Thursday, May 03, 2012

Humpy Wheeler Calls Out Former Boss, Says Night Racing Was His Idea

Charlotte Motor Speedway issued a press release this week, highlighting the 20th anniversary of NASCAR’s first Sprint Cup Series night race; the 1992 “The Winston” All-Star event. At face value, the story seemed fairly innocuous, but one of its claims have sparked an angry rebuttal from former CMS president H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler.

Humpy Wheeler
The track release read, in part, “Bruton Smith floated the idea of installing a first-of-its-kind lighting system at Charlotte Motor Speedway… While some scoffed at the idea, Smith revolutionized the sport when he partnered with MUSCO to build the 1,200-fixture, $1.7 million lighting system.

Wheeler challenged that assertion late yesterday, saying in a written statement, “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,” wrote Wheeler. “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.

Bruton Smith

“I was really worried that year because Richmond… 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 asked 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,” said Wheeler. “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.  

“I am proud of my idea,” said Wheeler. “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.”


  1. Anonymous12:26 PM

    Good for you Humpy I gave up my season tickets as you are no longer there

  2. Whoever wrote the press release for Charlotte Motor Speedway needs to check their facts, Humpy Wheeler came up with night racing at Charlotte and lighting the speedway, not Bruton Smith.

  3. Anonymous2:37 PM

    There is nothing more disappointing to me than people taking credit for other people's ideas, and I am always adamant that people not give me credit for ideas that other people came up with. I think Mr Wheeler, while already well-known for his innovative approach to marketing and promotion, deserves the credit for every single one of his matter how many there are!

  4. Anonymous7:57 PM

    Bruton Smith...what a joke!!! Just another reason in the ever-growing list of why he'll never get another dime of my hard earned money.

  5. Anonymous9:18 PM

    These people really need to check the facts. bristol did night races first, with temporary lighting. Richmond was the first to install permanant lighting, becoming the second track to run night races. MUSCO did the lighting at Bristol and RIR before Charlotte. MUSCO applied for numerous patents for the lighting systems and ideas used at RIR which were put into place at CMS later.