Charlotte Motor Speedway;
In 1959, one of NASCAR’S leading track & race promoting guru, as well as car dealer, Bruton Smith, had an idea to build a track near the hub of everything NASCAR and what some consider it’s home turf, Charlotte, North Carolina.
Smith got together with Curtis Turner, a NASCAR Sprint Cup legend with a list of accomplishments longer than most current drivers could ever dream of. Curtis Turner is also the only Sprint Cup driver to ever win a race due to the fact he was the only car left on the track (Sept. 30th, 1956 and a story unlike any you have heard).
One of the behind the scenes fact to the creation of Charlotte’s home track is that with all the power and connections that was held in the palm of Bruton Smith’s hand, it was Curtis Turner that they needed to ensure the project could get the needed funding and approval from the ‘powers that be’ in and around NASCAR. Indeed, Curtis Turner did that for them and even more.
Construction Cost For Charlotte motor Speedway;
The initial cost of construction, and the sum Turner was required to secure, was $1.25 million. Once funding was secure, work began on what would soon be considered NASCAR’S home track.
However, due to the availability for an amount of land needed for a project of this magnitude, securing land in Charlotte was all but impossible, so the track is actually located just outside the city in a town named Concord, North Carolina.
The design drawn up by Turner and Smith was for the track to be an oval shaped, 1.5 mile Superspeedway, built for speed, yet with 24 degree banking around a mere mile and a half area, the cars would have to be able to handle adequately as well. At the time, an almost perfect race track for NASCAR to host an exciting race.
Charlotte Host First 600 – Then Goes Belly Up;
After the completion of the track, NASCAR chooses to hold the first race there as soon as possible, so less than a year after breaking ground, on June 19th 1960, Charlotte Motor Speedway holds it’s very first race, The World 600.
Choosing to have a race that was 600 miles long was a statement they felt needed to demonstrate to the public that ‘this is an important race’, ‘a must see event’, so to speak.
Furthermore, seeing as how it was a majority of NASCAR Sprint Cup team’s home track, everyone felt they needed to throw extra effort into the 600. They would bring out their best cars, they would have their cars looking spectacular. After all, it was 1960 and they wanted the Nation to see them all at their best.
Unfortunately, shortly after the first World 600, the track began suffering the strains of financial liabilities required to keep such a track running and operational. They were suffering from lack of promotional events to bring in extra money and there were just too many bosses with hands in the cookie jar and way too few ideas on how to keep the cookie jar full.
So almost a full year after the 1960 World 600, Charlotte Motor Speedway was thrown head first into Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. The track was not quite broke, however needed reorganization if it were to ever come back out of the hole it had fell in within months of operation. Even further proof that Charlotte Motor Speedway’s problem lied at the feet of those in charge of finances.
Charlotte Motor Speedway Rises Like A Phoenix From the Ashes;
During the shakeup created by the Chapter 11 reorganization, Bruton chose to exit the operation and move on to bigger and better things. In fact, Smith did become quite successful in his endeavors, and although he was no longer affiliated with Charlotte Motor Speedway, he had enough business savy to realize the income potential there. To Bruton, it was not a matter of “if” the speedway could recover from the Chapter 11, it was “when” it would recover.
As Smith suspected, the track did begin to recover. Though ticket sells were low, the track’s committee began to learn from their earlier mistakes and quickly grew the speedway into a money generating enterprise all it’s own.
Curtis Turner ended up being pushed out of the track’s operations by the other partners and at the same time, Bruton began slowly buying stock options in Charlotte Motor Speedway here and there. The track was back up and running and had barely slowed at all. As a businessman, Smith was merely sitting back and waiting. Patience would prove to be his strongest virtue.
Bruton Returns and Hires The Speedway’s Greatest Asset;
By 1975, Bruton Smith had aquired enough stock to have the locks on the doors changed if he so chose. So he simply walked back through the gates and essentially took back his track.
Smith hired a man named Humpy Wheeler to become the lead promoter of Charlotte’s day to day activities. It proved to be the absolute single most important day in the long history of Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Humpy Wheeler began constructing so many money generating ideas that Smith and the others could barely keep up, so they pretty much left Humpy to do as he pleased, they would write checks for whatever he came up with, and as a result, they would end up cashing checks worth considerably more than the ones they wrote.
By 1984, Humpy had transformed the speedway into a literal ‘cash cow’. He constantly created unique stunts before races, spectacular displays of talented muscians and shows of all kinds.
They developed the first year round condos that overlooked the track and immediately had leased them all out. However, Humpy’s greatest bright idea had yet to illuminate.
What Was Once Hidden In Darkness – Will Soon Be Brought Into The Light;
It was 1992 and Humpy had already began the 90′s with a bang. Charlotte Motor Speedway had been plastered all over the world from Hollywood. The huge motion picture “Days Of Thunder”, starring an elite list of Hollywood’s finest actors such as Robert Duvall, Nicole Kidman and the biggest star of the time, Tom Cruise, had just smashed the box office and the entire world had been introduced to NASCAR, Charlotte Motor Speedway, ESPN and even the drivers that had roles in the film like Rusty Wallace, Harry Gant and even Humpy himself had a few lines. Not to mention the producers liked his name “Wheeler” so much, the villian in the movie, played by actor Cary Elwes, was named “Russ Wheeler.”
The film was based on the life and times of NASCAR legendary crew chief Harry Hogg and brought the world of NASCAR and ESPN to the masses. It also created a whole new fan base and peaked the interest of other Hollywood stars.
Though Humpy still had a trick up his sleeve. After all he had already accomplished for the track, Bruton would have lassoed the moon if Wheeler had asked. So talking him into a $1.75 million investment was not an issue. Though the reason did raise eyebrows when he informed them it was needed for ‘lighting’.
Charlotte Brings Day To Night:
Bruton and Humpy purchased the most revolutionary lighting system in any sport to date. The lights are developed with the use of mirrors that actually reflect natural and artificial light onto the track in a way that produces no glare at all, and even appears to be natural illumination.
Nothing has ever been reproduced to compare to Charlotte Motor Speedway’s lighting system. Some have gotten themselves lights, though not quite like Humpy’s.
The lights have created the most exciting and most watched races on TV, besides Daytona and Bristol. The introduction of the 600 being ran at night has proved to be astronomical. Not to mention the Sprint Cup’s All-Star Race, Craftsman Truck Race and the Nationwide races held at the famed track.
Another idea that proved to be lucrative was the selling of the naming rights. Just about every company you can imagine have had their name’s affiliated with the track. Lowes being the most recent.
The track also features events from the “Whelen Southern Modified Tour”, NHRA Drag Racing Series and INEX Raceceiver Legends Car Series. There have been IRL events held there and in fact, Tony Stewart set a lap record of 24.490 in an Indy car at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1998 driving for Team Menard…..
There are so many different events held at the track now it would be all but impossible to name them all. The Bandoleros and numerous other forms of racing are all ran here at Charlotte…….All under the lights of the track that would not go out without a fight.
Filed Under: TRACKS