Indianapolis 500 fans crave speed, drama, close racing, personalities, tradition.

And they’ll have it at Memorial Day weekend – at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Open-wheel racing fans have a chance Saturday, May 26 to experience a true sensory overload, featuring the world’s fastest, most diversified, doorslammer race cars on Earth on the eve of the 102nd  Indianapolis 500-Mile Race.

Pro Modifieds from the NHRA-associated E3/J&A Service Series, the PDRA, and other racing associations will headline the Lucas Oil Raceway Night of Thunder at the multipurpose facility that sits about five miles west of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Pro Modifieds – ear-splitting, tire-shredding, sometimes ill-handling, 3,000-horsepower beasts – cover the quarter-mile dragstrip in less than six seconds, and they aren’t spec cars. They range from historic American muscle cars (such as ’67 Mustangs, ’68 Firebirds, and ’69 Camaros) to late-model versions. But they come with three power-adders – they’re nitrous-injected, supercharged, and turbocharged.

So they offer quite a diverse spectacle that to thousands of enthusiasts already familiar with them truly is “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing.” 

“It’s one of the most fun, unpredictable, entertaining classes that you’re going to see,” Casey Kohler, the NHRA’s vice-president of track management and operations, said.

Thanks to his work with representatives from Real Pro Mod, fans will enjoy two rounds of Pro Mod qualifying, with a 16-car elimination starting at 7 p.m. Two jet dragsters will close the program before a fireworks display. Pro Mod racers will have a complementary day of testing Friday, which gives them a chance to scout out the racetrack they’ll compete on Labor Day weekend at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.

“It’s not exclusive to one division of Pro Mod. We’ve opened it up. It’s quarter-mile, NHRA rules. I think this is going to provide an opportunity for a number of drivers who are looking to get their licenses. I know there are a couple of them who are planning on running events down the road. So they’ll use probably Friday [to run licensing passes].”

Kohler said “six or seven” teams committed right away to compete in the inaugural Night of Thunder. He said he plans to announce the full list soon.

Because the NHRA Pro Modified DNQ looks like a starting lineup at every event, he said, “Hopefully this provides everyone an opportunity to have some fun. We’ll have a 16-car field. Hopefully we’ll have a few more than that. I feel pretty confident of where we are right now. We’ve got a number of guys who have confirmed. Some have said, ‘Let’s get to Topeka and see if we have all our equipment, and once we have all our equipment we can make the drive over from Topeka at Indianapolis.’”

“We’ve been approached by a couple of Top Fuel teams who have said, ‘We’d love to be a part of it.’ But we’ve said, ‘Let’s crawl in Year 1.’ The long-term goal is to introduce some of our Top Fuel teams as part of the Night of Thunder.”

Kohler emphasized that this is “a fun event. It’s not about [points]. The U.S. Nationals is five days of true competition. This event for us is ‘Let’s introduce a lot of young families that are in town for the 500 festivities to see drag racing. We’ll do an hour of fan activities – an autograph session, a lot of up-close things for fans. And it’s just like every NHRA race: every ticket’s a pit pass. It’ll be a mix of the camping crowd and a lot of folks who love in the Hendricks County-Marion County crowd [around Brownsburg and Avon, Ind., and throughout Indianapolis].”

The Little 500 up the road at Anderson Speedway, a sprint-car extravaganza, is the same day, but Kohler said he isn’t stepping on that promoter’s toes or worried that event will dilute Lucas Oil Raceway’s fan base.

“Anderson sold out last year. It’s a very niche group of open-wheel fans. Those fans, if they’re going to come out, are going to come out on Friday night. For us, these are people who’ve got family in town, they’re going to the race on Sunday, and they’re looking for something to do. It’s going to be more of a family atmosphere. It’s not the party crowd you might see closer to IMS.

“Obviously we have a built-in crowd. There are a lot of people who are already camping across the street. Traditionally, we’ve always done something on the oval track the night before the 500. Instead, we now have something that’s on Friday night that will be on the oval track: the USAC Silver Crown Carb Night Classic. Then on Saturday, we have the Night of Thunder. During the day it’s a bracket race: pro/super pro.”

The USAC Silver Crown Carb Night Classic presented by TRAXXAS is so-named to identify with the popular Carb Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The USAC event at Lucas Oil Raceway also will feature the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, the first two steps on the Mazda Road to Indy.

Kohler, who previously worked for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar for eight years, said, “There’s so much history around the Indy 500 weekend. That’s why we say we always love to introduce people to the sport of drag racing. We think this gives us the opportunity. Hopefully they’ll introduce the sport and their class to a lot of people who’ve never seen drag racing.”

The late longtime Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony Hulman was one of the original investors in the multipurpose facility known today as Lucas Oil Raceway. So were the late Tom Binford, longtime Indianapolis 500 chief steward, and two-time 500 winner Rodger Ward.

John Waldie, who heads RPM said Pro Modified racing “really capsulizes everything that’s good about the sport.”

Kohler and everyone involved with Night of Thunder are hoping the IndyCar Series-centric community will recognize that and become drag racing fans, too.