Charlotte Motor Speedway

One Hot Night: 25 years later, memories of All-Star Race ruled by ‘Forces of Darkness’

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CONCORD, N.C. –  Roughly 40 minutes after the 1992 Winston ended in smoke, sparks and battered sheet metal, at least 1,000 fans still occupied the stands.

They were still trying to wrap their minds around it all.

TNN pit reporter Glenn Jarrett was tasked with talking to Richard Petty after his final start in the All-Star Race.

When Jarrett found him, Petty was looking out at the fans, still drenched in the brand-new lights surrounding Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Petty turned to Jarrett and pointed.

“These people think we’re going to go back out there and do this again?” The King asked in disbelief.

In those stands was Kyle Petty. The SABCO Racing driver, along with unofficial bodyguard Eddie Gossage, was walking through enemy territory.

Without an elevator available, they had to walk all the way to the press box. They ascended the steps through verbal and physical projectiles, all so Petty could tell his side of the story that was the last lap.

Petty appeared to touch Earnhardt in Turn 3 (he didn’t), turning him sideways. Then his contact with Davey Allison at the finish line caused the first night race on a 1.5-mile speedway to end in a “shower of sparks” and with Allison in the hospital.

“Every freaking fan in the grandstands is teed off,” Kyle Petty says. “According to every fan, I wrecked Earnhardt going into Turn 3 and I wrecked Davey (at the start-finish line). That’s a fact. … I’m telling you, they were going to kill my butt. It was ugly. ”

In the garage, Larry McReynolds sat on a cooler next to the hauler for Allison’s No. 28 Ford.

The 33-year-old crew chief had just left the infield care center. Allison, after being taken there by ambulance, had left the track via helicopter to a hospital.

McReynolds just sat there, “trying to figure out what the hell just all happened.”

Kyle Petty, Larry McReynolds and Mike Joy at a recent event honoring “One Hot Night.” Photo: Daniel McFadin

THE FORCES OF DARKNESS

When McReynolds watched the leaders of The Winston enter Turn 1 for the final time on May 16, 1992, he thought his car was going to finish third behind Earnhardt and Kyle Petty.

Had he been right, those gathered around a long table in Charlotte’s Speedway Club on a Tuesday night 25 years later might have had other plans.

Among the attendees are Petty, McReynolds, Michael Waltrip, announcer Mike Joy and former crew chief Robin Pemberton.

On a plasma TV at the far end of the table, the broadcast of the 1992 Winston, also known as “One Hot Night,” silently runs in all its standard definition glory.

The sounds of a Camping World Truck Series test session dominate the air outside the club’s windows.

Over the course of the evening, the familiar images shown every May play out in their natural context. At one point or another, everyone’s past peers out from the TV.

Joy, the lead announcer for TNN’s broadcast, doesn’t speak too much this night. But when he does, he makes it count.

“Being a full moon Saturday night, this race was completely unkind to white cars,” Joy says. “This is going to come down to three black cars in the end. The forces of darkness, whatever you want to call it.”

After an hour of conversation and jokes, everyone’s attention turns to the TV for the last segment and then the final lap. The final lap by which all final laps have been judged since.

For half of it, McReynolds lived vicariously through a crew member named Roman. The crew member had flipped a 55-gallon barrel over and stood atop it to watch the race’s conclusion.

“All of a sudden the crowd is going crazy,” says McReynolds, wearing a vintage Texaco/Havoline blazer. “Then I saw Roman, his eyes were as big as saucers. I was like, ‘What the f— are they doing back there?’”

When the leaders reappeared exiting Turn 4, Allison and Petty were door-to-door with Earnhardt nowhere in sight.

“When they came off (Turn) 4 like that, I said ‘I know who’s going to win that drag race, Robert Yates,’ ” McReynolds says proudly of his former car owner and engine builder.

