Friday, March 25, 2011

5 Minutes with Kurt Johnson, racing and operations director at Lucas Oil Raceway.

During the course of the year we will be talking with key figures with Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis and learning more about the facility and previewing upcoming events. In this installment of ‘5 Minutes With…’ we caught up with Kurt Johnson, director of racing and operations. Kurt is starting his first full season at the track and is ready for the start of the season.

How much time has gone into getting things ready for the start of the season?
Roughly 100 hours a week since the end of the 2010 season. About 80 to 100 hours a week.

What all goes into that?
We basically created all new run procedures for the Summit Bracket Racing Series, we created the Friday Night Rage program, the Thursday Night Thunder program. We’ve never had run procedures and now we have a 26 page book created and there is a lot of work that goes into it.

What will ensure a great 2011 season?
It is a combination of working with the racers, having good communication with the racers having a good relationship with them and the fact that I was a racer. A lot of this is years of sitting on the back of the trailer after the races going, ‘I wish we did it like this.’ It is pure communication. We are trying to do what the racers want but do it in a way that is fair to everybody. We can’t please everyone all the time but we hope to please the majority.

What has been the feedback from the racers so far?
So far it is been nothing but good. The dragstrip track surface rocked at the end of the year. It was really good and I think the racers are happy with that. I think they feel good that there are people listening here and I’m talking about the entire staff that is willing to listen and try to treat them with respect and there again you can’t always make them happy but if you are fair and you treat everybody the same then it is an overall win.

You just finished the starting line project on the dragstrip. Where does that stand now?
We are going start putting rubber on it on Tuesday the pad came out wonderful E & B Paving did a wonderful job. They stuck behind their word that they said they would give us a super flat surface and they did. I have nothing but good to say about E & B Paving. We went out and hand measured it with Lanny from John Force Racing and had all kinds of fancy equipment out there over the week with lasers, and GPS sensors and it came down to a string line and a machined gauge and the track wasn’t off anywhere above 125,000ths on the new starting line. So it falls well with specs for super flat surface.

Is that going to be a huge improvement?
Huge. One of the main problems we always had was there was a bump in the right lane right before where a majority of the rears wheels sit. And so as soon as the car would come off the line it would upset the suspension and it follows Newton’s Law that once an object is in motion it to stays in motion. It would bounce and basketball out 300 feet or so and would tear the rubber off the track. We will have a much better racing surface on down the track because of that.

What else has taken place this off season?
We put some new asphalt in the main pits, the Pro Pits and have new equipment to sweep the parking lot. So we will be able to keep the parking lot clean. One of the major factors of a good track is having a clean racetrack. The more we can keep the cars in a clean area and have them come to the race track in a clean area we can keep the debris off the track. For the majority of the events we will be parking on the East side of the track and not on the grass on the west side because the grass gets on the track from the west side.

What has been the feedback on the Thursday Night Thunder Series?
We have gotten nothing but good on that and one of the gauges I can use for how popular the series is going to be is how many teams comes to test. We are almost completely booked for the month of May and then June is heavy for testing as well and I see it going into August as well. The teams are excited and I’m not talking about local teams. There are teams in California that are coming out to test and to me that says it is a popular item. I think it will be a home run.

What is one main goal this season?
The main thing is to reintroduce Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis back to the racing population. I think a lot of people forgot the facility. I think offering different promotions, high profile programs and keeping the facility the best we can, will get the trust of the racer again. I think by getting the track better for the racers we will get the racecars here and then we can concentrate on getting spectators to come watch the racecars and gain the trust in the racing community.