Twenty years after Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Chairman Bruton Smith floated the idea of installing a first-of-its-kind lighting system at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the seemingly impossible notion of racing at night has become the norm, with some of NASCAR’s biggest events, including the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, now running in prime time.
While some scoffed at the idea, Smith revolutionized the sport when he partnered with MUSCO to build the 1,200-fixture, $1.7 million lighting system. It was different from any installed at other tracks in that it used a system of adjustable mirrors to moderate the light aimed at the drivers. At issue was determining the amount of light needed for the television cameras while at the same time guaranteeing it didn’t adversely affect the drivers’ vision. The spectators’ comfort also was taken into consideration.
“We got really lucky because one of the gentlemen from MUSCO had driven race cars,” Smith recalled. “So when I talked with him, he understood what I was talking about.”
After two nights of testing before the 1992 Sprint All-Star Race, then called The Winston, Kyle Petty predicted Smith’s upgrades would change the sport forever.
“This could be the future of racing,” Petty said then. “You can make more of a package out of night racing and it will sell better to TV.”
With all the hype leading up to the race, no one could have scripted a more exciting finish under the lights.
“You felt like you were at a Rolling Stones concert,” reflected Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition and racing development, who was Kyle Petty’s crew chief that night. “The crowd was huge. It was May, the weather was good. It was just electric. You looked up at that place lit up and it was so unbelievably cool.”
With four laps remaining in the final 10-lap segment of the race, NASCAR legends Dale Earnhardt, Kyle Petty and Davey Allison battled for the lead.
On the final lap, the three raced down the backstretch. Petty was trailing Earnhardt heading into Turn 3 when the Goodwrench No. 3 got loose and spun toward the outside wall. Petty took the lead with Allison chasing close behind.
Coming out of Turn 4, Petty and Allison raced side-by-side, beating and banging toward the finish line. As they crossed the stripe, Allison’s car spun in front of Petty’s and into the outside wall. It wasn’t until later, when team owner Robert Yates and crew chief Larry McReynolds visited him in the infield medical center, that Allison knew he’d won.
“I wish I would have won the race, but I ain’t going to kick and scream about it,” Earnhardt told reporters that night. “Kyle was trying to win and I was, too. I’m not going to be mad about it.
“He went into the corner and tried to take what was his. That’s all there was to it – good, hard racing. Kyle and I were just racing for it. He just took a little more than I wanted to give.”
Track officials billed that All-Star Race as “One Hot Night,” a name that still reverberates with race fans and motorsports buffs two decades later.