Photo by Daniel McFadin

What happened next was depicted on a painting sitting near the other end of the table. Allison’s car pointing backwards, about to impact the outside wall after taking the checkered flag and making contact with Petty. A spinning Earnhardt is shown in the background.

“It’s like two runners running for the (finish) line and you didn’t think about what was beyond that line,” McReynolds says.

“You just saw the line,” Petty says. “It’s like when you break that tape, you fall.”

The crash put Allison in the hospital until Monday, sent fans into frenzy and resulted in a rival’s car sitting in Allison’s hauler.

Davey Allison races during the 1992 Winston. (Photo by RacingOne/Getty Images)

FRENEMIES

As McReynolds sat on his cooler processing the night’s events, he thought about the near future.

“Our team had been through so much,” McReynolds says. “We had an unbelievable start. We won the Daytona 500 … we won North Wilkesboro (and Talladega). But were kind of going through a pattern. Winning one week and wrecking one week. … Here we figured out how to do both in the same night. But we were out of cars.”

From the garage appeared Tim Brewer, crew chief for Bill Elliott’s Junior Johnson-owned car.

“I don’t even know what to say to you, I guess I want to say I’m sorry, but then I also need to say congratulations,” Brewer said.

“This is not good, Tim,” McReynolds responded. “We’re out of frickin’ race cars.”

McReynolds told Brewer he had a brand new intermediate car for the Coke 600, a road course car and two speedway cars. He needed a backup car.

“I’ll give you guys a car,” Brewer said. “You keep it as long as you want, use it if you want to.”

The whole month of June, Robert Yates Racing hauled a Budweiser car with Texaco/Havoline decals stuck in the window, just in case.

Davey Allison celebrates winning the 1991 Winston, one year before “One Hot Night.”(Photo by Dozier Mobley/Getty Images)

NO HARSH WORDS

Even as Petty walked through the angry grandstands, he was concerned for his friend, Allison. Petty would call Allison two days later.

“I talked to Davey on Monday, I think he was still at the hospital when I talked to him,” Petty says. “He had a Busch (Xfinity) car and I was going to drive it over here the next week just to shut everybody up. But we couldn’t work it out with Ford and Pontiac.”

While fans may have wanted or expected there to be bad feelings between Allison and Petty, they were disappointed.

“I can say by the time I got to the hospital, there was never a negative word toward Kyle, between the 42 and the 28, it never even crossed our minds,” McReynolds says. “Two months later at Pocono with (Darrell Waltrip), that’s a whole ‘nother story.”

Anyone wanting bad blood between the drivers wasn’t aware of the nature of the relationship between the men who came of age in NASCAR’s garages.

“Davey and I were competitors, but there was never a rivalry,” Petty says. “We grew up together. We grew up in the garage area when we were 10 years old and (NASCAR official) Bill Gazaway trying to throw us out and running him through the garage area.

“We grew up at the swimming pool at the Sea Dip in Daytona Beach, Florida, swimming together and playing together. … Then he started racing and I was working with my dad, we didn’t see each other in those years. Then all of a sudden you’re back at the race track racing against each other. We never had harsh words. I never in my whole life, in my whole career racing against Davey in any way shape or form ever remember having anything but respect and a good relationship. There was no base for that, even after that wreck, there was nothing there.”

What about Earnhardt?

“Earnhardt’s OK, he’s not mad,” Petty says. “He’s mad, but not mad at anybody.”

Dale Earnhardt Sr. poses in Victory Lane with his two sons, Dale Earnhardt Jr., left, and Kerry Earnhardt, right, after winning the Coca-Cola 600 race on May 24, 1992, one week after “One Hot Night. (Photo by Dozier Mobley/Getty Images)

‘TIME HAS REALLY GOTTEN MESSED UP’

The passage of time has a weird way of reminding you it’s relative.

Just ask NASCAR drivers.

“You know what’s crazy to me? ’92 seems like a thousand years ago,” Waltrip says. “And nine years later was ‘01 when Dale died and that seems like yesterday.”

