Wheatland, Missouri (population 358) is home to the world’s greatest dirt track facility – It’s extremely successful – How does that work?
Wheatland Raceway was born in 2001 from a former agricultural field. Ron and Mary Jenkins of Wheatland, MO were the original creators.
Forrest Lucas, the owner of Lucas Oil purchased the speedway in 2004. He tore down everything but the track itself and rebuilt it from scratch. In 2006, it re-opened as Lucas Oil Speedway.
It’s a state of the art facility. The upgrades from Mr. Lucas have made it the best dirt track facility in the country. The world’s nicest dirt track sits is a tiny Wheatland, MO with a population of 358. It’s down about 30 people since 2004, roughly 10%.
Despite the population of it’s base, the track is a huge success. The Show-Me 100 featured a front stretch grandstand that was completely full, a back stretch grandstand that was nearly full and hillside seating that saw fans from end to end in turn 1.
How do you promote a race track that’s so far out in the middle of nowhere? But, it’s successful at doing so.
“It’s really not as far out in the middle of nowhere as you think, if you really look at the map. The 3 largest cities in Missouri are all within 3 hours of here,” Dan Robinson, General Manager of Lucas Oil Speedway explains to RacingNews.co .
“We’re kinda centrally located between Springfield, Kansas City and St. Louis. It’s not as remote as you might think when you’re physically here.”
“We have a very strong weekly show. We average about 115 cars a week in four divisions. We had over 5000 people here a couple weeks ago for a weekly show.”
Do you have a big marketing budget? Do people from Lucas Oil help you with the marketing data and/or direction?
“I do most of it. I have a media agency that we use for television and radio.”
“But, for the most part, we work with our corporate office to do all the promotional materials. But, I do all the placement of the ads and all the different things that are involved with that.”
So, you’re basically leading that aspect of it?
“Yes. I do all the sponsorship and marketing.”
Hotels are a little bit of an issue though.
“Hotels can be. That’s why you see such a big campground. We have people that have invested in campers, just to come here.”
“Within a half hour, there are a lot of hotels. But, there are very few just within the immediate 15-20 minute area.”
It doesn’t matter how many months in advance you book your hotel. There’s one motel directly across the street from the track but beyond that, you’re looking about 30 minutes away from the track.
As a result, the campground is much like a Talladega party. Campers roll into the track a week in advance. RV and camper parking starts in an open field and weaves in and out of the woods. It’s beautiful back there.
Is the RV park new-ish?
“No. We’ve always had it. We grew with it. We’ve added a lot of power outlets and capacity to our shower houses. And cleaned up the woods to just make it more accommodating. We added a basketball court.”
“We want everybody to come and enjoy themselves.”
In 2018, it’s much more than just a dirt oval. Behind the dirt track sits another dirt track, this one has some right hand turns. The Lucas Oil Off-Road Series and many other off-road series are hosted on the track.
Beyond land, there’s also a lake between the dirt track and the off-road track. That lake is for drag boat racing.
Down the line… Do you have future goals for the complex as a whole?
“Well, we’re bustin’ at the seams here right now. We added the off-road track last year. That’s our current area of expansion. We’re trying to add more and more events. The drag boat lake is always a popular destination.”
“The dirt track itself is just about as Max’d out as I can do it with special events. We’re very diverse with what we do on it. Late models, sprint cars, monster trucks, tractor pulls. We try to keep something fresh every few weeks.”
“That keeps the interest. It also brings a different fan base in.”
I get what you said a minute ago about drawing from big cities for big shows. But, what about on the local side, the weekly shows?
“The local side’s a challenge. It’s more people within an hour and a half to two hours of here. That’s one of the reasons I really keep the weekly show so strong.”
“The local businesses, that’s what they really support more than anything else. There’s somebody in every home town here locally. The local hardware store, the local motel. Those are the guys they really want to see and come sponsor.”
“That weekly show segment is very important to the local fan base. There are several lakes around here and recreational type areas. Once we hit this weekend in May to labor day we get a ton of local tourists that come here for the summers and the weekends.”
“That really helps a lot.”
So, sometimes you might lose money on the attendance side of a local show. But, you might make up for it on the sponsorship side?
“Well, it’s all a business model. It’s all a package. Everything has to go together to make it profitable.”
“It’s no different than a NASCAR team with Lowe’s as a sponsor. Our sponsorship dollars that we bring in locally is very important to our bottom line. We’re very aggressive at that.”
“But we’re very unique at how we go after anywhere from local sponsors to national sponsors. Just depending on what they’re level of budget is and what they’re interest is with reach in the marketplace.”
Forrest Lucas is the owner of the marvelous speedway. He’s also the man behind Lucas Oil. In regards to Wheatland, the Lucas Cattle Company came first. The ranch sits just 14 miles from Lucas Oil Speedway.
How involved is Forrest in this track?
“Very. He was here today,” Robinson stated on Thursday of the Show-Me 100 weekend.
“He’s involved. I talk to him weekly. He calls me every Monday just to ask how the weekend went. Or he’ll call on Friday and ask how the weekend’s looking.”
“He was here for a couple hours this morning.”
Would you say this is his passion project? Per say?
“Coming to Wheatland, Missouri is his favorite place. He has things all over the country from California to Indianapolis. He loves nothing better than coming to his Ranch during the day and spending the evening at Lucas Oil Speedway.”
“You’ll see him in the best mood. He’s always smiling, loves to visit with the locals and shake hands. He just haves a ball when he’s here. He relaxes and enjoys it.”
Related: 2018 Show-Me 100: Results