When Steve Francis became the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Models Series Director at the end of the 2022 season, he knew it was an opportunity to build something special.
After a year at the helm, putting his plans in place brick by brick, the 2007 Series champion is starting to see a foundation of success with the Series riding a wave of momentum into 2024. And it’s a process he doesn’t take for granted.
“I have a little more respect now than I did before (for the position),” Francis said. “There’s a lot more to deal with than I gave it credit for. You’re worried about your promoters, your Series, and your race teams while trying to balance that out so it’s fair for all three.”
Finding that balance led to one of the strongest driver rosters in Series history this year with 15 full-time drivers going to every race, from Sunshine Nationals to the World of Outlaws World Finals. Of them was a healthy mix of top-tier veterans and rising stars, an important element to building a successful Series, “The Kentucky Colonel” stated.
“Our drivers are what puts butts in the seats,” Francis said. “You need really good race teams with a balance of young enthusiasm coming in. But you want the progression to go along; you want to get a guy that succeeds at a local racetrack, a regional series, or a national series. And that’s the progression you should go through. You want to keep that conveyor belt going and feed new talent.
“You want to keep things fresh and exciting, but you need that veteran roster. A driver builds a fan base as he goes through all that, the group of fans follow. And I think that’s what some people have forgotten about.”
As Francis looks ahead to 2024, he’s already helped increase the point fund and Winner Circle bonus program. He’s also adjusted the winners’ purses through the season – based off listening to feedback from the drivers. While $50,000 has become the new norm for prestigious races, Francis decided to drop that number at some events and add more money through the field to make sure the winner and the rest of the field walkaway with a decent check.
“Most of the race teams that I’ve asked have said this is where we need to be,” Francis said. “But you have to give those promoters a lot of credit because that’s going out on a limb. Is it going to be supported by the crowd? Fifty thousand is a big number. It’s kind of the benchmark now.
“But those purses are our normal $50,000-to-win purse from last year, with $10,000 added to it and $15,000 taken off first. So, it was $25,000 from third back through the field. That’s a pretty big number. Those races pay $9,000 for fifth and $5,000 for 10th now. So, again, I’ve always said I want more healthy race teams going up and down the road, and this is the direction we went to do that.”
Another change to look forward to is the variety of tracks on next season’s schedule. While the Series still has its premier events, it’ll travel to 16 new venues in 2024. It’s part of the effort to keep the World of Outlaws CASE Late Models fresh each season.
“I don’t want anything to ever get stale,” Francis said. “And with the price of events now and how much It costs to do them. Sometimes, you need that every-other-year venue to allow it to make money and keep it exciting. And it allows us more opportunity to go to some different places each year. Naturally we want to be loyal to the tracks that have been loyal to us. But you also want to throw some new venues and events in there to keep it fresh.”
As the Series prepares for 2024, Francis’ goals for the Series haven’t changed. He’ll be happy if he can keep growing the Series brick by brick.
“(I want) a stronger roster and more healthy race teams,” Francis said. “I don’t think our goals have changed for the Series. If we can have the same growth in 2024 as we did in 2023. I’ll be tickled to death.
“Our goal is more healthy teams, more healthy racetracks, and a healthy Series.”
Francis and the World of Outlaws CASE Late Models kick off his second year as Series Director when the 2024 season begins at Volusia Speedway Park during Sunshine Nationals, Jan. 17-20. For tickets, CLICK HERE.
If you can’t make it to the track, watch all our events live on DIRTVision – available either online or through the DIRTVision App.