By ELLIOTT ALDRICH DECEMBER 19, 2018
In 2018, we saw many sanctioning bodies and series pull off some of their best seasons in recent history. Some series increased their point fund and added dates to bring their drivers to new territories. Other series changed some dates around to better their drivers’ schedules. But, when you look back at the 2018 season and a few years prior, no series has made more waves than Casey Shuman’s Wingless Auto Racing (WAR) Sprint Series.
The POWRi WAR series has certainly caught the attention of many. Since taking the series over in 2016, the successful driver has taken a small group of racers in the Kansas City area who just wanted to run some wingless sprint car races, to one of the fastest growing series in the Midwest. Shuman even says he wanted to grow the series, but to his delight it happened much faster than anticipated.
“It’s definitely a lot more than I ever really expected. I mean, when I first started, I figured we’d do 16 or 18 races and I’d still have time to go racing on my own. That quickly changed, and I haven’t actually been able to run a whole lot myself. I think we ran 30 or 32 races last year and about the same the year before that. It’s grown so much quicker and bigger than I ever really expected but that’s a good thing. It’s pretty cool, I actually enjoy being on this side of it as well.”
Shuman ran the WAR schedule in 2015 as a driver with Hockett Racing. He made the trek from Indianapolis over to Missouri a handful of times to run with the series, and eventually got to know the owner of the WAR series.
Next thing I know, we’re doing a deal where I’m taking over the WAR series and it’s been a rollercoaster from there.
“I’m really good friends with the Hocketts, and Jack has had me come and run in his car every once in a while. In 2015, they wanted to try and run for a championship with the WAR series, so I was going over there a couple times a month and got to know the owner of the WAR series pretty well. He was talking about wanting to get out and trying to find someone to take it over from him. He was just ready to go do some other stuff and I started asking him a few questions about it. Next thing I know, we’re doing a deal where I’m taking over the WAR series and it’s been a rollercoaster from there.”
It wasn’t by luck that Shuman took over the reins of the WAR contingent. As a supporter of dirt racing, Shuman is like many other race fans when it comes to critiquing series and how they operate. But unlike the keyboard jockeys out there, Shuman saw this as chance to step up to the plate and try to do it better.
“I’ve always wanted to promote races. I think I’ve always been pretty critical of other series and I’ve always thought it could be done different or done better. I never really planned on having a series, but I thought if I have a series I could promote some races and have a built-in car count. I could just do a lot of cool things with it. I’ve been on the racer side for so long, I’ve raced with every series you can imagine across the United States. I’ve kind of seen how they all have done things and I just kind of felt like I had some ideas to try and do some things different.”
Getting started off on the right foot is critical for anyone out there taking over a series. Shuman had the same mindset going into his inaugural season as owner of the WAR series, so his first move was to hit the phone and find out what the drivers wanted. Surprisingly, money was not number one on the wish list.
“When I first took over, I made a lot of phone calls and asked people what they thought of the series and what they would like to see different,” Shuman says. “It was really surprising to me that payout and money was way down on the list. I realized, all the drivers wanted was to be appreciated and treated fairly. They want black and white rules that are enforced the same all the time. It’s all really little stuff, but its stuff that doesn’t happen all that often with other series. Everything we do, I try and have the racer’s back. When were talking to promoters or booking races and doing schedules, I try and think of it as a racer, not a promoter.”
When it came to drivers’ suggestions Shuman had no problem relating. Being a long-time racer himself, he set out to promote his series a different way. Don’t let it be a surprise if you go to a WAR race and see Shuman on his dirt bike socializing with his drivers.
“Having them feel appreciated is a big thing, I mean I always felt that way when I went to a race track. Just having a guy come around and shake your hand and say ‘hey, thanks for coming’ means a lot. I have a lot of experience racing and some of these guys don’t. I’ll go around and help everyone I can, or if I see a guy that’s struggling with something in particular, I’ll help. I want everyone to have fun, that’s really the biggest thing. Nobody is making a lot of money doing this and they could definitely be doing something else with their money on the weekends. We really appreciate that they are coming and racing with us, so I want to make sure they all have a good time and want to come back the next week.”
Shuman hustled to keep the series growing and keeping drivers happy but one thing that was missing was the final step to take it to the next level. Shuman’s fiancé, Brooke Rowden, has also been an integral part of the series with her marketing skills, ultimately drawing more and more attention to the great racing. All of those efforts led to eventual partnership with POWRi, and gaining access to some TV exposure.
Having some TV stuff – that was a big deal to get our guys on TV.
“Getting under the POWRi banner was huge. Once we got on board with POWRi it helped out quite a bit and to be involved with Lucas Oil, that was big deal. They’re a huge supporter of POWRi and that trickles down to us. Having some TV stuff, that was a big deal to get our guys on TV. It really helped grow the series much quicker. I think we could have got to this point on our own, but it would have been 4 or 5 years down the road.”
The growth of the WAR series has been phenomenal to watch. Just to give some perspective: the anchor event on the schedule – The Hockett/McMillin Memorial – paid $700 to win 3 years ago; in 2018, it paid $3,077 to win, not to mention it carried a car count of 78. Then throw in a $20,000 three-race challenge, which was nearly won by driver Kyle Cummins. Some of the biggest news for the WAR series was the announcement of the $20,000-to-win Corn Belt Nationals slated to take place in 2019, in which the series will co-sanction. All the growth has been a welcomed surprise for Shuman and team, but ultimately keeping to the core idea of the series is most important.
“As far as next year, we have the regular WAR series and the WAR Wildcard series. The WAR Wildcard travels a little more and pays a little better. We can kind of bounce around with that deal. The regular WAR series is so strong there in Missouri, we might have a couple of new racetracks right there in that area, but I don’t see that schedule changing a whole lot. It’s probably going to be 18 to 20 races again with most of the same racetracks we ran last year.”
The Wildcard series might mix it up a little bit and have some new tracks. There’s a lot of options, I get a lot of calls from a lot of different racetracks all over the country, but I have to keep it affordable. These guys will travel some, but they can’t travel a lot. I have to make sure I do the right thing for the racers. I kind of have to reign myself in a little bit.”
2018 was a successful year for Shuman and the WAR series. It saw the youngest series champion its history with 18-year-old Warsaw, Missouri, driver Riley Kriesel. Alongside Kriesel, is Ohio-native Landon Simon, who took the War Wildcard crown. Indeed, 2018 was a strong showing for WAR and looking ahead there doesn’t seem to be anything slowing them down.