With NASCAR’s All-Star race coming up in two weeks there’s a verbal controversy over who decided to make it a night race.
For decades the team of Humpy Wheeler and Bruton Smith entertained and amazed fans at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. They changed pre-race from an adjective to a noun with stunts like re-creating the United States’ invasion of Granada.
Still there was something missing from sports entertainment in NASCAR’s top series. Night racing. Sure many short tracks had night racing, but, these were local affairs.
When night racing came to Charlotte it was the big time.
Wheeler, who parted company with Smith’s company Speedway Motorsports Inc. a few years ago, denies the claim in a recent Speedway press release that it was Smith’s idea.
In his statement Wheeler said: "I will not stand by and see history be rewritten.
"These are the facts: I went with then Sales Manager Jim Duncan to Winston Salem in 1991 to visit RJ Reynolds Sports Marketing Department. The meeting was with RJR Director of Sports Marketing, T. Wayne Robertson to make a presentation for the 1992 Winston All Star Race. Our contract was always for one year. We yearly made a presentation to them to get the event back."
Wheeler wanted a Saturday race. Then the proverbial light bulb went off in his head.
"No one had ever run a superspeedway race at night. Wayne thought it was a great idea and said "if you can do it and NASCAR approves, then let's do it."
When I got out into the parking garage Jim Duncan said "are you crazy? When did that idea come up?"
Wheeler goes on to describe a number of meetings with Musco Lighting the company which figured out the best way to light a mile and a half oval. He said that Bruton did not attend any of those meetings.
"I am proud of my idea. Bruton and I did a lot of great things together. I think we helped to change NASCAR in some way. A lot of the things we did at Charlotte were mutual ideas. The lights were not one of them."