Catching Up With Kasey Coler of Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer / Amy Payne
When Kasey Coler was growing up, every Labor Day weekend (which also happens to be his birthday weekend) his dad would drive them to the Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park to watch qualifications for the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) U.S. Nationals. While Coler enjoyed the fast cars and fun atmosphere, there was something else that caught his attention.
“Even at that early age, I was super interested in what brings all of these people together from an entertainment perspective,” says Coler, who noticed that everyone seemed to fall in love not only with the event, but also the pageantry, the celebration and the spectacle.
As for Coler, he fell in love with the idea of working in the motorsports industry, so that’s exactly what he pursued. He attended Indiana University and landed an internship at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) during his senior year. Following graduation, he worked at the IMS for four years before transferring across the street to IndyCar for the next six years, primarily working in marketing. Then one day, out of the blue, he got a call with a job offer in Pueblo, Colorado, to oversee marketing for the Professional Bull Riders organization.
“At the time the organization was growing by leaps and bounds,” Coler says. “I told my wife Laura that that job would teach me everything about live entertainment.”
The couple moved to Colorado in March of 2014. Coler quickly learned the similarities and differences between bull riding and race-car driving.
“There’s an entertainment aspect to racing, but it’s not as simple as turning down the lights and shooting off fireworks because racetracks are big and people are spread out,” Coler says. “When you have everyone circled around a singular entertainer, that’s a lot easier than having two and a half miles of activity going on where you’ve got to entertain folks in different areas.”
The sports share common ground, however, in the sensory experiences that both provide.
“These things don’t translate across a television screen,” he says. “You have to feel it, see it and smell it.”
While he was in Pueblo, the NHRA, based out of Los Angeles, offered him a job taking over their marketing. Since Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park is in Brownsburg, they told him he could work from there.
Coler started at the NHRA as vice president of marketing, before moving to the track side full time and becoming vice president of track operations and management. Coler, who also carries the general manager title for Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, manages a total of three tracks (Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park in Brownsburg, Gainesville Raceway in Gainesville, Florida, and Pomona Raceway in Pomona, California). He focuses most of his energy, however, on the Brownsburg track, which was built in 1961 and whose layout has remained untouched. That’s about to change, however. With support from the Town of Brownsburg, they are building a new boulevard that will serve as the facility’s new front door off of Ronald Reagan Parkway. Currently the front door is off of Crawfordsville Road, where guests always have to pass over active railroad tracks.
“That becomes a bit of a hazard, especially when traffic starts to back up,” Coler says, noting that in addition to traffic patterns, the leaders of the project are thinking about parking lot drainage, concession stands and building upgrades.
“It’s all part of a multiyear plan by the NHRA to modernize the facility and continue to reinvest in this property,” Coler says.
He and Laura have twin 5-year-old daughters named Emerson and Leighton. In their free time the family likes to go hiking, biking and scootering. A downside to working in Coler’s business is having to put in a lot of hours during prime vacation time.
“If you enjoy going to the lake every weekend in the summer, then working at a racetrack is probably not the right career for you,” Coler says, noting that the track’s busy season is considered April 1 through October 31, though Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park is open year-round as they host many non-motorsport events. For instance, they host municipal voting, and for a stretch they hosted COVID-19 vaccination clinics. They also host 5Ks and hospitality events.
“In doing these things we attract new folks to the facility,” Coler says. “With as much acreage as we have here, it’s nice to be able to host so many diverse events.”
Not everybody knows that Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park was built with three components.
“We’re known for our quarter-mile drag strip because we host the world’s biggest drag race, the U.S. Nationals, over Labor Day weekend,” Coler says. Each year more than 1,000 competitors move into Brownsburg for about a week, creating almost a city within a city. In addition, they host more than 120,000 fans throughout the course of five days. They also have an oval track that originally started off as a dirt track, and spans seven-tenths of a mile. It’s where A.J. Foyt won his first-ever race.
“That oval track has as much history as the drag strip from the folks who came out here, raced and won,” Coler says. “Many careers have started out there and transferred over to IndyCar or NASCAR.”
Finally, they have a two-and-a-half-mile road course that has sat dormant for the past 10 years. The road course also has a lot of history, as it hosted IndyCar’s first-ever road course race. This is where Mario Andretti won his first IndyCar race.
Each year between 300,000 and 400,000 people pass through the gates of Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, some coming from a few miles down the road while others trek from across the country.
“We’re in a unique position because Brownsburg has become a hub from a drag racing perspective,” Coler says. “This is where the racing industry lives.”
It’s true. Roughly 90% of the professional teams are based here or have some type of footprint here. This is why, if you go out to lunch in Brownsburg on any random day, you’re bound to run into someone from the drag racing or general racing community.
Coler notes that when they host Wild Wednesdays, when pedestrians can bring their street cars and go down the drag strip, a number of professionals usually bring their kids to participate.
“We just take it for granted that, ‘Oh yeah, that might be Antron Brown right next to me,’” Coler says. “That’s pretty cool.”
Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park is located at 10267 East U.S. Highway 136 in Indianapolis. For more information, call 317-969-8600 or visit raceirp.com.