DUQUOIN, Ill. – When you look at the annual Shamrock Classic, held each March inside the Southern Illinois Center, Lauren Stewart’s fingerprints are all over the NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series staple.
In fact, as a fan, she’s likely the first person you’ll see when you approach the building to take in the sights and sounds of the event.
The reason being? She’s not only the promoter of the event, she also takes general admission and pit pass sales at the door.
“I think that about the only thing they don’t let me do is get in the concession stand; the building handles that,” Stewart noted. “I sell pit passes, I sell tickets, I work in the t-shirt trailer, I hang out with the announcers … and that’s just the best part about being an event promoter, is that you get to do it all and hang out with everyone.
“I’m still having fun doing it, that’s for sure.”
Stewart’s effort towards the event isn’t just a reflection of her personal investment into the show, but also a reflection of her passion for the sport as a whole.
“There was never any question that I would be involved in the sport somehow,” Stewart told SPEED SPORT. “It’s what I knew. I grew up going to the race track on a regular basis and it is how my parents make their living (with Fast Lane Racing Apparel), so it was obvious that I would end up involved in some way once I could be.
“My life growing up wasn’t what you might consider ‘normal’, but traveling and visiting race tracks on a regular basis was what was normal for us,” she added. “It just grew my love for the sport into what it is today.”
The Shamrock Classic was the brainchild of Stewart and her late fiancé, three-time USAC national driving champion Bryan Clauson, and even after Clauson’s passing in 2016 has grown into one of one of the sanctioning body’s premier and most coveted events.
Stewart refuses to take credit for the event’s genesis, however. She notes that the original idea for the race was all Clauson’s.
“I like that people give me credit, but I actually had no input when it got started,” Stewart recalled. “Bryan actually came to me and said, ‘Hey, how do you feel about being a race promoter?’ and I told him that it sounded cool to do maybe 10 or 15 years down the road.
“I think we had that conversation in November of 2015, and Bryan said, ‘Well, how about March in DuQuoin, because I’ve already signed the contract?’” she continued. “I just had to laugh, but Bryan and I did it together – 2016 was our first event – and it was really cool for us to collaborate on it. He had the team and driver aspects in mind and I had the fan and marketing sides in mind to make it an event.”
This year, Stewart added the $50,000 Pot of Gold Challenge to allow for one driver to drop to the rear in an attempt to win both the race and the bonus money, and often puts her own perspective as a race fan into play when she’s trying to come up with new ideas and make her event better and stronger.
“It has been really cool to see how much momentum and excitement this race has gained in the past three years,” said Stewart. “I am a fan first and foremost, so as a promoter, I am constantly thinking to myself, ‘What would I want to see if I were sitting in the stands right now?’
“My goal with promoting a race is to make it an event,” Stewart continued. “I want people to leave at the end of the night and feel like they really got their money’s worth. I want people to tell their friends and post about it on social media. I want my race to be the event you just have to go (to), so you mark it on your schedule months in advance.
“I know I have so much to learn and that there is always room for improvement, but I enjoy wearing my promoter hat for a few months out of the year.”
While Stewart wouldn’t look too far into the future just yet, she said she’s pleased with how big the event has gotten since its debut three short years ago and hopes to see it continue.
“It’s amazing that we’re already standing here talking about the fourth annual Shamrock Classic,” Stewart admitted. “Hopefully we’re still standing here talking about the 24th annual Shamrock Classic in a couple of decades.”