Wheeler Dealer

The man who gave us an elephant parade as a pre-race show, lights at a superspeedway and legends cars is retiring.

And the racing world will be poorer because of it.

H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler will retire from his post as president of Lowe's Motor Speedway after this weekend's Coca-Cola 600.

One of the true pioneers and visionaries of the sport, Wheeler is also one of the nicest people I've ever met in the racing world.

His presence in the media center or on the annual pre-season NASCAR media tour always lit up the room and Wheeler never turned down an opportunity to talk or just say hello.

"He’s a combination of Don King, Walt Disney and P.T. Barnum," former Lowe’s Motor Speedway vice president Jerry Gappens and now president of New Hampshire Motor Speedway once said.

There will never be a better description.

I've always marveled at Wheeler's career which included just about everything a person could possibly do in motorsports.

A short track promoter, media persion, public relations representative and finally an industry executive, Wheeler's experience in all facets of the sport helped him understand it better than most anyone.

Many complain today's NASCAR is boring and populated with politically correct drivers, mundane racing and cookie-cutter tracks.

Wheeler realized it was his job to entertain the folks who were paying for tickets and investing their time as well as money in the sport they love.

He did what he could to overcome as many of those criticisms about the sport, as recently as a few weeks ago when he strongly suggested NASCAR allow teams to test the new Sprint Cup car at LMS in hopes of improving the competition.

NASCAR to its credit obliged. Unfortunately after what we witnessed in last week's all-star race it didn't seem to help, but Wheeler should be applauded for trying to do his part.

With Wheeler in charge, LMS became one of the crown jewels in racing and set the model for new and renovated tracks around the country.

His short track background was often the genesis of several ideas, many of which were scoffed at initially. But Wheeler was adept at understanding that with so many other options for today's entertainment dollar, he and his staff needed to do everything in its power to ensure the at-track experience was enough to get those fans to come back.

Unfortunately there are far too many track operators and promoters - both in big time racing as well as the short track scene - who have the "just open the gates" mentality.

Wheeler would have none of it and even something as simple as a clean restroom facility was a task deemed important.

Wheeler will work on a book about his colorful life and travel with his family in retirement, but hopefully he won't stray too far away from the racing world.

I don't believe for a minute the guy who brought a dancing bear to the track is completely out of perfectly good ideas.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2008

Photos

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  • From the Archives: Dover
  • From the Archives: Dover
  • From the Archives: Dover
  • From the Archives: Dover
  • From the Archives: Dover
  • Coca-Cola 600
  • Coca-Cola 600
  • Coca-Cola 600
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  • Coca-Cola 600
  • From the Archives: Charlotte
  • From the Archives: Charlotte
  • From the Archives: Charlotte
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  • From the Archives: Charlotte
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  • Sprint All-Star Race
  • Sprint All-Star Race
  • Sprint All-Star Race
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  • Sprint All-Star Race

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