Some people have the gift of thinking “out of the box.” Surveying a situation or problem, they have the ability to view it with a perspective which borders between brilliant and crazy. They always ask, “why can’t we make it bigger/better/stronger/faster?”
Humpy Wheeler knows a lot about doing it bigger and better. As President and General Manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway, now known as Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Humpy became famous for his outlandish at-track promotions. Believing that fans expected – and deserved – to be entertained from the moment they arrived at the track until the time they left, Humpy made it his mission to keep thousands of fans on the edge of their seat. Whether it was military re-enactments, stunt drivers jumping cars in school buses or the mechanical menace “Carasaurus,” he always delivered in a big way.
Twenty years ago, Humpy’s blend of absurdity and ingenuity changed the game of NASCAR racing, and put it on a bigger stage.
The NASCAR All-Star Race had been held in Charlotte every year since 1985, except for 1986, when it was in Atlanta. Worried that race sponsor RJ Reynolds would move the race to Richmond, Humpy met with the tobacco company’s top sports marketing executive and dropped this bombshell idea to keep the race at his track in Charlotte forever: “What if we light the speedway and run the race at night?”
While the RJR executive was skeptical, he accepted the proposal if Humpy could make it happen. It just didn’t seem feasible. The size and scope presented a logistical nightmare to say the least – the track is a mile and a half around! Lights shining on the track would cause glares on the vehicles and make the driving dangerous. Lights mounted on poles in the infield would cause a picket-fence effect – a distraction for the drivers that also could prove unsafe.
Humpy partnered with Iowa-based MUSCO Lighting, and their engineers delivered on his boast. The solution involved a system of lights and mirrors which reflected the light onto the track in narrow bands of light – so no glare, no picket fence effect. The challenge was that each light reflected off a few mirrors (1600 in total), each of which had to be hand-adjusted. Thanks to Humpy and MUSCO, the 1992 All-Star Race became the first superspeedway night race, and it has remained a Saturday night feature ever since.
To learn more about Humpy Wheeler’s promotional prowess and resourcefulness, watch the video. And be sure to keep coming back, as there will be more in the “Ideas That Changed NASCAR” series.
|Tags:||Charlotte Motor Speedway, Humpy Wheeler, NASCAR, racing, sponsorship|