NASCAR: Why We Love Humpy Wheeler

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports /

As a NASCAR writer I sometimes wonder if my opinions on how to improve NASCAR are off the deep end. Then there are days when Humpy Wheeler says something and it blows my mind. This is one of those days.

For those new to NASCAR or are not familiar with the name Humpy Wheeler, he is one of the all time great promoters in NASCAR history. From the age of nine when he was selling tickets to bicycle races, he knew how to promote racing. A former defensive lineman for the South Carolina Gamecocks, he was an innovator in NASCAR until his retirement in 2008. I do not think it is a coincidence that the popularity in NASCAR has declined since his departure.

As president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, Wheeler brought a giant shark to the track after Cale Yarborough hung the unflattering nickname on Darrell Waltrip, “Jaws”. Cale’s sponsor at the time was Holly Farms Poultry, so Humpy had a dead chicken put in its mouth, placed it on a flat bed and rolled that baby around the track. If you ever wonder where they got some of the ideas for the movie Stroker Ace, there you go. I could write 100,000 words on the promotions Wheeler brought to Charlotte Motor Speedway and NASCAR.

As I was looking through Facebook this afternoon, between all the pictures of families at softball games and fans at race tracks all over the country, a post from Humpy Wheeler pops up. At that moment my daughter could have hit a grand slam home run to win the game, I wouldn’t know as I was reading Humpy and I knew he was about to throw down some knowledge.

Reading through it starts very run of the mill, compliments on the promotion of Steve O’Donell and explaining that the massive TV deal is the only thing keeping the tracks going. Even some compliments to Brian France, then he drops an idea to help the sport that is so out of right field. I will let you read it yourself.

"Yes, mistakes by many throughout racing have been made orcaused particularly the huge costs of racing but this has beenthe result of huge tech advances that should have been stopped but weren’t. However, they still can.One old idea that has worked on some short tracks is theclaim rule. If your car finishes in the top three any car ownercan buy the winner within one hour after the finish for $100,000.To keep a bidding war from running that price to $250,000 or morewe take the claimers who have filed a “claim” and pull numbersout of a hat.What would this do? First, any dominant car has found a littleedge and the new owners would find that resulting in better racing. Second, I believe it would make owners lower their cost althoughI am not so sure about that. However, just think. If one of GibbsToyota cars wins at an intermediate track and a modestly financedteam gets it the world could change."

Boom! There is its, turn NASCAR into a claimer series. First thing in your mind is that might be the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Then you start to think about it, maybe it just might work. If the super teams lose a car they go back to the shop and pick one out. If they don’t have something they like they build another one. What is the difference if they wreck it, which happens to every team a couple times a season, or if they get it claimed? At least if it is claimed they get monies to build another one.

Before you think this is just stupid, Daytona USA pays every team that wins the Daytona 500 the approximate cost of the car so they can put it in the museum. There have been stories of teams going to the museum and going over the winning car in the display to see if they can find anything. If there was anything that could even the playing field between the top tier teams and the others is if they could get a car and learn from it and use it.

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One of the biggest advantages of claimer races is that you are almost afraid to cheat. You build your car as close to the rules as you can and use the set up to get ahead. It becomes a battle of talent and skill instead of technology and engineering. That way if someone gets your car, you can build another one and win again. You would see the biggest teams getting involved just to see what they could learn.

Of course there would be an issue with the manufacturer deals that the teams have. A chevy team could claim a car but it would never go into their stable to use. What they might learn from the engine or suspension package could transfer to their cars. If though, say BK Racing claimed a JGR winning car, they could see dramatic improvements as soon as they hit the track with it.

Lets be completely honest here, we all know this is never going to happen. It is just the thoughts of a retired promoter who loves the sport. It is great to hear and to talk about, it is what will keep the talking heads on NASCAR radio on SiriusXm going for a whole day. The only way it would ever come to fruition is in an all star race, but even then its a long shot. Thing is, with what is going on with NASCAR attendance and ratings we need every idea out there to find a road ahead for the sport.

What NASCAR is missing from its executive council that runs the sport is a crazy promoter. Someone that is willing to think outside the box to get people excited about NASCAR again. Claimer races are not the answer, but it is a suggestion that nobody now in NASCAR would ever come up with, and that is a problem. Its going to take something that nobody is talking about today to get NASCAR back on track. Until then I am going to keep writing about my screwy ideas knowing that any day now Humpy Wheeler is going to post on Facebook again and make my ideas looks doable.