The 1992 Winston - One Hot Night #BlogPost

It’s May, 1992 and NASCAR’s best drivers have returned to home base in Charlotte for the Winston race. This year, there’s a twist. For the first time ever, the Winston race will be run under the lights. It’s the first time ever a racetrack of any sort over half a mile will be lit up at night. 20 NASCAR Winston Cup Series drivers will take to Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 24 Degree Banking. What commenced was a 70 Lap, 3 Segment Slugfest between Kyle Petty, Davey Allison and Dale Earnhardt, but a night that started with such promise ended up in near tragedy.

In May 1985, NASCAR Winston Cup winners from the previous season all came down to Charlotte Motor Speedway. They all came down for The Winston, a short sprint race for $200,000 (The equivalent to $446,000 Today). Darrell Waltrip won the event, with his motor blowing as he crossed the finish. The Winston continued to produce great moments throughout the next few years. The Pass in the Grass, the Tide Slide, and other remarkable NASCAR moments happened in the All-Star race. However, fans weren’t pleased, and by 1991, the event was in jeopardy. RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, who sponsored the event, threatened to pull the plug in 1992. That is, unless they could think of something new and different. Ideas in the board rooms flopped. They ranged from having a giant roulette wheel in the infield that would invert the field if it landed on an odd number, to having qualifying for the race at the Dirt Track outside of Turn 4. RJR refused all offers. Many people in the last meeting got up and left and in a rage, Track Promoter Humpy Wheeler suggested, “Why don’t we run it at night?” The idea stuck.

After the meeting, Wheeler talked to the track staff, who stood in wonderment. They had 10 months to not only install hundreds of lights, but also to figure out how to light it in the first place. The largest racetrack in the world to be lighted at that time was Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, which was a facility 8 times smaller than Charlotte. Nevertheless, in the fall of 1991, it was announced that on May 16th, 1992, The Winston would be run under the lights, even if “[Humpy Wheeler] would have to come out with 10 Million Flashlights” to light the track.

Skeptics immediately arose. Not in the fanbase, but rather the drivers. Kyle Petty called the idea “Just another Humpy deal.” as a reference to how many different and outlandish ideas Humpy Wheeler had come up with in the past. Richard Petty said that “It’s gonna be a heck of a deal to do.” Dale Earnhardt said that they would be going too fast for the cars and the track. Many stated that they wouldn’t run unless the track was well lit. At the time, there were usually several dark spots at short tracks. Many didn’t have a problem at 85-90mph, but it would be a problem at 185mph. The media were critics too, Deb Williams at USA Today stated in an article that it was “a really stupid idea.” But Wheeler persisted to give it a chance, because they’d just found a light supplier.

Musco Lighting agreed to the job, and they had little constraints. Humpy Wheeler told them to “Not Blind the drivers, and not obstruct the view.” Musco went back to their headquarters in Iowa, and built a 1:15 scale model of Charlotte Motor Speedway, and got to work. In January, the final design was approved. Mirrors were used to prevent the lights from blinding the drivers, 2200 of them to be precise. The mirrors were coupled with 1200 Light Fixtures, all of which had to be adjusted by hand.

Work was completed in early April, and it was immediately lit. Track executive’s jaws dropped. The track was the only thing that could be seen for miles around on that clear North Carolina night, but it wasn’t finished. Drivers still had to test at Charlotte, and in the middle of April, an open test was held. Not just to Winston Cup drivers, but to fans as well. 38,000 fans showed up to the test, more than the previous year’s Winston. Teams felt worried as if their drivers wouldn’t be able to see the track. But the skeptics were wrong. Winston Cup points leader Davey Allison said the lights were “clearer than the day.” The skepticism was over, it was time to race.

10 months after the pitch was made, the largest ever crowd for a night time sporting event gathered at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The crowd, 150,000 strong, cheered on through the opening ceremonies, and everyone was ready. Everyone was on edge, 1 light failure and the event was over, for good. 20 Drivers, 70 Laps, 105 Miles, everyone was ready. Davey Allison was to bring the field to the green. The pace car made the left hand turn onto pit lane, and history was made. Allison and Rusty Wallace raced into Turn 1, but Allison pulled ahead. As drivers battled each other, Allison pulled ahead, and by the time 30 Laps was over, Allison had lead every one. Kyle Petty had worked from the back though, and had come up through the pack with a car that was better over long stints, but there was a catch.

The first segment paid $50,000 to win, but the fans had a say in what was to happen. During the 10 minute break, the fans were to vote weather the field would be inverted or if they were to stay the same order. The fans voted, Allison’s lightning fast Ford would be scuffled to the back of the pack, but Allison was unfazed. Kyle Petty used the 10 minute break to improve his car, and used the field invert to get to the front. It all laid on Segment 2.

