It may be too early to tell if it's a match made in heaven, but the offseason merger between Kenny Brown's POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series and Casey Shuman's WAR Sprint Car tour does have its lofty attributes, according to the principals involved.

"It's just a tremendous opportunity for us to expand and for grassroots, open-wheel dirt track racing itself to grow," said Brown, who has shepherded POWRi through a bit of a growth spurt and seeks to broaden the momentum.

"Kenny wanted to get into sprint car racing and I wanted to do what I could to grow WAR," Shuman said. "We talked about it all last year and discovered a lot of common ground. We had similar plans and similar ideas on where I wanted to go with WAR and where he wanted to take POWRi and we realized that we could help each other."

Hence, the POWRi midgets, whose recent graduating classes include NASCAR's Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell, now has a partner-helpmate with the addition of the redubbed POWRi Lucas Oil WAR East Sprint Car Series.

In establishing a footprint in sprint car racing, Brown is hooking up with one of the most famous names in all of dirt track racing.

Shuman's father, Ron, is widely and inarguably regarded as one of the greatest drivers in sprint car history.

It made for a fascinating upbringing for Casey, 36, who grew up in Arizona and now lives in Indianapolis.

"It was pretty cool," Casey Shuman said. "Everything my dad did and accomplished, I didn't realize it was that big of a deal until I started racing myself and saw how hard it is to win races and championships. It was great as a kid, traveling all over the nation in the summer and seeing a lot of cool places."

He also thought it would be pretty cool to follow in his father's footsteps. They're awfully big shoes to attempt to fill and he began with modest ambitions.

"When I first started, it was all about trying to make enough money racing to live on so I wouldn't have to get a real job," Shuman said, exhibiting an inkling of the sense of humor that was evident from start to finish in his phone conversation with The Pantagraph earlier this week.

Through the years, he's raced in close to 100 sprint car events annually, a few of them in recent times in the WAR series, which features high-powered, non-winged sprint cars. (WAR stands for Wingless Auto Racing, a name that in itself doesn't have quite the promotional punch of its acronym.)

"I enjoyed racing in the series because it was like a big family," Shuman said. "There was a lot of camaraderie where we would race and then the whole community would have a barbecue together."

He liked it so much, he bought the fledgling series in the winter of 2015 and enjoyed a pretty good inaugural season as an owner last year.

"I never envisioned last year going as well as it did," Shuman said. "And I certainly never saw the arrangement that we now have with Kenny. I didn't buy it to resell it, or find a partner or merge or whatever. He and I just discovered along the way how we could help each other out."

WAR will be helped by Brown's expertise in running a series, as well as the hugely vital Lucas Oil sponsorship.

Lucas also owns MAVTV and WAR will benefit from two of its events being televised by the cable channel, including one from the Champaign County Fairgrounds in Urbana in July. That race will be sponsored by Bell Helmets, a POWRi "sponsoring partner" that's headquartered in Rantoul. The company was also key in booking the television date. 

Shuman said he looks forward to the sprint car events that are slated for Illinois this summer, noting there are a number of grassroots non-winged sprint competitors like Bloomington's Tyler Shoemaker, who will finally be able to race at tracks in their own backyard.

"We want to give them a place to run that's close to home where they don't have to travel to Indiana all the time," Shuman said.

One of the tracks where they'll be appearing is Fairbury's American Legion Speedway where POWRi midgets and WAR sprints will share the card on June 1. 

It's one of three open-wheel weekends on the schedule this year at Fairbury after a highly entertaining inaugural appearance at the track by the POWRi midgets last summer.

"I'm probably as excited as anybody," said  Fairbury promoter Matt Curl. "We have a really good relationship with Kenny and POWRi and they put on a phenomenal show last year. It was the first time we've had midgets here in a really long time and we're excited to get them back."

Curl couldn't recall precisely when the last time was that Fairbury hosted a sprint car event, but he's expanding the Fairbury reach by booking a MOWA/IRA winged-sprint event for July 15 before closing out the 2017 racing season with FALS Sprint Mania with both POWRi WAR sprints and MOWA sharing top-billing on Oct. 6-7.

It will be the first time in the 70-plus year history of the track that it will host an event in October.

In addition to bringing his sprint car series to the area, Shuman has another connection to the Bloomington-Normal community. He's a close friend of former Normal Community High School athletic director Andy Turner, a huge auto racing fan who annually attends the Indianapolis 500, as well as sprint car racing's Knoxville Nationals, the largest and most lucrative dirt track race in the world.

"We always parked next to him at Knoxville and we got to know his family really well," Shuman said. "I remember that Andy traveled around a little bit with my dad at one time, helping out. They're really cool people and we've always been pretty close."

Bruce Yentes covers motor sports for The Pantagraph. Contact him at byentes@pantagraph.com

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