BATAVIA, Ohio — Steve Francis has been fortunate to have a long and successful career driving dirt late models, but on Thursday that part of his life came to a close.
Francis, the 2007 World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series champion, is hanging up his driving gloves in order become the new technical director for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.
The opportunity, according to the 50-year-old National Dirt Late Model Hall of Famer, came at exactly the right time.
“I’ve had a great career, but I just turned 50 years old. I still think I can do it probably just about as well as anybody other there,” Francis said. “You have to have a complete team to compete at the level I want to compete at. This opportunity kind of presented itself at exactly the same time as I was trying to decide what I wanted to do. Whether I wanted to come back and run a limited schedule or try to go all out and put a full blown Lucas Oil team together to go do that again or if I wanted to walk away from the sport completely.
“Everything fell right into place. It was kind of like it was almost meant to be.”
Naturally, the new role will have a new set of challenges for Francis, but he is confident that Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series management will help him get settled into his new position.
“I’m very fortunate that I have the whole Lucas team as a group behind me. Guys like Rick Schwallie, Ritchie Lewis, Ernie (Leftwich) with the MLRA, the guys who have already worked with Lucas at the race track to kind of steer me through those things,” Francis said.
“I guess if there is one issue for me personally, it is learning how to take the racer out of me and be the tech guy. Be the guy that is making that call and separate myself from being the racer for all those years.”
Speaking of his career as a racer, Francis firmly said there is no chance he’ll ever be back in a race car. In fact, part of his agreement with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series was that he had to put that part of his life behind him.
“I’m done. There is no question about that. My career as far as being a driver is done. No ifs, ands or buts about that,” Francis said. “I know there have been so many people that have stepped out and tried to come back and so on and so forth.
“That was part of my agreement when I took this job,” Francis explained. “I have a no compete clause where I’m not going to be driving any race cars, owning any race cars or consulting on any race cars. That definitely relieves some of the other race teams, you know, well this guy is going to be up and under our race car and he might come back and race next year and I’ll be competing against what he has seen under my race car.
“I want to get that out of the way and make sure everybody understands that I’m not coming back racing.”
Francis, a winner of almost every major dirt late model race held in the United States, acknowledged it’ll be hard for him not to miss driving a race car. With that in mind, Francis is thankful for the chance to remain in the sport. He’ll just be wearing a different uniform.
“When you’ve done something for 35 years, you’re naturally going to miss it,” Francis said. “Basically, it’s the only thing I’ve ever known since I was really 10 or 11 years old.
“I worked with Charlie Swartz as a kid, Bubby James as a kid,” Francis continued. “I was fortunate enough to get into a race car when I was 15. So that’s all I’ve ever done from the time I was 10 years old to the time I’m 50 years old.
“The flip side of that is I’m fortunate enough to still be around the sport and contribute, just in a different way than being a race car driver.”