowly go down," Lucas said.
"I'd certainly like to see drag racing stay there somehow," he said. "But [Bob] Bondurant made a deal with them for all that road track, all that deal. They've already made a deal separate for that. I only met him [Bondurant] once. I have nothing against him. He's just doing business. Nothing against him at all. The circumstances happened. But that's where I think Charlie's making his money. The real moneymaker there was [Bob] Bondurant Racing School.
"The rest of it, we've got to deal with the tribe. Our deal with the track will got over to the tribe now. Charlie won't have anything to do with any of it now, unless he remakes a deal. His deal's and everything's over with," Lucas said.
"For some reason or another, the Indians don't seem to like Charlie. I don't know why. I don't know what their deal was with each other," Lucas said. "Something turned them against him, and I don't know -- it might be because he didn't keep it up appearance-wise any better than he did, maybe. I think they [Allen's group] were under the impression that everything there was top-notch, the best in the country. And it's not."
Unverified talk was being circulated that Allen or some other entity was buying land south of the existing racing complex and building a new dragstrip. Lucas said he hadn't heard that and added, "I would be very skeptical about that."
He said he believes the GRIC's "intention is to try to make this thing run for another six or seven years and then eventually they'll tear it all out and make it into development land."
If that should happen, logic would dictate that his off-road and boat deals would disappear then, too.
"If they tear it up, it probably will," Lucas said. "I don't know -- They might -- somehow or another -- it'd be pretty hard to imagine it -- that they would develop along the street up front and leave all this stuff behind in place. So it'll be a big deal when they do do it. They'll tear up a lot of stuff. Our track would have to go with it, no doubt."
Lucas said his company built that off-road racing track. "We build all our off-road tracks. We build them ourselves," he said.
But he was quick to say he's not planning to build his own dragstrip: "Not building a new drag strip, no."
Nor is he interested, he said, to join another partner in such an effort.
"No, I would not be. I'm not much on partnerships," Lucas said.
"I would, if I had to -- we might still end up with that one there, just to keep it alive. I'd like to see the whole thing stay alive," he said.
"The biggest problem with it is that Bondurant's got the thing completely circled. So it's full. It doesn't have a lot of bleachers. The amenities there are not really the greatest. It's old. The restrooms are old. Everything has not been kept updated. And since it was built, you've got a lot bigger trucks. You used to come in with a little trailer behind a pick-up truck and that was your race car. Now we've got these great big semis and motorhomes so we're running out of space in there."
He said because of the configuration of the Bondurant property, "you can't get over to it. It's not attached anymore; it's totally detached by Bondurant. On the other side, on the other end of the lake, if you stand and look right across the road, at the other end of it is our racetrack, back there in the desert where you can hardly see it. We're right up against Bondurant, too."
Phoenix traditionally has been an excellent motorsports community, and Lucas said he's hate to see that change: "I'd hate to see it go away."
He said he has not spoken with the NHRA at all about its plans to strike a deal with the GRIC regarding Firebird or how it might address a void in the Southwest market should that not be possible.
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