Lucas Oil pre-race tech sends some teams back to the haulers

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It’s the start of a new racing season which also means that teams who work on Dirt Late Models have had some time in their shops to “massage” on the machines they will compete with in the 2018. This is nothing new in a world in which the phrase “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t trying” is commonly used, often not in a joking way.

However, one thing that is new for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series in 2018 is the fact that a former championship caliber racer is now calling the shots for the series as its head tech man. Steve Francis retired from racing last year and has assumed the role as technical inspector for the series he once raced on.

During pre-race technical inspections for the season opening LOLMDS event at Golden Isles Speedway in Waynesville, GA on Friday night, Francis and his staff met competitors with body templates and other measuring devices in hand. And as would be expected on the first night of competition for just about any racing series, several crews were sent back to the haulers to make changes so that their cars would meet specifications.

Steve Francis oversees a body template being used on the car of Brian Shirley

Most of the changes required were relatively simple fixes. One team said they had a right front flopper that was deemed to be too high. Another said they had to reconfigure their right rear quarter panel. A little too low here or a little too high there were the most common of the numerous infractions. Then, of course, each car found to have some infraction had to be brought back through the line for approval.

The bodies on Dirt Late Model races cars have been getting a bit more “exotic” for a while now. Based on rules outlined during the off-season by several sanctioning bodies and the first major tech inspection of the season, it looks as if the battle between teams and those who enforce the rules of racing will continue to play out just as they always have. The crews will try to find advantages wherever they can and officials will try to keep them in check.

It should also be pointed out here that Lucas Oil officials visited numerous race shops during the off-season to discuss the inspection process with the teams so the racers would not be caught off guard when they arrived at the track for the upcoming campaign.

But there were some in the Golden Isles pit area who seemed to think that this year’s version of tech inspections were meant to send a message to competitors. “They aren’t playing around” and “Francis is taking this job seriously” were two of the comments related to this writer by team members. And as cars were lined up to qualify and Francis led officials in a quick follow-up wave of checks, one crew member said, “They’ve never done this much checking when we’re in line to qualify.”

Steve Francis and another Lucas official measure the back of Jonathan Davenport’s car before qualifying.

To enforce the point that the series indeed isn’t playing around, Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series director Rick Schwallie had some stern words for teams during the first drivers meeting of 2018. “You chose to race with us so you’re going to race by our rules,” he declared. “If you don’t want to do that, you may need to race some place else.”

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