Steve Francis ended his Hall of Fame driving career last season and then stepped immediately into the new role of technical director for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. With the beginning of the 2018 season for that series taking place last weekend at the Golden Isles Speedway in Waynesville, GA the new rule enforcer worked to establish a no-nonsense policy that will set the tone for the entire season.
On the opening night of competition on Friday a number of competitors were sent away from their first inspection of 2018 with a to-do list that was to be completed prior to their cars being allowed on track for hot laps and qualifying. Various body parts and other issues that were initially found to be outside of the allowed tolerances were to be amended so they would fit the templates the series uses as measuring devices.
“I think it all went good,” Francis declared in an interview with InsideDirtRacing.com on Saturday afternoon. “It was about what I expected it to be.”
Having come directly from the competitor side of things to now working as an LOLMDS official, Francis has, within the space of a few short months, experienced two very different perspectives. As a driver, his primary race day focus was on getting the most out of the car he was driving on that particular night. As an official, his focus has now changed to making sure the competitors aren’t going too far in their attempts to get the most out of their cars.
“It’s two completely different aspects of racing,” Francis explained. “Here as a racer and competitor, you’re worried about what’s going on in your parking spot and you’re kind of in your own little box. Now, I’ve kind of got forty to worry about. That was a big change for me.”
The racers quickly learned on Friday evening that Francis is taking his new role very seriously. Those to-do lists of changes that were needed for each team were followed up on as the cars lined up to take their hot laps and their qualifying runs. Francis and his crew of inspectors went down the line with their templates to follow up on the directives that had been handed down earlier.
“The other side of that is that there were a few comments like ‘we’ve never been teched this hard before qualifying’ and stuff like that,” Francis said of the feedback offered from drivers and teams. “It wasn’t that we were teching harder, we didn’t make anybody come back through the tech line, we just told them what was wrong and that when they came back to qualify and heat race that stuff is going to be checked again. If it’s wrong then you’re going to get sent back so make sure you’ve got your car right.”
And being so newly removed from the driver’s seat, Francis is well aware of those tricks of the trade that racers might be using.
“I was a racer for 35 years and I knew how to get a car through tech inspection and then go back and feed her a little shot of Miracle Grow and not worry about it the rest of the night,” he pointed out with a smile. “That’s not going to go on anymore. You’re going to see a whole lot more spot checks of stuff.”
As a driver, Francis was one of the most personable people in the pit area. He could often be seen moving from pit area to pit area and chatting with his fellow competitors. And while he still considers many of the racers to be friends, the task at hand is to make sure the playing field is level for everyone, no matter the previous relationship had been like.
“They have a job to do and I have a job to do,” Francis insisted. “At the end of the night hopefully we can sit down and have a cold beer afterwards. People who are my friends are going to be checked every bit as hard because I don’t want it to look like I’m playing favorites. Everybody is just a number and that’s the way it has to be.”
In the end, fairness is priority number one for the new technical boss of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.
“I want there to be a level playing field for everybody. It doesn’t matter who that person is and I think everybody will respect that. I think that will be better for the sport.”