Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Humpy Wheeler: I will not see history be rewritten

   The following statement was released by former Charlotte Motor Speedway president H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler:

   The release sent out by Charlotte Motor Speedway suggesting that the lights at the track were Bruton Smith's  idea is not true.

   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 Dept. The meeting was with RJR director of sports 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.

   I was really worried that year because Richmond and my friend and its promoter Paul Sawyer really wanted the event. So, we made our presentation and presented them with five promotional ideas. Wayne and his group didn't like any of them and I thought we were going to lose the race.

   Right before the meeting ended I said: "Ok, I have another idea...let's run it on Saturday night." Wayne looked at me like I was crazy and so did my associate Jim Duncan.

    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?"

   I told him it just came out of my head. We got back to Charlotte and at some point I told Bruton Smith that was what I wanted to do. He said OK.

   After I contacted several lighting companies and got nowhere we went ahead with the announcement. It shocked everybody. Bill France Jr., called and ask me if I had lost my mind. He and I liked each other but often differed on the direction the sport was going. I told him it was going to happen and knew NASCAR would cooperate.

   I will admit that things got edgy because a lot of people in the sport were against it citing danger as their reason. What made this tough was I didn't want high poles in the infield. Finally I invited MUSCO, a lighting company from Iowa, down to meet with us. Musco president Joe Crookham and chairman Myron Gordon came. Bruton was not even in the meeting. Gordon said if he could take the Petty Driving School he could figure it out.

   He did and then they went to work on this and came up with the most ingenious lighting system in sports history. To light from the infield they had short poles that reflected lights into a series of mirrors that shot the light back to the track on a diagonal. The rest is history. The test with NASCAR was passed in April and we had the race in May which was a great success and won by Davey Allison.

   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.

   Click here to read the news release to which Wheeler refers.



  1. Folks, Humpy is THE MAN. We know that 'round here. And he is correct (some of us remember).

    Humpy had way more influence on continuing the NASCAR legacy into the modern era than Bruton ever could have.

    Only Bruton's cut throat business practices and as a result - his money - moved his own ideas forward.

    Bruton Smith would not have piloted Charlotte/Concord/Lowes Motor Speedway to what it is today without Humpy Wheeler.

  2. To add to hd's point about Bruton - he bankrupted Charlotte Motor Speedway and fled leaving his partners Curtis Turner and Tim Flock holding the bag. The track was assigned by Judge J. B. Craven to one of its stockholders, Richard Howard, a bowling alley owner. Howard worked the track out of Bruton's debts by 1967 and slowly made it a racing mecca. Bruton, meanwhile, went to Illinois, invested in banking, made a lot of money, then bought stock from the track's other stockholders and basically ambushed Howard out of the track.

  3. Some days i really think Bruton just wants to be more disliked by race fans than Brian France.