Author: Todd Kaho Photo: Lucas Oil
Ritchie Lewis has been named Series Director for the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing short-course series to help continue to take LOORRS to the next level. A hands-on guy, Lewis is not one to hang out in an air-conditioned tower directing others to do the dirty work. Rather, you’ll find Ritchie in the thick of whatever needs to be done to produce a great race. A Series Director not afraid to break a sweat and get his hands dirty, when we finally caught up with Lewis to find out about the upcoming season, he was finishing a fuel run for a Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt race.
DS: You were involved in the early days of LOORRS, but some of our readers might not know much about Ritchie Lewis. Can you share some of your background?
RL: My dad was a huge race fan, and I was just always at the races as a kid. Living in South Georgia, we were at Daytona quite a bit – I’ve been to a lot of Daytona 500s - and we were always at our local round track in a little town called Waycross, Georgia. The people who I grew up with were always working on cars and racecars. Fortunately for me, I was given an opportunity by the owner and operator of Dixie Speedway, north of Atlanta, and I started at the very bottom. I am kind of a Cinderella story, if you will. I’ve been able to develop a respectful way of officiating races and a professional way of taking care of sponsors, working branding and marketing for people so they get a return on investment. DS: You are universally liked by racers, sponsors, and race fans alike. What’s the secret?
RL: Being a true fan at heart, for many forms of motorsports, I find that just taking a common sense approach to racing earns you respect. That’s what was taught to me. I started working Late Model dirt track races, first part time doing any meaningless job that I could do just to be able to go to the races. I was fortunate along the way to be able to go to school and learn some business practices for high-performance sports teams. I learned how to work with people, and how to coach, manage and take care of people so they buy into it and do what you want them to do and feel good about it through truth and integrity.
DS: Maybe it’s your Southern upbringing, but words like respect and integrity seem to be very important to you.
RL: Over the years I’ve been able to do what I told people I was going to do and back it up with facts. Having a solid proof of performance and always trying to exceed people’s expectations as I moved up the ladder has served me well. If you understand how sincere people are and how passionate they are about motorsports, it’s important. I’ve been fortunate to be able to do what I love and figure out a way to make a living at it. That’s one thing I’ve certainly taken from my dad and mom: find what you would be doing in your free time and figure out a way to make a living at it and you’ll find your happiness as far as the work portion of you life.
DS: What are your impressions of short-course off-road racing?
RL: It’s such a cool form of motorsports. This thing will bite you; it will make you believe in it, it’s exciting. It’s really good for the fans, for the sponsors and I’m sure it’s awfully cool to drive. I’d love to get in one of these things! DS: You were involved in the launch of LOORRS before going back to managing the Late Model series, how much has changed since those early days?
RL: Our television coverage has grown astronomically. This thing was just off the radar charts with some of the initial ratings. We were able to get some huge ratings and get the interest of CBS, NBC and some of the major networks within the country. That was a big part of the growth, and gave Forrest, Bob and Tom the wherewithal to continue to invest in short-course off-road racing.
DS: What are your goals for LOORRS? RL: There are still a lot of things fundamentally that we’re going to be able to help out with, get some synergy on and share some best practices and just use a common sense approach to things because at the end of the day it’s still racing. It’s still you passed me or I passed you and I finished in front of you or you finished behind me.
DS: Is track construction and maintenance a big obstacle to the sport and do you see it going more to dedicated short-course tracks like the Wild West Motorsports Park outside Reno?
RL: It’s a huge cost to anyone who’s involved in short-course racing. There’s just not a lot of these tracks and venues that can handle a one-mile dirt course with jumps, elevation changes, berms and all the crazy things that can be designed into one of these tracks. There’s just not a big farm league for this as far a people building tracks, and the track prep is such a tremendous expense. We are looking for relationships like we have with the people at the Wild West Motorsports Park, and we have meetings set up in March to look at another facility that has promise. When you have to be all things to all people and not just a sanctioning body, that’s what has caused a lot of issues back to our forefathers in short-course racing.
DS: Do you see LOORRS expanding any farther East?
RL: I do, obviously I’m just getting my hands around the crystal ball a little bit if you will, but we are looking at venues in the middle of the country. DS: You seem like you are genuinely happy to be part of the Lucas Oil team.
RL: It’s unique that you use the word “team.” I come from a background where I was a master facilitator teaching people how to perform as a team and how to empower themselves. The cool thing about Lucas Oil is that it doesn’t have structured hierarchy. Forrest Lucas empowers you to be able to do what you do well and he listens and hears you when you are talking. They still treat us like family. It really is a team effort. I thank you for understanding that, that’s why you hear the passion in my voice and why I’m proud to say I’m here. Yes, I’m a director and a manager within the company, but we get out and get our hands dirty and we’re proud of what we do and have the opportunity to be successful at it.