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.
“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.”