One of drag racing’s foremost benefactors walks through crowded pit areas without getting anything more than a casual glance from drag racings fans. He’s just one of thousands who is wearing branded clothing.

Most of the racers and crews know him and the exchanges range from a smile, wave or hello to a handshake or hug.

His name is visible at every NHRA venue, but there aren’t any photos on the signs.

Individual recognition isn’t a must for Forrest Lucas, president and CEO of Lucas Oil Products, but he prefers having fans become acquainted with and use his Lucas Oil Products.  He selected drag racing as one of his venues for encouraging product familiarity.

The company sponsors the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series for Sportsman-class racers, a POWERade Series race at Brainerd, Minn., and a bevy of talented drivers.

Lucas has added the title of team owner to his already-bulging resume this year.  His son Morgan, 22, will be driving the Lucas Oil Top Fuel dragster and his company is sponsoring veteran Funny Car owner Jim Dunn in 2006 as well.

 

“We at Lucas Oil Products are extremely proud and excited about our involvement with the National Hot Rod Association,” said Forrest Lucas.  “We are especially pleased to be associated with the many Sportsman-class racers throughout the country, as we consider them to be the backbone of the sport.”

While he was interested in going fast during the 20 years Lucas spent as a truck driver and owner of a nationwide long-haul trucking fleet, drag racing wasn’t a priority.  Business came first, and he and his wife Charlotte founded Lucas Oil Products in 1989.

Using innovative product research and development and an aggressive marketing program, the company established itself with a top-selling additive line in the American trucking and automotive retail industries.

Forrest Lucas now finds himself immersed in drag racing after the commitment to his son and the new team.

“I made the decision to own my own team about mid-season last year,” Forrest said.  “Besides Morgan’s career, we had to think about selling oil.  Selling Lucas Oil funds it all.  We have to get the maximum out of that.  When I first saw our team at preseason testing at Las Vegas, I couldn’t help having a nice feeling.  The whole crew was there and the trailer and cars looked good.

“This whole thing is not an ego trip, believe me,” Forrest continued.  “I have many (other) things going on.  This team is something we’ve accomplished and I’ve turned the reins over to competent co-crew chiefs John Stewart and Ronnie Thompson.

“John and Ronnie put together our new office and shop in Indianapolis and it’s really first class.  We’re proud to have people walk in and see it all.”

What does the first-time Top Fuel owner think about his team’s championship chances this season?

“I’m really optimistic,” Forrest answered.  “I have great people who have put together a very good crew.  They know what they’re doing.  We just need to make laps down the track.  If we qualify at every race and win a couple of races, I’d say it would be a pretty good year.

“The competition is really, really tough this year.  We’re going to throw the kitchen sink at it.  You have to remember that everybody out there is working with essentially the same parts.  It’s just a matter of who can put it together the best on that day.”

Lucas, like many drag racing aficionados, has watched Top Fuel competition get closer and closer.  Winning margins are in the thousands of a second and wheel-to-wheel racing has become commonplace.

“A few years ago it was rare to see two cars go down the track, and now it’s not,” said Lucas. “If it comes down to beating a stout car, you’d better be ready to cut a great light because you know the other car is going down the track and you need every advantage you can find.  That’s how close it is.” 

The man who steered Lucas Oil to the success it enjoys today also sounds like a proud father when discussing Morgan’s career.  This is Morgan’s second full Top Fuel season and it follows a very successful, 10-win career in Alcohol Dragster.

“Seeing him in a Top Fuel car (in 2004) was probably a bigger shock than it will be seeing him in our car this year because the difference between the hero in the Alcohol division and moving up to Top Fuel was, like, no comparison.

“When Morgan came up and replaced Darrell Russell in Joe Amato’s car, that gave him instant credibility.  That was a big deal and a real eye-opener.  That start-up kid is gone and now Morgan is considered a regular driver with his peers.  In my mind, we have a seasoned professional driver now.

“I’m proud of that. My efforts helped that . . . the efforts of Lucas Oil Company did make it.  It’s not just me personally, it’s the whole company.  It’s a whole family effort and a whole company effort that made this team happen.  He just happens to be the driver.  I hope he turns out to be a superstar.”

That thought would not have entered Forrest’s mind when Morgan began learning to drive in Charlotte’s 1995 Jeep Wrangler.

“He had big old size 14 tennis shoes on and the pedals in the car were close together and he had the hardest time working the pedals wearing those big shoes,” Forrest recalled.  “We were going home one night and I let him drive.  I was in the front seat and Charlotte was in the back.  We got up to an on-ramp stop light and were awaiting our turn to merge into traffic when Morgan did what almost every new driver does.  He started giving it the gas and was slow in letting out the clutch.  He didn’t let the clutch out fast enough while he was giving it more gas and, before long, the tires started chirping, and they chirped, chirped all the way to the top of the hill.  The tires were still chirping and didn’t stop until he shifted into second gear.

“When we got home, Charlotte asked, ‘Where’s the garage opener?’ and I said ‘It’s back there because I saw it go flying off the dashboard heading back to you.’”

Those early driving exploits didn’t affect Morgan’s rise from Sportsman racing to Top Fuel.  He adapted to the driver’s seat with the aplomb of a seasoned veteran, flashing the potential, that one-day will be realized in an NHRA Top Fuel championship.

When that happens, expect Forrest Lucas to be known as Morgan’s dad.

There’s more to Forrest Lucas than oil-related products.  He’s also very involved in the cattle industry and through it; he has discovered more drag racing fans.  “Just about everyone we meet in the cattle business has become NHRA fans,” he said. “They watch the television programs to see how our team is doing.”

But he’s never far removed from the oil business.

“I think Lucas Oil Company gets a lot of respect because our products are so good and because we’re involved in racing,” Forrest concluded.  “Our products are the best in the world, but in racing, people just respect you for being involved.  We’re more involved with NHRA than any other racing organization.”

He’s definitely earned that respect . . . and the recognition.

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