'One Hot Night' in Charlotte
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin Twitter and Instagram | MRN.com on May 14, 2014 | 3:30 P.M. EST
Allison was forced to make a trip to the hospital after hitting the wall following the checkered flag. (Photo: CMS)
In 1992, Charlotte Motor Speedway did the unthinkable: light a 1.5-mile high-banked racetrack.
The move helped revolutionize the sport and set the tone for more primetime races on the bigger tracks, including the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway.
Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Chairman Bruton Smith and track officials worked with MUSCO to build the $1.7 million, first-of-its-kind lighting system. The first race held under the lights at CMS was The Winston, now known as the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
"You get speechless even now, thinking about it," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president for competition who served as crew chief for Kyle Petty in 1992. "It's a big racetrack to be lit for the first time. It was state-of-the-art for its day. I think the minute you rolled in here - from drivers to crew chiefs, to the guys that change the springs and the gears and the tires - the adrenaline just kicked in and it never shut down until probably two days after the race."
There was a lot of hype leading up to the race, tabbed as "One Hot Night," but also concern from the drivers because of the high speeds and the possible strobe effect from the new MUSCO lights around the infield side of the track that diffused the light aimed at the drivers.
But a test at the speedway weeks before the green flag flew on the historic race put those concerns to rest. Eventual race winner Davey Allison and crew chief Larry McReynolds were among the teams at the test, and were extremely happy with the way the first run went under the lights.
"From the first time we ran that test night two weeks before the race, Davey said, 'This is going to be cool, this is going to be fun, it’s going to be fine,' " McReynolds said.
With a field of 20 drivers led by Allison starting on the pole and ready to make history on May 16, 1992, the excitement didn't really hit McReynolds until the cars stopped for a photo.
"That's when you knew this was going to be a really exciting night," McReynolds said. "It looked like 10 million flashbulbs going off as those cars were sitting on the frontstretch. There was a lot of apprehension, a lot of anticipation about that night. But no question, once we got into it you knew the All-Star Race had gone to a whole new level."
After winning the first segment, Allison found himself in contention for the win in the final 10-lap shootout. Dale Earnhardt led Kyle Petty, who won the second segment, to the white flag with Allison close behind. As the leaders raced down the backstretch, Earnhardt took Petty down to the flat and when the two reached Turn 3, Petty edged up on Earnhardt - causing him to spin the No. 3 Chevrolet. With Petty checking up to avoid Earnhardt, that opened the door for Allison to close in and drag-race Petty to the finish. But as the two banged together, Allison got turned into the wall after taking the checkered flag.
"Dale ran me to the inside of the backstretch and when we went down in there, he ran across the flat, got loose and Davey had a good run at me," Petty said on the MRN broadcast after the race. "I tried to chop him off and I kept coming, coming, coming; and when we got by him, I was into him. It's my fault, I guess."
Allison's car came to a rest in Turn 1, where safety workers and members of the No. 28 team quickly attended to him.
"I got to the front of the car, looked through the windshield and Davey was kind of slumped over as he was knocked unconscious," McReynolds recalled. "Of course, I was very concerned then. But it didn’t take long (before) he started moving around so I knew he was OK, but I knew he had taken an awfully hard lick on the driver side."
One of McReynolds' most vivid memories from that night was the ambulance ride to the infield care center.
"Bobby Allison came down there and the three of us were in there," McReynolds said. "Davey just kept asking, 'What happened?' I said, 'Well, you wrecked and you won.' Five seconds later, he would ask me again. He must have asked me that a dozen times just in the short ride from Turn 1 to the infield care center."
Allison was then transported to the hospital and wasn't able to celebrate in Victory Lane. While attention was turned to Allison, the crowd also had their eyes on Earnhardt limping his Chevrolet back to pit road to greet Petty.
"Kyle and Earnhardt pulled up to the pits, crews went running to the cars and everybody thought there was going to be this big brawl," Pemberton said. "All it was was Earnhardt having Kyle in a headlock, and everybody else high-fiving for how good the race was. At that point, you were angry that you didn't win. But it was still a great race."