POMONA, Calif. -- Morgan Lucas announced today the formation of the Morgan Lucas Racing NHRA Top Fuel team that will campaign for the NHRA POWERade Top Fuel Championship starting in 2006.
Joining Lucas in his 2006 quest will be the talented tuner team of veteran, John Stewart and newcomer, Ronnie Thompson, who will handle the co-crew chief duties for the Morgan Lucas Racing entry.
The car owner will be president and CEO of Lucas Oil Products, Forrest Lucas, Morgan's dad.
"We started having discussions about my future racing plans a while ago and, after much consideration, we decided that in 2006 we would have our own team," said Lucas, a five-time Top Fuel runner-up, who is currently sixth in the NHRA POWERade Top Fuel standings. "We're bringing John Stewart and Ronnie Thompson on board to handle our team and tuning responsibilities. Stewart will be in charge of our clutch management program and reading of the racetrack while Thompson has a lot of experience from working with Alan Johnson at Don Schumacher Racing and brings a wealth of knowledge with him. Together, we feel they will make a good combination."
The reasoning behind the selection of Stewart and Thompson is multi-faceted. Stewart began his Top Fuel career at the early age of 16 years old and remains the youngest driver in the history of the NHRA to have competed in a professional category. Stewart, who grew up in the Sacramento, Calif., area drove Top Fuel cars in the early 70's and in 1973 earned a spot in the exclusive 16-member Cragar 5-second Club.
Stewart's storied career has consisted of working with numerous drag racing teams, including positions with Connie Kalitta, Shirley Muldowney, Cruz Pedregon, Shelly Anderson, Tim Wilkerson, Dean Skuza, Jim Epler, Bob Vandergriff, Don Prudhomme's Snake Racing, Darrell Gwynn Racing, the Carrier Boyz Top Fuel team, and presently with Gary Densham Racing.
"I'm just glad to get the chance of working with a well-funded team as well as a group of hand-picked guys," said Stewart. "I'm especially excited about working for Charlotte and Forrest Lucas. We're going to have the parts we need and when everyone puts their heads together, we'll get this race team up and running. First, we need to get everything together and done so we can be competitive right out the gate. There are going to be many good cars out there next year. There are some new teams getting started and along the ones that will improve, which will make it tough. Our goal is to go there and maybe not be the fastest car every lap, but be consistent. Consistency will win you races-going rounds. We'll be trying to get away from those first round losses. It's just a matter of going out there and running the racetrack, as we know we can do.
"We have high hopes of being a championship-caliber team. With the funding and the right personnel, it will be just a matter of getting everything to gel. It's a new team, but all the guys we picked have been around a while. We have a good group of guys, so yes, I see no reason why we can't get out there and contend for the championship right away. If we can avoid those first round losses and make it to the semi-finals, we'll receive our fair share of wins and be right there for the championship.
Ironically, Ronnie Thompson began his drag racing career racing with Stewart in 1993 working for the Bob Vandergriff Top Fuel team and later with John Constanza Racing, Jerry Toliver Racing all with Stewart. He ventured out on his own with Don Schumacher racing working first with Whit Bazemore. He is currently involved in a major battle for Funny Car supremacy, fighting for the POWERade championship with driver Ron Capps.
"I'm very excited about the deal," said co-crew chief, Ronnie Thompson. "Now it's coming true with great people. I couldn't ask for a better owner than Forrest Lucas or a better driver in Morgan. Working with Stewart and building a team from the ground up the way we think it ought to be should be to be a great opportunity. I don't know if I can put into exact words how thrilled I am about being a part of all this.
"Our biggest challenge right now is to get the crew in the groove and working together so we can be competitive right out of the gate. Definitely, we need to get the team up, going, and functioning as a group. It's not going to be an easy task, but one we'll achieve and we hope to hit the ground running and get there sooner rather than later.
"Winning a race would be a primary goal. Winning the championship would be a long shot for a first year team. Obviously, we would be ecstatic, but realistically just getting everyone working together and get the team structured. Operating at a competitive championship level would be the ultimate goal for the first year."
Morgan Lucas feels he's selected two of the best crew chiefs in the business and is looking for good things to happen.
"They have worked together before and they make for a pretty good team," said Lucas. "The three of us can excel if we put our heads together and head in the right direction. I know I'm taking on more responsibility and it will be a growing up process for me. It's a dream come true. It's exciting and such a challenge for me personally to bring all these components together and form a team. It's about more than just winning races. It's about qualifying in the top half of the field and going as many rounds as possible. That's what makes up a championship contender and those are our intentions. You just never know, that's drag racing"
Car owner, Forrest Lucas is using his successful business practices on his newly formed team. After all, building Lucas Oil Products up as the leader in the industry shows his principles are flourishing.
"The thinking behind starting our own Top Fuel team is that we pretty much do everything ourselves. We try to do everything in-house whenever possible. So, we decided in 2006 that we would have our own team. Our plan is to promote Morgan and his career as NHRA does. The bottom line to all this is winning. That's the only sure fire way of getting his name out there. If we can't get that accomplished, then it will be our own fault. I'm not saying we can accomplish everything in our business plans the first year, but we will have control of the situation. But, please understand that owning a racecar will bring its own headaches too.
"I want to win and make Morgan look good. Lucas Oil Products is a winning company. We want to have a sporting chance of winning every round. The biggest challenge is getting a good team together. Crew chiefs are in big demand out there right now. We feel fortunate to have two of the very best guys out there simply because they wanted to be part of our team. It's very nice to know the people we have showing confidence in us, they think we going to go somewhere, and that they are going to go with us. With that covered, these capable people can figure it out. I'm giving them the latitude to hire the people that they think will work best with us and buy the equipment they know they need.
"You know I'm the kind of guy that I'm not an expert, but I have a lot of common sense and I like to surround myself with experts. Therefore, I have these experts to do these things. I allow myself to put my two cents worth in it. I am not the person who is the detail man. I don't need to know every detail. I've got people hired to do the details. I want Morgan to learn all these things too. He's trying to be a part of putting it all together. I want him to learn how to be a crew chief and team owner. The best way to do that is by association of being around people who know what they are doing. He won't be a driver forever. If he wants to stay in drag racing, he has to learn these other things. I think those are the hardest things right there. Everything is about people. If you get the right people, you can do anything in the world. In addition, that's the reason we're as successful as we are as an oil company -- because I manage to surround myself with good people.
"Everyone wants to win a championship. Certainly us as much as anybody. This thing has gotten really tough the last few years. It has gotten extremely competitive and a lot of that comes from sponsorship money available. That's bringing in racers. Our ultimate goal is to win championships. I know it's going to be hard to do, but that is what everyone is striving to do. We're going to be up there with as good of people as anyone has with as good of material and equipment as anyone has. We should have as good of a chance as anybody of winning a championship."
The Lucas Oil team will debut next year in the season-opening 46th annual NHRA CarQuest Winternationals at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona on Feb. 9-12.