The biggest annual offseason gathering of Ozarks race fans returns to its historical roots on Saturday when the 30th annual Ozarks Area Racers Foundation Reunion takes place at the Ozark Empire Fairground E-Plex.
Among 10 inductees into the Ozarks Area Racers Foundation Hall of Fame is Forrest Lucas, founder of Lucas Oil Products and owner of the Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland – a motorsports complex that changed the area’s racing landscape when it opened in 2006.
Nine others including NASCAR great Mark Martin will enter the Hall along with Lucas in ceremonies inside the E-Plex – just a few yards from where the old Fairgrounds Speedway race track once sat.
Doors will open at 4 p.m. with an autograph session from 5:30-6:30. The ceremony will begin at 6:30 with a Salute to Champions from local tracks, followed by the Hall of Fame induction. Advance tickets are $15 at O’Reilly Auto Parts locations and $20 at the door.
Area speedways will have informational booths and there will be Ozarks-area racing memorabilia along with vintage and modern race cars on display. One of those cars will be a Mark Martin tribute car. A silent auction featuring various racing items also is scheduled.
Other Ozarks Area Racers Foundation new Hall of Famers in the “Legend” division for driving are Terry Bivins, Rick Sharp, Robbie Johnson and the late Rayme Johnson. The “Pioneer” inductees along with Lucas include the late Julian Martin, Bill Davis, Ned Reynolds and Ronnie Williams.
This year’s induction class will bring the total in the Hall to 187. Names of the Hall of Famers are engraved on a black, granite monument permanently on display on the West side of the Fairgrounds on what once was the entrance to the old pit road.
Lucas, an Indiana native whose entrepreneurial spirit built Lucas Oil Products into one of the nation’s top companies, purchased the old Wheatland Raceway in 2004 from Ron and Mary Jenkins. Construction began, literally transforming the landscape of the small Hickory County town.
As part of Lucas’ multi-million dollar vision, Lucas Oil Speedway became much more than a race track. A new grandstand with 21 luxury VIP suites, a state-of-the-art bar, concession stand and gift shop were erected. A new pit area was installed with concrete pit stalls plus electric and water in nearly every pit stall. An enclosed tech building was constructed, along with stadium-quality lighting, a high definition video board and scoreboard featuring live-scoring.
In June 2006, a capacity crowd of about 7,000 enjoyed the inaugural event at Lucas Oil Speedway. A decade later, America’s “Diamond of Dirt Tracks” at the corners of Highways 54 and 83 is going strong with 100-150 employees during the racing season.
The complex has played host to some of the biggest events in racing: The Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, POWRi Midget National Series, Lucas Oil Pro-Pulling League, Casey’s General Stores USMTS Modifieds, Lucas Oil Drag Boat Racing Series, ASCS Sprint Cars and The Lucas Oil MLRA.
The once inconspicuous little dirt track has become one of the nation’s top motorsports destinations. More than 100,000 fans came through the gates in 2016.
“I always wanted a place where we could tape some of the races for television and for it to be real professional quality,” Lucas said last year of his decision to build the facility. His racing-centric MAV-TV and the newly launched Lucas Oil Racing Television are ideal avenues to expose some of Lucas Oil Speedway’s marquee events to a worldwide audience.
“Everybody who comes there says it’s the best dirt track they’ve ever been to and that’s what I want,” Lucas said. “What did I want when we built it? We’re pretty much getting it. We’re having a lot of big races and it is a big name in the racing world. We try to have the best oil in the world, the best television channel in the world and I wanted to have the best race track in the world.
And it keeps growing. A new off-road track is slated to open next summer when the inaugural Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series event is held July 22-23.