“I know, it does,” Petty agrees.

“Time had really gotten messed up for me,” says Waltrip, who won the Winston Open that preceded “One Hot Night” and later won the 1996 All-Star Race.

“I know … the same thing with Adam,” says Petty of his son who was killed in an accident during Busch Series practice in 2000 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “Everything before Adam’s accident sounds like it was history. A million years ago.”

“It’s a blur?” someone asks.

“No, it’s just a long time ago,” Petty answers. ‘You know what I mean? … It feels like it was yesterday. It really does. Everything’s happened, like we were talking about how this years’ gone so fast, it’s like everything’s just sped up.”

Whether they’ve sped along or crept by, the 25 years since “One Hot Night” are punctuated by those who are not cutting it up with everyone in the Speedway Club.

Fourteen months after winning the race the helped define the sport for a generation, Allison died at 32 from injuries sustained in a helicopter accident at Talladega Superspeedway. He would have turned 56 in February.

A week after “One Hot Night,” Earnhardt won the Coke 600 for the third time. Earnhardt raced eight more seasons and won two more championships before being killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 at 49.

“By Davey not being here and Dale not being here now, that adds to it,” Petty says, now 56 and a NBC Sports analyst nine years after leaving the cockpit. “That’s a moment for (them). That changes how you perceive this race as you look back at it. If we were all three sitting here laughing about it and complaining about it, you may view it different. You wouldn’t view it in that nostalgic tone as much as you do now.”

The weight of the race and its impact on the trajectory of NASCAR didn’t hit McReynolds until the race’s 20th anniversary. In 2012, he, Pemberton and Joy sat on an infield stage at Charlotte to discuss the race with fans. Instead of his blazer, McReynolds wore his old team uniform.

“Honestly, that’s when it really sunk in me that was something pretty big and special,” McReynolds says.

“One Hot Night” was an exhibition. The eighth of 31 times the All-Star Race has been run.

Petty admits in its immediate wake, he considered it “just another race.”

“It lived up to every bit of the hype, like few things in sports do,” Petty says. “Rarely do things ever live up to the hype that you throw at them. The funny part in this sport … We’ve witnessed … some really great races. Some incredible races. Everywhere. But they don’t stick with you the way this race sticks with you. For some reason this race sticks with fans different than other races stick with you.”

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NASCAR America: Erik Jones’ racing roots in Byron, Michigan

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After a feature looking at his upbringing in Byron, Michigan, Furniture Row Racing driver Erik Jones spoke with NASCAR America’s Steve Letarte, Dale Jarrett and Marty Snider about the early years of his racing career.

The journey to his NASCAR career began with a yard cart that his late father, Dave Jones, brought home one day when he was 3.

“I rode that all day long around the yard,” Jones said. “Winter time would and we had like a gravel circle driveway in front of our house. When it would snow over I would get the kart out and ride it around in the snow because I could slide and I thought that was pretty cool. I would get it stuck about every five minutes out in the snow.”

Jones would then get out of the kart and find his dad in their barn to come out get him out.

Now 21, Jones also discussed how much his dad was involved in his career until his death in June 2016 after a battle with cancer.

He also explains how he’s never stayed in any series for more than one year in his career.

Watch the video above for the full discussion.

NASCAR America: Scan All from Cup playoff opener at Chicagoland

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“I sure as (expletive) hope that’s all out of our system.”

That’s what Kyle Busch had to say over his radio after he finished 15th, a lap down in the Cup playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway.

Busch’s day went south after the first stage thanks to two pit miscues the sent him two laps down.

Meanwhile, Martin Truex Jr. dominate the field to win his fifth race of the year and advance to the second round of the playoffs.

In the latest “Scan All,” True and crew chief Cole Pearn recap their day, which saw them bounce back from their own pit road mistakes.

Here are other highlights from this week’s “Scan All.”

