Winston Feet Planted At Lowes
October 9, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
The Winston, NASCAR’s All-Star race, has been held at LMS for 16 of its 17 runnings. There was some doubt, LMS president and general manager H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler said, that The Winston would return to the 1.5-mile track near Charlotte.
“I did not know how they could possibly take it somewhere else after the 16 years it’s been here,” Wheeler said. “We’ve worked ourselves pretty hard to keep it here and promote it right – and also get the drivers stirred up enough to make it a good event for the fans.”
The Winston, which recently has been run in segments of 30 laps, 30 laps and 10 laps, has developed into a fan and driver favorite.
“I personally can’t imagine running this race anywhere except for Charlotte,” Dale Jarrett said. “First off, it’s kind of a weekend off and we get to spend it close to home.”
Plus, the excitement generated by the race is unmatched by any points-paying race on the Winston Cup schedule. The 9 p.m. (ET) start time gives fans all day to get whipped into a frenzy, so the atmosphere is electric when the green flag drops.
“There’s not a more exciting place,” Jarrett said. “If you can find a crowd at any sporting event that’s any more exciting than that, I challenge you to take me there and show me. I’ve been to Super Bowls and a lot of sporting events, and there’s nothing like walking on that frontstretch with the fans and the excitement they show. That’s why we have a lot of excitement on the track after that because we get a little keyed up ourselves.”
Tony George, the president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, attended The Winston and came away impressed.
“It even got him,” Wheeler said. “And the tension before the start of the Indy 500 is pretty good.”
Wheeler said Tuesday he wants to make The Winston more of a week-long event, much like the festivities at the NBA All-Star Game.
“We’ll probably adopt some similar things to what they were doing,” Wheeler said. “I’d like to get all The Winston drivers downtown in Charlotte and let everybody see them. We’ve even thought about having a parade downtown.
“We want to build this up as a huge All-Star event. Right now, it’s the best attended All-Star event in sports.”
The No Bull 5 races have seen pretty large crowds, too, so R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company’s Sports Marketing Enterprises decided to renew that program for a fifth straight year.
The No Bull 5 events will remain the same in 2002: Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the first race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, and the second races at Daytona International Speedway, Richmond International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. If a driver who finishes in the Top 5 in one event wins the next No Bull 5 race, he wins $1 million.
Also, a fan is paired with each eligible driver, and if that driver wins, the fan gets $1 million, too.
“It was exciting the first time I was able to be involved in it, but nothing like that first time when I won,” Jarrett said. “When I won at Talladega and saw the look on this fan’s face – they had just become a millionaire – that’s incredible.”
RJR has paid out $20 million to fans and drivers in the four years of the program. The EA Sports 500 at Talladega on Oct. 21 is the next No Bull 5 event this season.
A pit stop competition was held in uptown Charlotte on Tuesday to pair the drivers with fans. Rusty Wallace’s team won it, and he’ll be paired with Daniel Lewis of San Jose, Calif. The rest of the drivers, in order of their finish, and their No Bull 5 fan pairings are: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carrie Richter of Conneaut, Ohio; Jarrett and Karen Gould of Scotland, Md.; Ricky Rudd and Debra Krob of Dallas; and Kevin Harvick and Jeff Campbell of Pevely, Mo.
Several hundred fans watched the competition, which was held on a blocked-off street in the heart of Charlotte.
“It’s not every day you can race a race car up and down Tryon Street and change tires like you do on a pit stop and make all the noise we did today – and not have somebody arrest you,” Rudd said. “It was a fun day.”
“It’s pretty cool to be right in the middle of the city of Charlotte, to get a chance to race for a million dollars and to bring some inner-city fans out and hopefully get them involved in our sport,” Harvick said.
Wheeler, NBC still negotiating?
Apparently, the dispute between LMS officials and NBC over the network’s choice to not to say “Lowe’s Motor Speedway” during qualifying and the Busch Series race hasn’t been completely resolved.
“The iron is still working,” Wheeler said. “The ironing board is still up. We’ll see how it comes out.”
The race, which was shown on TNT after the attacks on terrorist targets in Afghanistan preempted coverage on NBC, was shown Sunday with references to the track. Wheeler took some heat for attempts to tow satellite trucks on Saturday.
“You do what you’ve got to do,” Wheeler said. “If people don’t like the way I do it, that’s tough. They’re free to express themselves, as am I. If I express myself sometimes a little uniquely, that’s just the way it is.”
“My wife did tell me that she did prefer me when I was more docile.”