Tonight, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series will invade Portsmouth Raceway Park. For one local dirt-track legend, that means a rare opportunity to return home.
Steve Francis has been a mainstay in dirt-track racing for nearly three decades, notching his first feature victory in 1984. The Ashland, Kentucky native has since surpassed the 200-win mark, which includes heat races and A-main events.
Francis has already been named as a 2014 inductee into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame. But In 1997, Francis received a different kind of recognition, as he was given one of Kentucky’s most prestigious honors. For his achievements in auto racing, the governor of Kentucky recognized Francis as an official and honorary Kentucky Colonel.
Despite the accolades, Francis is just exited for another opportunity to race at PRP is special because his family and friends have the chance to see the Georgia Boot Racing driver in action.
“I don’t get to race around home much anymore,” Francis said. “With the way the Lucas schedule is played out, we get to go there three times, and that is really the only time I’m around home at all. It’s neat to come home, and have a lot of family and friends around. They actually get to go see me race. People that helped me get started get to see me go race.”
Francis will have a special guest at the race as Josh Thompson of Milledgeville, Georgia will be attending the event as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
According to a press release provided by Rocky Brands, Thompson’s wish was to visit Rocky Brands and participate in a photo shoot. Rocky Brands is taking that wish one step further and has invited Thompson and his family to attend the Portsmouth Race. Thompson will get to meet Francis and be a part of his team for a day.
“It’s really a neat thing when you can do something like that for somebody,” Francis said. “When they have their make-a-wish, and that’s what they want to go do, I’m probably more honored than he is that this is what he chose he wanted to do versus going to the Daytona 500.”
Besides being an honorary crew member for the day, Thompson and his family are going to be allowed to watch the event in a suite and if Francis wins the race, Thompson will be in Victory Lane celebrating with the Georgia Boot Racing team.
Francis is encouraged about the excitement level that still exist for dirt racing.
“I think it speaks volumes for dirt track racing in general,” Francis said. “Kids have a lot more options today than when I was growing up, and they still really enjoy going to the dirt tracks. It shows we do have a future. Our fan base is not aging and decreasing, our fan base is still expanding.”
At 46 years of age, Francis has no plans of slowing down in the near future.
“When I was a kid, when I was two, three four, five years old, I was going to be a dirt, late model driver,” Francis said. “I was fortunate enough to be able to make a living doing it. I still love it. There is nothing I like more than sitting in that race car and driving that race car. When I get to the point that I don’t enjoy sitting in the race car, that’s when I’ll look at retiring.”
Chris Slone can be reached at 353-3101, ext 298, or on Twitter @crslone.