Chris Tilley has essentially spent a lifetime in the dirt racing business as a promoter, series director, PR spokesman, and race director. Now the Kentucky native has set his sights on running the MARS DirtCar Series after announcing his purchase of that tour on Tuesday.
Tilley is well known in dirt racing throughout the southeast after having served in multiple roles for Ray Cook’s Southern Nationals Series, Spring Nationals Series and Southern Nationals Bonus Series over the past several years. He also owns and runs the Iron-Man Late Model and Iron-Man Modified Series. The 32-year-old believes that experience will serve to benefit the MARS DirtCar Series in its future.
“I’ve been working in this sport since I was 10-years-old working at my uncle’s race track, Lake Cumberland Speedway, in the mid 1990’s. I got to work my way up and it’s been a great ride,” Tilley pointed out in a telephone interview with InsideDirtRacing.com. “I’ve been with Ray for 10 seasons now and will continue to be with him in 2018 plus we’ve got our Iron-Man Modified and Late Model Series and we’re excited about that.”
Tilley said the opportunity to take over the MARS DirtCar Series fell to him when the previous owner opted to get out of the business of running a traveling tour.
“I’ve known William Scogin down at Clarksville Speedway for a long time and he had purchased the series at the start of 2017 and split it into two groups,” Tilley explained. “He can’t really fool with it anymore, he doesn’t have the time. He made me an offer and I took it.”
The veteran promoter points out that his series has a significant history and he hopes to add to that legacy in the coming year.
“It will be the MARS DirtCar Series, we’ll keep the name,” Tilley insisted. “It was split into two regions last season. We’ll stay in one region for next year. This series is going to be 19-years-old in 2018. We just want to keep a series alive. We’re not trying to set the world on fire, we don’t want to see another series go by the wayside that’s been around for a long time in that area.”
And the interest level has been ‘off the hook’ so far.
“My phone has been blowing up all evening about MARS events with people excited about it,” Tilley stated. “We’ve booked three races already. We’ll open the season on March 2nd and 3rd in Clarksville, Tennessee at the Tuckassee Toilet Bowl Classic.”
Tilley will maintain the MARS DirtCar Series and the Iron-Man Series as two separate entities. However, there could be some co-sanctioned events among the two. He also points out that MARS DirtCar will not follow Southern Nationals rules. “MARS will fall under UMP tech rules and tire rules,” he said. “We’re in UMP territory in the Midwest so we’ll stick with that.”
The hope is for the series to follow a modest schedule for the 2018 campaign over a fairly broad region.
“We hope to have ten to fifteen shows throughout western Kentucky, western Tennessee, eastern Missouri and southern Illinois,” Tilley explained. “I’ve been working closely with Sam Driggers of UMP, he’s helping us with this as far as getting our schedule together and aligning with UMP. We will have a schedule released at the March 2nd and 3rd race. We’ll try to stay in the $3,000 to $5,000-to-win range.”
There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into organizing a series such as this, but Tilley believes his past experience in the sport has laid the groundwork for taking on a new challenge.
“There’s a lot of phone calls, a lot of paperwork, and lot of time,” he declared. “You’re building relationships with people and that’s what I like about our sport. You build relationships and some will last a long time. I’ve been very blessed to be able to do that.”
So what lessons has Tilley learned that he will apply to the running of the MARS Dirt Car Series?
“I have had to learn to not make knee-jerk decisions. I used to make those and I try not to do that as much anymore. It’s like the old John Michael Montgomery song ‘Life’s a dance you learn as you go’. You just learn everyday.”