Lucas Oil Speedway Offseason Spotlight: 12 questions with "Racing Principal" Jason Pursley
WHEATLAND, Missouri (January 17, 2019) - Jason Pursley of Hermitage, Missouri, is known as one of the most-consistent drivers at Lucas Oil Speedway, always a championship contender in the Pitts Homes USRA Modified division. Last season, Pursley finished fourth after two straight years as runner-up in points in his Tom Campbell Racing machine.
Lucas Oil Speedway Public Relations Director Lyndal Scranton caught up with Pursley earlier this week to touch on a variety of topics, including his title of the "Racing Principal," a unique safety invention of his that many schools have purchased and the his son Dayton's racing debut.
Here is this week's Lucas Oil Speedway Offseason "12 Questions" Spotlight, with Jason Pursley:
You were 4th in points last season after finishing second the previous two years. What stands out to you about your 2018 season?
"We struggled a little bit during 2018. We just lost some speed somewhere, but fortunately I think we found it toward the end of the year. We finished up with a fifth and a second in the last two races. We changed some stuff on the car pretty drastically and hopefully hit on something. We're just waiting until the winter to get over with. We're kind of excited."
Tom Campbell has been your car owner for several years now. What has Tom meant to your racing career?
"Tom means a lot, as far as racing and friendship both. Sometimes it's hard, the people that you drive for, those relationships don't always work out no matter what level it is. But Tom and I get along great, both on the track and off the track. It's a really good friendship and he means the world to us. I think we've raced seven or eight years together now."
Your son Dayton, who will be 16 in March, began racing a bit last season in the B-Mod class. How did the year go for him and what was it like for you to watch him race?
"He raced the B-Mod and dabbled a little bit in it. He came a long way and surprised me how good he was early. He's all excited and plans on racing at Lucas every week this next year and get into the top 10 in points. He got a third and a couple of top-fives toward the end of the year at different tracks. He's about got his car ready for this year, so he's excited about it. ... It was a lot more nerve-wracking for me watching than me driving, I'll tell you. He's done it right. I made him work on the car for several years and he has to work on his own car now. He just kind of does it the right way. He doesn't have the best equipment, but he does what he can with what he has and takes care of it and if he tears it up he has to fix it. We spend a lot of hours together. I know where he is, a 16-year-old son, every Friday and Saturday night. That means a lot to a parent."
What was your first race car and what do you remember about it?
"My first race car was a Modified. I paid $1,500 for it and it was bent like an S, and I thought it was the best thing ever. I bought it and raced it and didn't have any idea what I was doing on it. I started over at Urbana with it, an old leaf-spring car. That was about 20 years ago."
Would you have envisioned, once you started, racing for 20 years and showing no signs of slowing down?
"Yeah, just because kind of like my boy I always wanted to do it. I was always around it as a kid. Racing is addictive. Once you do it, it's really hard to get away from. I tried to quit at one time and that didn't work out very well. It didn't last long. It's an addictive sport, not just the racing but all the thinking and working on it during the week and trying to make it faster. It's all that stuff that I love about it."
Who was your racing inspiration when you were starting out?
"I come from a racing family. It's what I've done. I tell people that I've been going to the races since nine months before I was born. I had two grandpas that raced, a dad that raced, two uncles that still race. I just kind of grew up in it and that's what we did for fun on the weekends and that's what we still do for fun."
You're known as the "Racing Principal" having been principal at Hickory County R1 Skyline-Urbana elementary for 14 years. How do your students react when they find out you drive a race car?
"They really like it just because it's something out of the ordinary. A lot of times, students don't think you have a normal life. If they see you at Walmart of the grocery store, it's a big deal for them. They just think you live at school. Racing, that's like totally out of the norm for a principal. But they really like it and they root me on. We try to get them tickets and they come over and cheer. If you get last, they don't care they just think it's cool that you're out there. That's just another way to build relationships with them. I have two that race go-karts pretty avidly. They come in every Monday and tell me their racing stories and if they won, if they crashed, if they spun out, if they won trophies or whatever. It's kind of a bonding experience with them."
Why did you decide to make education a career and then get into the administration part of it?
"I say this and people in education understand, but it was basically a calling. I always worked really well with students. When I was in high school, some of the troubled kids in elementary the principal at the time would pair me up with them. Sometimes your senior year can be pretty light and I would take them to the gym and play basketball with them or whatever and just try to keep them out of trouble and work with them. That kind of progressed into, 'I should probably be a teacher.' I taught for six years and really enjoyed that. But at the next level, you can touch the lives of even more kids educationally as a principal. I came over here 14 years ago and I'm still here. I'm in charge of about 375 kids just in my part of about 700 total in K-through-12."
You gained notoriety last year for designing a door-lock safety device called the "Z Lock" for schools, in which teachers could quickly and effectively use in case of emergency. How did you come up with that idea?
"I first came up with it for my building. We were looking at getting safety locks and I researched it and researched it. There was nothing really that caught my eye. Some of the stuff was too expensive or some of the stuff was too difficult to install. This is where my racing comes in because on the race cars, you build stuff all the time. I thought I could come up with something better than the products available, so I designed it for my building. It worked out well after going back to the drawing board a couple of times. Then a neighboring superintendent just happened to be in and saw them. He said, 'Those are cool, can you make them for me?' I made it for him and another school district saw them and it went from there."
How many schools, around the Southwest Missouri area or around the country, have adopted the lock?
"Now we're 38 school districts and in five different states. It really took off. We charge $40 and most units are over $100. Plus, you can lock down your whole campus in three seconds if everyone does their jobs. I tell people the reason they work so well is because I didn't design them to sell, I designed them just for them to work in my building. An engineer can design things, but you have to remember teachers are using it in a panic situation. It has to be something simple and fast. So that's what we did. Everyone that's bought them just rave about them. That makes me feel really good. The biggest school district that's purchased one is Neosho and that was 688 doors."
What are the racing plans for 2019, for yourself and Dayton?
"We're both going to race Lucas again. I'd like to get that championship, for me and Tom both. We're going to concentrate hard on that, then we'll hit a few other shows. We'll start out with the King of America at Humboldt (Kansas) with the USMTS. The main focus is going to be Lucas, then Dayton is going to race at Lucas and hit some Friday-nigh shows here and there."
How do you close the gap on a guy like Darron Fuqua, who not only won the track championship but also was USRA Modified National Champion?
"That's hard, when they are that fast. Those years like he had last year don't come along every year. A lot of people around here just kind of got to know him this year because he raced at Lucas for the first time, but Darron has been fast for a long time. He's won a lot of races and is a good racer. But, when you race with people like that it makes you better. I've always enjoyed racing with people fast, like he is."
The Lucas Oil Speedway season kicks off with an open test and tune on March 30, with the Big Adventure RV Weekly Racing Series opening night set for April 6. The Lucas Oil MLRA begins April 12-13 with the 6th annual Spring Nationals at Lucas Oil Speedway.
Season passes for the 2019 Lucas Oil Speedway season are available. Contact Admissions Director Nichole McMillan at (417) 282-5984 or email her at Nichole@lucasoilspeedway.com to purchase a gift card or season pass. Individual-event tickets go on sale Feb. 1.
Lucas Oil Speedway General Manager
Office: (417) 282-5984