From the October 2017 issue
In Corona, California, there’s a massive, wooden, camel-humped building that Sunkist erected during the 1920s in which to squeeze lemons. There, on the lower level of the old citrus-processing plant, Lucas Oil Products now manufactures many of its 272 different additives, fuel treatments, and lubricants. But upstairs are the offices and studios of the Lucas-owned I-10 Race Promotions and MAVTV, likely the widest-spread motorsports and motorsports media organizations in America.
“We were sponsoring tractor pulls and late models long ago. Both series fell apart,” explains Indiana-born Forrest Lucas, 75, who incorporated Lucas Oil in 1989 and, with his wife, Charlotte, owns the interconnected enterprises. “One guy got to doing dope, and the other guy—I don’t know what happened to him. We picked the series up, cleaned them off, and put them on television.”
That was in 2004. Since then, I-10 Race Promotions has grown its portfolio to eight grassroots motorsports series, each of which now has “Lucas Oil” preceding its name: ASCS Sprint Car Dirt Series, Drag Boat Racing Series, Late Model Dirt Series, Midwest Latemodel Racing Association, Modified Series, Off Road Racing Series, Pro Motocross Championship, and Pro Pulling League. Beyond that, there’s the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minnesota, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150 in Phoenix, and support for individual road racers, stock cars, drifters, monster trucks, snowmobiles, aerobatic airplanes, and the occasional Indy car.
Lucas Oil was already providing programming to the floundering MAVTV cable channel when it took control of and refocused it in 2011. “We moved toward motorsports because that’s our background,” says Bob Patison, executive vice president of Lucas Oil and president of MAVTV. “And when Speed went away and converted to Fox Sports 1, we saw an opportunity to step in and fill a need for motorsports programming.”
Lucas Oil’s privately held companies won’t reveal their fiscal commitment to racing, but it’s hard to imagine that the outlook for many of its series would have been rosy without Lucas’s backing. “When we initially took them over,” Patison says, “they all required subsidy from Lucas Oil to survive. A number have now become profitable. There are a couple that are right at that breakeven point. And there are a couple that are still limping along that need some help.”
And yet, Lucas’s highest profile marketing move was purchasing the naming rights for the Indianapolis Colts’ NFL stadium for a reported $121.5 million. Lucas Oil Stadium opened in 2008. “There are a lot of people who don’t watch racing,” Forrest Lucas sighs. “I know that.”
Still Waters Run Shallow
Lucas is now building its own venues, among them a stunningly sited off-road course near the Estero Beach resort in Ensenada, Baja California. But the most spectacular is Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri, which includes a three-eighths-mile dirt oval, an off-road course, and the world’s first purpose-built lake for drag-boat racing. The latter is some 4000 feet long and about eight feet deep, with shores designed to mitigate wakes to help the water calm after each race. With boats that can exceed 260 mph, that matters.