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All-Star Moments: No. 3 – One Hot Night In Charlotte

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 17 2012

Davey Allison circles Charlotte Motor Speedway in the first night race. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

The link between the Sprint Cup Series and its roots was stronger back in the early 1990s. There was more of a connection between what was happening on Sunday afternoons at superspeedways and what was taking place at short tracks on Friday and Saturday nights.

In 1992, organizers of the NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway tapped deeper into stock-car racing’s roots.

It was that year, at that race, in which lights and night racing debuted in NASCAR.

Because of its historical significance, but also because of dramatic events which occurred on the Charlotte track that night, the 1992 race checks in at No. 3 on the list of five best All-Star Races.

The decision to light the place was made by former track president H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler’s.

His daughter, Patti Wheeler, who was involved in producing the race for TNN that night, says there is no doubt about Humpy’s motives for wanting to hold the All-Star Race under the lights.

“The whole ‘One Hot Night” concept in 1992 was short track Saturday night,” Patti said. “I haven’t produced every All-Star Race, but that’s always been a constant theme in any of the one’s I’ve produced is that short track Saturday night. Getting down to that grass roots excitement. It’s all about tonight. It doesn’t matter what you do next week, it’s all about tonight.”

These days, night races in Cup are a fairly common occurrence.

“It was cool,” Larry McReynolds, then the crew chief for driver Davey Allison said. “Because when you think about it, everybody in our sport, whether you’re a driver or crew chief or owner, a tire changer, you got your start racing on Friday or Saturday night under the lights at the local short track. And night racing is cool.”

As the cars rolled out that night, thousands of flash bulbs added to the artificial daylight.

“There’s something,” Patti Wheeler said, “and I’m not a scientist and I would never be able to prove it, but there is some particular kind of energy that someone needs to name, for having 150,000 people stuffed into a grandstand. There’s a particular kind of energy you can feel. And on All-Star night, that energy was exponential.”

Also new that night was the format of the race: It was 70 laps split into three segments.

Allison won the first 30-lap segment from the pole. Kyle Petty won the second 30-lap segment.

That set up the final 10-lap dash. And a beauty it was.

Dale Earnhardt led on the final lap. But coming up from behind was Petty. Petty clipped the black No. 3 car from behind, sending Earnhardt into the wall near Turn 3.

Allison, driving a Robert Yates Racing Thunderbird, eased past Petty on the move. But Petty was not done. He came back to get to Allison and just as they hit the finish line, their cars touched.

Allison got the victory but when his car spun hard into the outside wall, he was knocked unconscious.

“We were leaning on each other,” Petty would explain. “I tried to chop him off, but if I had cut across in front of him, I would have ended up in the infield. At the end, he cut on me as I would have on him. We clipped when we came across the line.”

In the grandstands, people went silent.

“You could hear a pin drop,” Wheeler said. “Nobody had left. Everybody was standing on their feet at the end screaming and then it happened and it was just silence. You see them get Davey out, you see them put him in the chopper and you see that chopper lift off with that harvest moon in the background and it was just surreal.”

Allison didn’t regain consciousness until he was at the hospital.

Word is that when he did wake up, the first thing he did was ask if he had won.

He had. For the second straight year.

Also winning was NASCAR.

The next night race will be the 2012 All-Star Race, scheduled for Saturday night – just like at short tracks from Irwindale to upstate New York.

Saturday’s race will be broadcast live on SPEED beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 17 2012
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