The night the lights went on in Charlotte


On May 16, 1992, a revolution of sorts began in NASCAR circles. It would impact every driver, every team, every television executive linked to the sport, much of the fan base and, not incidentally, people who worked in the lighting industry.

On that night – billed by Charlotte Motor Speedway as “One Hot Night” – NASCAR racers competed for the first time on a modern asphalt superspeedway under artificial lighting. It was a landmark moment, a spectacle and a roaring success.

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The race was the Winston, then NASCAR’s version of its All-Star Race. Charlotte Motor Speedway had hosted the event for years, but rumors were afoot that other tracks were angling to snare what then was one of the most popular races of the season, and track president Humpy Wheeler, one of the most innovative promoters in racing history, figured he needed a new approach to keep the race.

Why not light the track and run the race at night? That thought ran through Wheeler’s mind. It seemed a bit ridiculous. Races had been held for decades under lights, of course, but those were on short tracks with slower speeds. Light a 1.5-mile track where speeds routinely reached 180 miles per hour? Hamper drivers by putting lights in their fields of vision? Take the risk of a power or light failure throwing the track into darkness in the middle of a high-speed race?

The answer, as it was so often when Wheeler faced an unusual challenge, was YES.

“We had to go to Winston-Salem (North Carolina) every year and present to RJ Reynolds (the Winston’s sponsor) a plan for how we would do things,” Wheeler said. “They didn’t like what we talked about first. Then I said, ‘Let’s run the race on Saturday night under the lights.’ I thought everybody in the room was going to faint. They all thought it would be impossible to light a superspeedway like Charlotte. They said, ‘How will you do it?’ I said, ‘We will do it,’ not having any idea how.

“I called Bill France Jr. (then NASCAR president) and told him about it. Of course, he went ape—-. ‘Why – how are you going to do that? Why do you want to do that?’ he said. I had talked to him so often I could read him like a book. I could tell he didn’t think much of the idea.”

After getting the go-ahead from RJR, Wheeler contacted Musco Lighting, an Iowa-based company that specialized in lighting college and high school athletic fields. A Musco official visited the speedway and came up with ideas that didn’t involve installing big light poles around the track or installing lights that would create vision issues for drivers. The key element was a reflector system that “bounced” light onto the track.

The $1.7 million project involved 1,700 mirrors and 1,200 light fixtures. It was ready by late April, and NASCAR scheduled a night test with Cup cars to see if the system would work adequately.

“There was a little bit of nervousness there because this had never been done before,” Wheeler said. “One of the things we had to do is turn the lights out at some point during practice to see if the auxiliary lighting would work. I asked some of the leading drivers about that, and they looked like, ‘Hey, did I just fall off a turnip truck?’

Kenny Schrader said he’d do it. He was running on the track by himself not knowing when the lights would go out. Then – bang – they went out. All he was supposed to do was bring the car down pit road, but he stayed out three more laps. He said 90% of the short tracks he ran on didn’t have lights that good.”

NASCAR officials and the drivers participating in the test (Earnhardt said, “Hey, let’s go”) said the lighting system worked well, and the first night-time Winston was set.

1992 Winston All Star Race
Davey Allison (No. 28) won 1992 The Winston All-Star Race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, the first time the 1.5-mile speedway held a race at night. (Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

The crowd that night was massive, and the race produced a classic NASCAR finish. Dale Earnhardt, Kyle Petty and Davey Allison were racing for the lead in the third turn on the last lap. Earnhardt lost control and slid up the track, leaving the decision to Petty and Allison. They raced side-by-side down the frontstretch and crashed near the finish line, with Allison edging Petty for the win. Allison crashed into the wall and was transported to a local hospital for examination. He missed the victory lane celebration.

“It was a heck of a crowd and a great night,” Wheeler said. “It worked out great except for the fact the winner had to go to the hospital.”

Fans lingered in the main grandstand long after the race had ended. The Winston was the talk of the sport for months.

Wheeler’s lights had brightened NASCAR skies.

“I will never forget the first one of those races,” said team owner Richard Childress. “It was Saturday night racing except on a mile-and-a-half track. I told Dale (Earnhardt), ‘Just bring the steering wheel back.’ It was a big moment that gave everybody a whole different view.”

The Charlotte lights opened the door for the Coca-Cola 600, one of the season’s featured races, to move to nighttime. Sunday’s 600 will start after 6 p.m. and finish deep into the evening. That move presented interested drivers with the possibility of driving in the Indianapolis 500 earlier in the day and flying to Charlotte to run in the 600, a doubleheader Cup driver Kyle Larson has scheduled for next year.

If Charlotte could install lighting, it could be done at almost any track, and soon speedway officials were lining up to price lights and doctor with race-day schedules that for decades had included only afternoon racing.

Racing under the lights generally made things cooler for drivers, and television executives drooled at the possibility of primetime racing. The long-held practice of starting most races at around 1 p.m. ET quickly disappeared. Now it would be possible to start races in late afternoon and finish them at night, putting a new spin on competition approaches and giving tracks a bigger window when dealing with bad weather. And juicing television ratings.

“The weather was the key element that got other tracks to do it,” Wheeler said. “It gave everybody a great up on the weather. You could keep running into the night and not have to worry about calling a race because of darkness. For a promoter, that’s a huge thing.”

Now most tracks that host Cup races have lights. The only tracks without permanent lighting are at Dover, Indianapolis, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pocono, Sonoma, Talladega, Circuit of the Americas and Watkins Glen.

Watching the Winston that May 1992 night from a suite high above the track was recent high school graduate Marcus Smith, son of track owner Bruton Smith. It became a life-changing event for Marcus.