  • “Can’t drive in a straight line. Something’s not right with the front end.” – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. just before he made contact with the outside wall. A commitment line violation resulted in Stenhouse finish multiple laps off the lead.
  • “Tell the 1 (Jamie McMurray) I don’t know what happened there but we both got the short end of the stick.” – Ryan Newman after contact between him and McMurray sent McMurray spinning on a restart.
  • (Expletive), that 24 (Chase Elliott) can be so much (expletive) faster than us.” – Kasey Kahne after being told he was two laps down.

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America: Erik Jones recounts rookie Cup season, being taught by Kyle Busch

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Erik Jones, the rookie driver for Furniture Row Racing in the No. 77 Toyota, joined NASCAR America Wednesday for a special show from the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The 21-year-old driver won the 2015 Camping World Truck Series title and is teammates with Martin Truex Jr.

With Marty Snider, Dale Jarrett and Steve Letarte, Jones discussed the challenges and lessons he’s faced in his first full-time season in the Cup Series.

“The biggest (milestones) for me were trying to win a race and making the playoffs,” Jones said. “Obviously, making the playoffs didn’t happen. … I look back at the last few seasons and rookies that have been in the sport and it’s so hard to win races now. You just don’t see rookies do it a lot.”

Jones also discussed finishing second to Kyle Busch in the Bristol night race and his relationship with the driver who brought him into NASCAR beginning with the Truck Series.

“A lot of times when I was racing in Trucks and Xfinity and Kyle would come to race I’d always run second to him,” Jones said. “I’m like, ‘you know what the problem is? This is the guy who taught me how to race these cars. So I’m good at all the same tracks he’s good at. Except he’s been doing about 10 more years than I have.”

Watch the video for more.

 

PJ1 adhesive to be applied again to track for this weekend’s races at Loudon

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With the successful use of the PJ1 compound in July’s NASCAR Cup race there, New Hampshire Motor Speedway officials announced Wednesday they will apply the compound again to the track for this weekend’s racing.

The 1.058-mile flat track will play host to the Cup and Camping World Truck Series playoff races, as well as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and the American Canadian Tour race series.

“There’s no question that the track bite compound we laid down in July allowed for some awesome racing around the entire racetrack,” NHMS executive VP and GM David McGrath said in a statement. “We received some very positive feedback from the drivers, teams and, most importantly, the fans. The support to do it again in September was overwhelming.”

McGrath said the PJ1 adhesive compound will be added to the first and third grooves in all four turns on Thursday evening. It will be reapplied again on Saturday night to be fresh for Sunday afternoon’s Cup race.

Several drivers gave their endorsement for the move:

Kyle Larson: “I think it’s awesome. I was surprised at how well it worked. I liked the element of it changing quickly and wearing out and then wearing out in different spots and stuff. It just adds an element to us that we have to adapt to. In the past … you kind of just run the same line all race long, but (in July) everybody I got around was running somewhat of a different line, and I thought that was a really cool thing.”

Joey Logano: “The question got put out to a lot of different drivers … from the (NASCAR Cup Drivers Council). We kind of got on our group chat and were talking back and forth about what we thought was best. (In the past) after 10 or 15 laps, everyone is kind of where they are at and passes don’t happen often. The wider we can make the racetrack, the more passes that can be made.”

Kyle Busch: “We always run that one lane here, which I call the middle lane. They were just trying to widen the racetrack a little bit and give a little bit more opportunity for us to be able to run side by side and not feel like we’re crashing here all the time or running into each other on restarts.”

Kevin Harvick: “I like the prospects of us trying different things. As the (summer Cup) race wore on, things changed. You had to move around. The PJ1 is one of those things that can definitely make the race better if you can add more lanes of racing.”

Austin Dillon: “I thought (the PJ1) held on good throughout the race in July; I’m a fan of it. July’s race was a blast and everyone is excited about it this time around. We’re going to be aggressive and just go after it this weekend.”