By Clarissa Kell-Holland
OOIDA member Forrest Lucas – a trucker and self-made millionaire – knows the value of a dollar.
Determined to overcome the poverty of his youth, Forrest, who describes himself as a self-starter and entrepreneur, has built his company, Lucas Oil, into the top brand leader in the oil-additives market.
To add to his company’s growing business success, he will also soon have an NFL stadium named after Lucas Oil.
Not bad for a farm boy who grew up without electricity in rural Southern Indiana.
A better way?
In 1963, after years of hauling dirt and gravel and working at various other side jobs, Forrest bought his first truck and signed a contract with Mayflower Transit Co. He admits that most of what he knows now about “the business” and about working with people, he learned while working as a bed bugger.
“You have to have a lot of willpower to be in the moving business. Sometimes you know you are not going to be back home for 30 days or more,” he said. “I guess I got to be pretty good at my job because I worked for some real ‘red carpet-type’ people, including company presidents and millionaires. So I learned a lot about the business and about dealing with people from watching them.”
His ultimate goal was to eventually own his own fleet of trucks, which he did for many years. Even though he dissolved Lucas Trucking in 1989 to focus on developing his company’s line of oil products, Forrest still has a CDL and a fleet of about 30 trucks that transport Lucas Oil products and the various Lucas Oil motorsports racing teams.
Road to success
Along the way to achieving his goal of adding more trucks to keep up with the demand of his growing moving company in the early 1980s, Forrest said he kind of stumbled into the oil-additives business.
Frustrated by his trucks breaking down on the side of the road and tired of paying high repair costs, Forrest said he set out to find a better product to protect his trucks’ engines.
“Based on the products that were out there at the time and my understanding of how truck engines and transmissions worked, I knew there had to be a better product than what was available out there for truckers like me to use,” he said.
Forrest’s wife of 25 years, Charlotte, handled the books for their trucking company at the time. She said her husband began studying how lubricants and additives could prolong a truck engine’s life.
“Forrest would work all day, then come home at night and study. He just started reading everything he could find about additives,” she said.
In the early days, Forrest said, he experimented with different additives in one of his company trucks. He credits Charlotte with noticing when his “experimenting” began to pay off and that truck began making more money than the others.
“It was frustrating for us that our trucks were breaking down, especially the transmissions, which cost us a lot of money that we didn’t have at the time. So we were excited when we started seeing good results,” she said.
And that was how Lucas Oil was born.
“We just started experimenting, trying things nobody else was using. We tried it out and it worked,” Forrest said.
Forrest said he doesn’t buy new trucks. He buys used ones, then immediately has his mechanics go to work to make sure they are ready to roll.
“I know how tough it is for owner-operators out there to make it, and having to make that new truck payment every week can be rough,” he said. “Many of our trucks have more than 1 million miles on them. They are all different brands, but if you have a good mechanic or shop to take care of them, which we do, they can last a long time.”
The power of marketing
Forrest said he hasn’t forgotten that the company’s core marketing base in Lucas Oil’s early years was and still remains truckers and the truck stops that carry his company’s line of lubricants and fuel treatment products.
“We try to keep our costs down because we know that truckers have to keep their costs down, too,” he said. “It’s a hard business to be in and be successful, so we try to make sure our products are affordable for the truckers that use them.”
He still sells his products at truck stops around the U.S., and now internationally, but he refuses to sell to one big superstore chain in particular: Wal-Mart.
“They have been trying to get my business for years and I just refuse to sell our products to them,” he said. “I just don’t want to do business with them after seeing what they do to small businesses. We are doing just fine without them.”
The Lucas Oil name is known just about everywhere in the racing and trucking industries, and their products are also available at most auto parts stores. Forrest admits that his company invests heavily in marketing, but he still finds that word of mouth is extremely effective in selling their products.
“We do a lot of marketing, but it’s amazing what word of mouth can do,” he said. “Several years ago, we started having a real demand for our products on the East Coast, where we didn’t have distributors set up. We found out that snowbirds that wintered in Florida, where we did have distributors, were coming back up North and telling people about the results they were getting by using our products. That says a lot.”
Forrest said if his products are used right, truckers may save money between oil changes, which can cost as much as $200 a pop if they pay someone else to change their oil for them. Also, he encourages truckers to take samples of their oil to places that specialize in oil changes for trucks and have their oil tested. Those tests, he said, usually run around $5.
“Our products really can help truckers increase their fuel mileage and extend the life of their engines. I know what it’s like to be an owner-operator – it’s tough out there,” he said. LL
Diversification is key tothe success of Lucas Oil
By Clarissa Kell-Holland
Truckers, motor sports fans and Speed Channel viewers are used to seeing the Lucas Oil logo. Now, everyone who watches NFL football games will likely become familiar with the Lucas Oil name, which will appear on the Indianapolis Colts’ new football stadium in 2008.
Lucas Oil has bought the naming rights to the new stadium, which will be called the Lucas Oil Stadium. The deal will cost Forrest and Charlotte Lucas, both Indiana natives, almost $122 million. The cost will be spread out over 20 years.
Since the official announcement, Forrest said Indiana government officials, including Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, have been field-testing Lucas Oil products on state vehicles and city bus systems.
The company’s headquarters are in Corona, CA, but Lucas Oil has a large blending and bottling plant in Corydon, IN. Besides owning a fleet of 30 trucks, last year Lucas Oil purchased a short line railroad – the Louisville New Albany & Corydon Railroad to transport products.
Need for speed runs in the family
Lucas Oil is a dominant sponsor of the National Hot Rod Association. The Lucases’ son, Morgan, is a Top Fuel drag racer and Lucas Oil sponsors his racing team.
This need for speed must run in the Lucas family because Charlotte has also been known to get behind the wheel of a dragster. She went to racing school and got her dragster license. In her dragster, she can go as fast as 180 mph. Forrest said Morgan’s old dragster goes as fast as 280 mph. He said Charlotte has “threatened to take that dragster over.” Morgan’s new dragster can go as fast as 330 mph.
Dirt track racing and raising cattle
Last year, Lucas Oil opened the Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, MO, known already as one of the country’s best 3/8-mile dirt tracks, which features six weekly racing classes: late models, modified, B-modified, figure, factory stock and hobby stock cars.
“I am very proud of what we have built here. We have one of the finest, if not the finest, dirt track in the country,” Forrest said.
He said the speedway has VIP suites, a go-kart track and a state-of-the-art audio and video system.
Less than 20 miles from the Lucas Oil Speedway, the Lucases own more than 13,000 acres in two counties, Hickory and Benton. Their Circle-L ranch is located in Cross Timbers, MO, where they have more than 3,300 head of cattle.
Forrest has also recently started making his own commodity feed for his cattle, which he said he started out of necessity when corn prices skyrocketed because of increased ethanol production.