“I grew up around NASCAR, but I wasn’t necessarily a huge NASCAR fan,” Smith said. “It was just sort of what we did as a family. But that night is when I really became a fan. The lights came on, and the cars were lighted like never before. The excitement of that last lap was an absolute spectacle and something that grabbed my mind and heart.

“Kyle took the air off Earnhardt’s spoiler and he started to slide. You could hear the whole place kind of gasp. Then Kyle and Davey go for it, and Davey won. Then you wondered if Davey was OK. It was an amazing sequence in such a short period of time.

“That’s when I got the bug, and I never looked back.”

Any ideas that Smith had had about possibly becoming a doctor or a preacher or an automotive executive receded into the background.

Smith now is Speedway Motorsports chairman.





Sonoma Xfinity starting lineup: Kyle Larson wins pole


SONOMA, Calif. — Kyle Larson will start on the pole for Saturday’s inaugural Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

Larson won the pole with an average speed of 91.393 mph around the 1.99-mile road course. Justin Allgaier joins Larson on the front row after a lap of 90.562 mph. Sheldon Creed (90.429 mph) qualified third. Aric Almirola (90.375) will start fourth. AJ Allmendinger (90.274) will start fifth.

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Larson is one of seven Cup drivers entered. The others are Almirola (starting fourth), Allmendinger (fifth), Ty Gibbs (seventh), Ross Chastain (15th), Daniel Suarez (17th) and Ty Dillon (32nd).

The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:20 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1.

Could Daytona International Speedway host NFL games?


The president of Daytona International Speedway says track officials plan to speak with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars about hosting the team’s games if Jacksonville’s stadium is renovated.

The Jaguars will need a temporary home site if plans go forward to renovate the team’s stadium. Daytona International Speedway has been mentioned as a possible candidate. The Jaguars released details Wednesday of what the stadium will look like after the renovation project.

Provided the project is approved by the city of Jacksonville, it is believed the Jaguars would need to find another home site for a couple of seasons while work is being done to its stadium. Daytona International Speedway is among possible sites for the Jaguars to play. More than 100,000 people saw Ricky Stenhouse Jr. win this year’s Daytona 500.

“Daytona International Speedway is a world-renowned sports and entertainment venue and hosts a full schedule of events each year,” said Frank Kelleher, president of Daytona International Speedway, in a statement. “As good neighbors in the Florida sports community, DIS will be speaking with the Jacksonville Jaguars to see if we can assist them with their potential upcoming facility needs around our scheduled events.”

Daytona International Speedway hosted Soccer Fest in July 2022. An announced crowd of 7,573 fans saw the Orlando Pride and Racing Louisville play in a National Women’s Soccer League game at Daytona.

NASCAR displays counterfeit part from Chase Briscoe car


SONOMA, Calif. — NASCAR displayed the counterfeit part from Chase Briscoe‘s car on Saturday at Sonoma Raceway, showing how the part did not correspond to what should have been in the car.

NASCAR found the issue at its R&D Center after last month’s Coca-Cola 600. The sanctioning body fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him for six races. NASCAR also docked Briscoe and the team 120 points and 25 playoff points for the L3 infraction.

“We want to be transparent on the penalties,” said Brad Moran, managing director of the Cup Series as he displayed the counterfeit part to media.

Moran displayed a a portion of the engine panel from Briscoe’s car. He noted the engine duct was counterfeit. He said the proper pieces are 3D printed at the R&D Center and Fiberworks Composites sells them and installs them for teams. Moran said the duct is “in the bottom of the car under the engine panel. It’s to help cool the driver. It was added prior to the first race. During testing … we realized we wanted to get heat out of the engine compartment, and that’s what this piece does.”

Moran noted that with the counterfeit part, “we can clearly see the textures are different (from the proper part).”

He displayed what officials call a gauge that determines if the duct fits the proper parameters. He showed it fitting a proper duct and not properly fitting in the counterfeit part.

“It was a part that was made, and it was made for whatever reason,” Moran said. “It was, I guess, put on by error, but it was on the vehicle. It is a piece that should not have been made in the first place, and it was spotted at our teardown at the R&D Center.”

Moran said the issue was found in a visual inspection of the part. NASCAR inspected it further and Moran said “there are certain little characteristics that are in (a proper piece)” that officials did not see in the one on Briscoe’s car. “The more we examined it, the more we realized that’s not a part they bought.”

Moran noted that while the penalties were severe, they could have been worse based on the rulebook.

“It was the low end of the L3,” Moran said. “It’s a real big hit for any team. If it continues, and we feel we are not where we need to be, unfortunately, it’s going to ramp up. We’re not going to stop.

“The deal with this car is it needs to be run without modifying. It costs teams a lot of money in development. All the owners agreed. We all agreed where we need to be to make this a successful program, and we’re not going to give up.”



Sunday Cup race at Sonoma Raceway: Start time, TV info, weather


The Cup Series heads to wine country to compete on the 1.99-mile road course at Sonoma Raceway. This race leads into the final off weekend of the season. After the break, the series races 20 consecutive weekends. NBC and USA will broadcast those races.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Adam Devine will give the command to start engines at 3:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:50 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting is at 2:45 p.m. … Driver intros are at 3 p.m. … Earl Smith, pastor for the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers, will give the invocation at 3:30 p.m. … Tiffany Woys will perform the national anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 110 laps (218.9 miles) on the 1.99-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 55.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 6 p.m. Saturday

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. … Coverage begins at 2 p.m. on FS1 and switches to Fox at 3 p.m. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and also will stream at SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Daniel Suarez won his first career Cup race last year at Sonoma. Chris Buescher finished second. Michael McDowell placed third.


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