Geoff Bodine led back to the green flag, and in less than 2 laps, Dale Earnhardt was on his back bumper. Earnhardt went to the outside of Richard Petty for 2nd, but brought Kyle Petty with him. Kyle Petty drove under Earnhardt once he was clear of the elder Petty, and launched an assault on Geoff Bodine. Off Turn 2, Petty took the lead away from Bodine and pulled away. But Davey Allison was coming. Allison had driven from last to 6th in the 2nd 30 Lap Segment. Kyle Petty won the next $50,000 price, with Ernie Irvan in 2nd, and Dale Earnhardt in 3rd. 10 Months of Hype came down to just 10 laps.

The opening act was over, the main event was just about to start. Kyle Petty launched out of a cannon, leaving Ernie Irvan to battle Dale Earnhardt. Earnhardt drove past Irvan, leaving him behind to battle with Ken Schrader. Davey Allison, sensing his chance, moved to the inside to take it 3 wide, and take 3rd position. It seemed to be Kyle Petty’s race, but the drivers battling in the back of the pack had a race over their own. With 7 Laps to go, Darrell Waltrip was turned through the front straightaway grass, and the caution came out. The race wasn’t over.

The race restarted, with Petty out front, Earnhardt in 2nd, and Allison in 3rd. With caution laps not counting in the final segment, the race restarted with 6 Laps to go. Petty tried to get a good jump, but Earnhardt sensed it. Earnhardt timed the restart perfectly, and he and Petty raced down into Turn 1 side by side. They made contact in Turn 1, and Petty slid onto the apron. Earnhardt blasted by for the lead, and Petty was shoved back to 2nd. Davey Allison knew this was his shot, and drove under Petty off Turn 2, and moved up to 2nd. With 5 Laps to go, Petty was back under Allison, and passed him into Turn 3. He set his sights on Earnhardt. He was on his back bumper with 3 Laps left. Earnhardt blocked, went defensive, and Petty couldn’t get by. The drivers crossed under the white flag 1-2-3. It came down to this.

Dale Earnhardt went defensive into Turn 1, but Petty ran it as hard as he could. He slipped under Earnhardt off Turn 2, but Earnhardt wasn’t going to go down without a fight. Down the back straightaway, he blocked Petty onto the track’s apron. They bounced down the bumpy surface and headed down into Turn 3 with an awful angle. Petty was on Earnhardt’s back bumper when they got to the corner. This took the downforce off Earnhardt’s spoiler, and when he turned into the corner, the car had no aerodynamic grip, and the car slid up the racetrack and into the wall. Petty seemed destined for victory, but Davey Allison was waiting in the wings. Kyle Petty backed off to let Earnhardt slide up the track, while Allison had been able to take the corner with full speed. Off Turn 4, Petty left just enough room for Allison to slip under him. The cars bumped off Turn 4, they raced to the start/finish line. Davey Allison had the momentum, and got Petty by half a car length at the line. It was just what The Winston was looking for, until it wasn’t.

As Allison and Petty bumped at the line, it sent Allison’s car sideways. The car spun driver’s side first into the concrete barrier. Allison hit the wall hard. The car slid in a shower of sparks to the inside grass. Safety crews raced to the scene, only to find an unresponsive Allison. Allison would eventually come to, but would have to be transported to the local hospital. The night that started with so much promise, would end up with one of NASCAR’s star drivers hurt.

Allison was diagnosed with a broken collarbone and bruises over 50% of his body. He would go on to be a Championship contender, which you can read about here:

Kyle Petty would enjoy a few more years of success, before switching to drive for Petty Enterprises in 1997 and eventually retire in 2008. Dale Earnhardt would go on to win 2 more Championships and the 1993 Winston before passing away from a crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. The All-Star race is still run to this day, and the 3 men who raced it out on the last lap are credited with saving the event, all because of 2,200 mirrors and 1,200 light fixtures.

I’m sorry for not putting articles out like I could be, been a lot of schoolwork lately. I’ll try to push out some more this month! Thanks for reading!

#HelpJackThroughTheOffseason #NASCAR #Motorsport

The Full 1992 Winston is available here:


Jack Leslie

In reply to by .... 3

Smashed it once again 👏👏

02/04/2017 - 23:35 |
1 | 0

Very very nice article. i wonder what would have happend if they used the giant roulette.

02/05/2017 - 00:28 |
1 | 0

Great story Thanks!

02/05/2017 - 02:18 |
1 | 0

That finish says it all

02/05/2017 - 06:53 |
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03/03/2017 - 22:03 |
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