It wasn’t the race that put NASCAR on the map, but the 1992 Monster Energy All-Star Race (then-The Winston) was the one that truly put it under the lights and in the history books.
With pressure mounting on Charlotte Motor Speedway President Humpy Wheeler to maintain the non-points race’s relevance, the innovative promoter pulled off what many said couldn’t be done: lighting a 1.5-mile track for a night race. The spectacle that unfolded in front of 130,000 fans, the largest-ever live audience to see a primetime sporting event, became one for the ages on May 16, 1992, as young guns Davey Allison and Kyle Petty crashed after crossing the finish line side-by-side. The contact sent Allison to the hospital, while his crew, led by crew chief and current FOX Sports analyst Larry McReynolds, headed to Victory Lane to celebrate their gargantuan $300,000 purse.
Wheeler’s enormous gamble, coupled with a unique field-inversion format and riveting finish, catapulted the 1992 race, called by current FOX NASCAR play-by-play announcer Mike Joy, into NASCAR history and validated the “One Hot Night” moniker given The Winston race in the weeks preceding it. The race also paved the way for thousands of similar action-packed evenings, not only in NASCAR but in other series around the world.
On Saturday, May 20, at 8 p.m. ET, FS1 televises the 2017 edition of the now-named Monster Energy All-Star Race from Charlotte Motor Speedway. McReynolds serves as a race analyst with fellow analysts Hall of Famer and three-time champion Darrell Waltrip, and four-time champion Jeff Gordon. Joy calls the race, as he did in 1992 for TNN on the night NASCAR went primetime.
Below are McReynolds and Joy’s recollections of the race that became known as “One Hot Night” 25 years ago:
How significant was the 1992 Monster Energy All-Star Race to the future of NASCAR?
Mike Joy: Seeing so large a speedway dazzle in the glow of all those lights made the ’92 Winston a “first-time” event that would never be forgotten. An hour after it was over, the lights were still blazing, and the grandstand still held a large crowd. Seven-time champion Richard Petty looked up at the crowd from the garage area and said to TNN’s Glenn Jarrett, “Why are all these folks still here? Do they think we are going to go back out there and do this again?”
What was The Winston (now the Monster Energy All-Star Race) lacking in 1992 that prompted Charlotte Motor Speedway officials to undertake the monumental task of lighting the 1.5-mile speedway?
Mike Joy: There were a lot of races in that area in a short amount of time. The traditional NASCAR race was 500 miles or 500 laps, and it was a little difficult to get the fans to go for the idea of seeing the same stars in a short race. The format, even with a lot of money at stake, maybe just didn’t seem compelling enough for fans who were used to getting 500 miles or 500 laps of entertainment for their ticket.
How baffling of an idea was it to light a superspeedway like Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1992?
Mike Joy: Most people in the sport thought it couldn’t be done successfully – to have enough light so that the drivers could see and the fans could see, but there wouldn’t be glare in everybody’s eyes, including the competitors’. It was a daunting task to come up with major-league-stadium-level lighting that didn’t somewhere, somehow shine in everybody’s eyes. But the folks at MUSCO figured out a way with their mirror system and pulled it off to the surprise, I think, of just about everybody.
What were the safety concerns of drivers going into the race with regard to the lighting?
Mike Joy: The last time NASCAR had run a night race on a track a mile or longer was the Raleigh (N.C.) Fairgrounds in 1971. That was a flat dirt track with horse-track-level lighting. To be able to run a race with the track lit sufficiently on a mile-and-a-half superspeedway, everyone was hopeful, but I know everyone was skeptical.
You joined Roberts Yates Racing and driver Davey Allison at the beginning of the 1991 season. How did that come about and how well did you and Davey click in the beginning?
Larry McReynolds: Davey had been trying to get me to go over there and work with him for a couple of years, but I wouldn’t leave the No. 26 car that I had been with since the beginning. Finally, Robert and Davey convinced me to move. There was no question, from the very beginning, how great the chemistry between Davey and I was. It didn’t take me long to realize that if we just dotted our I’s and crossed our T’s, with Davey’s talent and knowledge of the race car, we could win a lot of races and battle for some championships.
How strong was your car in the 1992 Monster Energy All-Star Race?
Larry McReynolds: All our cars at the No. 28 team had names, and that one was James Bond 007. It was our mile-and-a-half track car, and we were in contention to win with it or won every time we took it. It was the same car we won the 1991 All-Star Race with and came back the next weekend and won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte with. In 1992, the series sponsor, Winston, had a bonus called the Winston Million. If you won three of the big four races – the Daytona 500, the Winston 500 at Talladega, the Coke 600 and the Southern 500 at Darlington – they paid a $1 million bonus. We already had won the Daytona 500 and the Winston 500, so we only had one race to go. We debated about taking that car to the All-Star Race because we knew the 600 was the next week. However, it didn’t take Robert, Davey and me but 15 seconds to decide that the next race – the All-Star Race – was the most important one. And what better test session for the Coke 600 than to run that car the week before? All our cars were fast but that one had something special.
How do you recall the final few laps of the 1992 race?
Larry McReynolds: It didn’t take me long into that final segment to figure out that we probably weren’t going to win the race. We had gotten a little bit off on our chassis adjustments, but it was part of building the notebook that we were trying to create for racing under the lights at Charlotte because we didn’t have a previous notebook for that. It was our first race under the lights and in the evening at Charlotte. The car was too tight, particularly in traffic. When we got to the white flag, we were third, so I had accepted the fact we were going to finish third and Kyle Petty and Dale Earnhardt were going to battle for the win. Back then, we didn’t have mammoth pit boxes like teams do now. I’d stand in the pit box with one foot up on the pit wall. Roman Pemberton, one of our crew members, had flipped a trash can upside down and was standing on top of it. They took the white flag and, all of a sudden, the crowd started going crazy. I started thinking about Kyle Petty and Dale Earnhardt running first and second, wondering if they had taken each other out or wrecked. Maybe we could win. Then all of a sudden, I saw Roman, whose eyes were as big as saucers, and I knew something was going on. I started looking toward turn 4 and saw Davey coming out beside Kyle and knew immediately who would win that drag race. It would be the guy with the Robert Yates horsepower (Allison). Lo and behold, we won the race. The funny thing about our season leading up to the race was that we were going through a bit of a cycle in which we would win the race one week and wreck the next week. That night, we figured out how to do both in the same night.
The car never went to Victory Lane, did it?
Larry McReynolds: I didn’t even go to Victory Lane. Humpy Wheeler (then-Charlotte Motor Speedway president) and the group at Charlotte Motor Speedway really wanted the car and the team in Victory Lane because it was a really big night for the track. It was the first time that a track of this size had run a race under the lights. The stands were full. It was a watershed moment for the sport. Humpy was convinced he was going to take the car to Victory Lane. I wasn’t down there because I was at the care center, but it was my understanding that Robert (Yates, car owner) threatened the wrecker driver, telling him that he didn’t want to celebrate a win without the driver. Finally, the officials at Charlotte and Robert compromised a bit. Robert, Carolyn (Yates) and a few of the crew members went to Victory Lane. But if you look at the pictures, nobody was smiling. They got their pictures with the trophy and with RJR. I’ve won 23 Cup races and two All-Star Races, but that was the only time I was part of winning a race and didn’t even consider going to Victory Lane.
FS1 will televise the 2017 Monster Energy All-Star Race on Saturday, May 20, at 8 p.m. ET.