Mike Neff · Wednesday August 17, 2011
Last month, NASCAR has dropped a bombshell on one of its oldest short tracks on the schedule. Starting next season, the Nationwide Series date during the Brickyard weekend, held at Lucas Oil Raceway since its inception in 1994 (and on the schedule since 1982) will move to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2012. The Truck Series will pull out, too, leaving a gaping hole in the schedule of one of the sport’s most legendary tracks. But while that might be a blow to the facility, it is not putting them out of business. Frontstretch recently had a conversation with Wes Collier, the General Manager at the race track, about the future, the move, Thursday Night Thunder and more.
But first… some background. Wes Collier was thrown into the fire this year when he was named General Manager of Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. Collier was put in the position of acting General Manager in August, 2010 but wasn’t officially given the title until January of this year… and what a start. Within six months of officially being handed the reins of the organization, he was confronted with losing the biggest event of their oval track’s racing season.
Collier joined the management of Lucas Oil Raceway in May, 2010 as the Director of Sales and Marketing. Leading up to that appointment Collier worked with the NHRA supporting many events around the country including the U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway. Before joining NHRA in 2005, Collier worked in several positions in the Indianapolis area in college sports, motorsports and professional basketball. Collier graduated from Ball State in 2000 with a degree in sports administration and business.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch.com: Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat. Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis is not shutting down, is it?
Wes Collier: That is correct. No, we are not shutting down. Like I’ve said, we’ve got over 105 events per year so we’ve got plenty to keep us busy. We plan on not only not shutting down but continuing to put on great events for the foreseeable future.
Neff: Rumors were around for a few years that the Nationwide race on Brickyard weekend was going to move to the big track. When were you informed that it was going to move and were you given any scenario where it could have stayed at LOR?
Collier: Like you mentioned, that rumor had been out there for the last couple years so we weren’t shocked by it, but obviously we were very disappointed in it. We were told probably three weeks before the announcement that the move was going to be happening, but no, we weren’t really given any chance to keep it, we were just told they had made the decision and it was going to IMS.
Neff: Were you given any reasons for NASCAR moving the race to the big track?
Collier: No, again you know I think it was just a decision that NASCAR made with IMS. I can’t really speculate on what the decisions were. No, obviously we were willing to do what it took to keep that race here. Just celebrating the 30th anniversary of it, we enjoyed having it here that weekend and it made a lot of sense for us. But again, you know, we were willing to do what it took to keep it here, unfortunately we were not given that opportunity.
Neff: Supposedly the Truck Series race is also not coming back to LOR next season. Is that a true statement? If so, was that the choice of LOR management because the Nationwide race was moved or was it a NASCAR decision?
Collier: We told them that without the Nationwide race we would not be having a Truck race here. It just doesn’t make sense for us financially.
Neff: LOR has always put on fantastic racing. You stated during the Brickyard weekend that you’ve heard from other series that are interested in racing at your track during that weekend in the future. Have you been able to have discussions with other sanctioning bodies and do you have an idea what the race week might look like next year for the Brickyard weekend?
Collier: I have had discussions with some of those other bodies and continue to have them as we speak. I can’t narrow down to exactly what we are going to be having, but yes we do plan on having events out there that weekend. Still trying to do some fact finding and some basic strategy to figure out which direction we want to go in but we definitely plan to have racing that weekend.
Neff: Would you possibly be able to share the names of any sanctioning bodies you’re talking to at this point in time?
Collier: Obviously, USAC has been involved for a number of years on that weekend and this year the ARCA Series returned for the first time in 25 years. So those obviously are two series that we’ve been speaking to and looking at. Again, there are about six or seven other groups that have expressed interest as well. Not ready to narrow down which direction we’re going in by any means but with them being a part of the weekend already in the past we’re definitely looking at those guys, too.
Neff: Since Nashville has announced that they are not going to seek Nationwide or Truck races next season, does that open the door for a possible NASCAR weekend on another date during the year at LOR?
Collier: It has. Even when NASCAR was here during that weekend they expressed interest in coming back — but it’s just not as easy as just plugging it in and going. We’ve got to find a date that is compatible and that we think would work for us and that is not an easy thing to do right now. Yeah, I mean NASCAR has expressed interest in coming back on a different date but it’s got to make sense for us.
Neff: Are the people at Kroger interested in staying involved with your Brickyard weekend even though the NASCAR national touring series are not going to be there?
Collier: We’ve had limited discussion with Kroger. Obviously we and they wanted to get through this past weekend and really celebrate the 30 years we had together. We’ve had some good conversations since then about retaining Kroger and seeing what we could do with them and keeping them as a partner. Obviously they’ve been here for 30 years and it is certainly a partnership we do not want to lose so I think there is mutual interest on their end in seeing what we can come up with.
Neff: You are reviving the Thursday night thunder races which have long been ballyhooed as one of the best racing shows ever on television as a monthly event. Is there any chance that they could return to a weekly event and possibly get a national television contract?
Collier: We haven’t had a chance to talk on a national level yet as far as a TV package but, you know obviously if we thought financially we could make a weekly series work we would definitely look at it. Unfortunately for us we planned to have six of these events, as you mentioned earlier once a month, and due to weather and scheduling we’ve only been able to have one of those events so far and that was the one back in May. So, we’ve got another lined up for next Thursday night and we’re excited about that, and having that back in the fold we’re excited to see what we can do with that evening. It just kind of depends: would we like to bring that back on a weekly level and add a national TV package? Absolutely, but things right now aren’t easy. It’s not just in the oval track racing, it is in the racing industry in general worldwide. So everything has to come together but that is definitely something we’d be interested in.
Neff: Fans seem to always get on the ESPN folks about bringing it back – they say it was the best racing show on television.
Collier: We hear that a lot (laughs) it is obviously something we’d love to bring back on a national scale. It was good all the way around. You know it introduced people to these young, up-and-coming drivers and kind of highlighted some of the veteran drivers that are in those divisions that, for whatever reason, never got that break. It just kind of showcased the talent level that some of these other series have and, like I said, introduced some of these young guys before they ever got up into the higher ranks like the Jeff Gordons and Tony Stewarts. Everybody remembers watching those guys out here during those Thursday Night Thunders. It would be a great thing for the racing community, I think, if one of those national television partners would jump on board and try and revive that.
Neff: Have the members of the management team of Indianapolis Motor Speedway worked with you during any of the race weekends leading up to this last one at all since Tony George was removed from his position there?
Collier: We’ve worked with them the past couple of years on a couple of different promotions involving the Indianapolis 500 weekend. Plus, the last three years we’ve worked with them on a NASCAR ticket package – just a discounted ticket offer where you could buy tickets to all three events, the Truck race, Nationwide and Cup race. So we have worked alongside them the last couple of years on different promotions. We haven’t had any discussions yet about the future but obviously we understand they’ve got a business to run over there as well and if there is anything we can do to help each other out I’m sure we’d be open to it.
The loss of the Nationwide and Truck races on the Brickyard weekend is certainly a blow for Lucas Oil Raceway but it is by no means a death knell. The track has been in existence for some 50 years and has put on racing events for a myriad of organizations during that time. While having NASCAR-sanctioned events at the track was certainly a benefit for the facility, it wasn’t what defined the venue. Collier and his team will bring more sanctioning bodies to the track and continue to put on the best racing in the county on one of the greatest tracks around… stay tuned.
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