The car is parked, and the family is out. You make your way to the ticket booth, and soon enter the line to get into the event. This is one of the races that you look forward to all year, and it’s back — the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series. Whether it’s your first time or your hundredth time, the surprise element of what could happen on the track, combined with the loud engines and jumping trucks, means it will leave you with a smile on your face no matter what.
But all of the things that made the race come together perfectly are not often noticed. From security to food vendors to track preparations, there are many things that happen behind the scenes to keep the whole framework running smoothly.
To get a more complete sense of what it takes to make everything come together, we spoke with Lucas Oil management including Series Director Ritchie Lewis and Event Management and Logistics Coordinator Tim Jones. Here is what they had to say.
Getting Into The Swing Of Things
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” the saying goes. So it goes also for a Lucas Oil race weekend. Dozens of staff members come together to make the race happen without a hitch, and that starts with the planning phase of the races.
“We plan ahead from the time we put the schedule together,” said Lewis. “There are many team meetings, both pre- and post-event. The first step is to pull all of the track’s prior city and county permits.”
After reviewing that everything is in order, the real work begins on the Monday leading up to the weekend. “The tasks take time to do and will take us all the way until just prior to the scheduled race event,” Lewis said. “All of the rental items and equipment begin coming in over the prior weekend and on into the prior Monday of the event.”
Jones was able to elaborate on Lewis’ answer. “When Monday rolls around, we’re on site and having our equipment show up. The portable toilets are prepared by Wednesday, as are the pit sections. I usually have all of the extra fencing show up that day as well. That way, we can get our registration and ticket trailer placed and closed off. We get some of the traffic barriers placed, too.”
Banners come in by the crateload and have to be nailed to the concrete barriers at least one week in advance of race day.
“All of the tents for the VIPs start on Monday,” continued Jones. “That’s about a three-day job. The same goes for the Tech Inspection tent. Any old banners from a previous event, Lucas Oil or otherwise, are torn down, and new ones are shot into the concrete barriers with nails. That takes up the entire five days until race day. The arch for the start-finish gets put in on Monday.”
With regard to the Lake Elsinore track in particular, both Lewis and Jones had some personal insight to offer on what makes the track unique. “Lake Elsinore is probably one of the easier events for us,” said Lewis. “The overall layout at Lake Elsinore makes for easy logistics compared to, say, Mexico, or one of our other long-haul events like Utah or Reno, Nevada. The logistics within a long-distance event is a much greater workload.”
Brian Deegan gets ready to do a practice run in his Pro 4 truck.
“To me, it’s just a lot more open and a big area to work with,” said Jones. “It’s one of the nicer places we go to. It still looks nice once you get in there.”
During The Race
An audience at a playhouse watches a play and enjoys watching the actors do their lines and ramp up the action or drama. Little do they know that behind the scenes, stage hands are preparing backdrops or helping actors change into other costumes, hoping to make everything move from one scene to the next with as few mistakes as possible.
Similarly, race day at a LOORRS event has a lot going on that few of the spectators take notice of. Not to mention, the recurring theme of night races can add more stress, since things are easier to miss. During our time at Round 13 and 14 of the 2016 LOORRS event at Lake Elsinore, one could only imagine the kind of stress incurred by the night racing. As Lewis stated, “The night races have the tendency of being longer work days unless we strongly discipline our teams, our staff, and our work loads to reflect the same hours of administration as day races.”
The mobile headquarters and trailer that house Lucas Oil Production Studios, sitting ready to begin filming the races.
One aspect of night racing that was intriguing to see what Lucas’ video team, Lucas Oil Production Studios. Here, a team of seven people was fixated on several TV and computer screens as feeds from eight cameras positioned around the track offered real-time glimpses into the action on the dirt.
The Production Studios trailer turned into a controlled frenzy after a crash during the Pro Buggy race, as one car clipped another and went flying.
“Our Production Studio is equal to a major TV sports production,” said Lewis. “We have our executive producer, producers, talent, camera staff, and a setup crew pulling cables, lifts, and placing cameras and POV cameras everywhere. Then we have a full post-production staff that gets the onsite film footage ready to air on TV.”
One camera that has a view unlike any other is the one mounted to Lucas’ Robinson R44 helicopter. Parked behind the track, Lewis told us its job is to “safely capture as much on-track and off-track footage as possible. It has a permanent mounted camera that sends footage directly to the Production Studio.”
The Robinson R44 helicopter is brought out to shoot sky-high angles of footage and have it sent to the Production Studio.
Elsewhere, the Control Tower is hard at work making sure the show is running smoothly. Situated between the two spectator stands, it has a near uninhibited view of the track, and uses it to full advantage. “All of our pre-race and post-race officiating happens up there,” said Lewis. “It’s probably the most stressful place to be during the race, since anything to do with safety and security is handled up there. Our TV talent and public announcement staff working in the tower as well.”
By The Numbers
Cameramen stand atop tall scissor jacks that lift more than 20 feet into the air, the better to get great viewing angles of the races.
Whenever the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series rolls into town, the people come out in droves to see the high-flying action. For a two-day event like the one we went to, Lewis estimated that he sees anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 spectators. By contrast, Lucas Oil can operate it all with just 40 to 60 staff members.
Meanwhile, the number of racers that comes to the event can fluctuate. “In 2012, we had Super Lights, UTVs, and Junior Karts,” said Jones. “There were seven classes running at the time. Last year, we had Mod Karts and three Pro divisions [Pro 4, Pro Lite, and Pro 2]. Next year, we’re bringing Junior Karts and UTVs. The Junior Karts have a Subaru motor that makes about eight horsepower. The Mod Karts are a Honda with 12 to 16 horsepower.”
The tech tent (left) manages having race trucks roll through to be inspected before heading to the staging lane. Cherry pickers (right) help workers set up banners, inflatable displays, and light fixtures.
It’s no wonder that the excitement felt at Lucas Oil race is one that stays with people like spectators and racers, and keeps them coming back. For the staff, that same excitement is felt as well, along with a sense of duty and responsibility added to it.
“It is a big honor to be working in the sport that I’ve always wanted to be a part of,” said Lewis. “I didn’t really think I was going to be putting on the races, but the behind-the-scenes is something I’ve excelled at. It has been great to give the spectators and racers something to enjoy every year.”
Now with 2017 here, it will only be a few more weeks before we can once again soak in the high-flying fun of the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series. Yeehaw!