Kyle Petty says All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway under the lights 25 years ago lived up to the hype
CONCORD, N.C. — Kyle Petty can remember some things about the All-Star Race 25 years ago, the first race under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
He can remember not touching Dale Earnhardt Sr. before Earnhardt went spinning on the final lap in Turn 3 after what appeared to be contact with Petty. He can remember the crash with Davey Allison just after they crossed the finish line — with Allison winning but being taken to the hospital with a concussion and other injuries. And he can remember the walk through the stands to the press box to talk to the media.
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Imagine if NFL quarterbacks could choose between footballs, one being more accurate, the other able to fly farther. That’s the kind of choice drivers will make Saturday in the All-Star Race.
A lot has changed in the past 25 years — the cars looked so different, and raced differently. But fans not liking seeing their favorite driver crashed — that has stayed the same, even in 2017 as Charlotte gets ready to host the 2017 All-Star Race on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET (FS1).
So it’s pretty easy to envision what it was like for Petty to have to walk through the grandstands after the race, typically something the winner would do after a race to speak to reporters in the press box.
“Every freaking fan in the grandstands is teed off because Earnhardt’s wrecked and I’ve wrecked Davey,” Petty said. “According to every fan, I wrecked Earnhardt going into Turn 3. … I walked through the grandstands, right through the middle.
“I’m telling you, they were going to kill my butt. It was ugly. … They cussed us and threw stuff. It was ugly.”
Petty said he was more worried about Allison at the time than whether angry fans would throw stuff at him.
What did the media think when Petty got to the media center?
“They didn’t believe I didn’t hit Earnhardt,” Petty said.
Allison’s crew chief at the time, Larry McReynolds, went with Allison to the infield care center.
“He asked me about 10 times from there to the infield care center what happened,” McReynolds said. “I kept telling him and he’d ask me again.”
Petty said Earnhardt was mad but not mad at anybody. He talked to Allison two days after the accident (when Allison was released from the hospital) and had actually hoped to run Allison’s Busch Series car, but with it being a different manufacturer, they couldn’t make it happen.
One of the big questions after the race was how the lights worked. The drivers were happy with the lighting, and the lights weren’t considered a contributor to any of the wrecks.
Petty said at night, you can’t see the fans in the grandstands — it is just the track that a driver sees. He said that is what made that race a little strange.
Actually, just seeing a big speedway lit was strange.
“It was crazy to think you could light this place,” Petty said. “Most of us thought, from a drivers’ perspective, [half-mile tracks] go from light to dark to light to dark and that’s OK at 70 miles an hour. But at 170 or 180, when they said they were going to do it with lights and mirrors, I’m like, ‘Maybe smoke and mirrors.'”
By the time the drivers involved in the All-Star drama got to the 600-mile race at Charlotte the following week, they were all good with each other, and Petty said he thinks the fans were good with him, too.
None of the drivers blamed Petty.
“We weren’t arguing with each other,” Petty said. “Nobody was mad about it. … For the race fans, the only story was what a great race that was. The story was the race — not what we did, what the teams did, not what anybody did. The story was can Davey come back from those injuries.”
Typically a driver knows if fans are mad when the driver goes out for prerace introductions. Nothing Petty remembers indicated any change in the reaction the week after his tangling with Allison on that final All-Star lap.
“I don’t remember being booed any more than normal,” Petty said.
What Petty does remember about that crazy All-Star Race? The anticipation and the result:
“It lived up to every bit of the hype,” Petty said. “Few things in sports do rarely live up to the hype.”