Humpy Wheeler Wind Tunnel transcript
Racing promoter H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, formerly of Speedway Motorsports Inc. and Lowe’s Motor Speedway, joined guest host Mike Joy Sunday night on "Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain" on Speed. Wheeler discussed the Indianapolis 500, his potential interest in promoting the world's best-known race, Danica Patrick and more. Following is a transcript:
Joy: For the past month, “Tunnel heads” have wanted to have you on the show to hear about your trip to the Indy 500 and what it was like …
Wheeler: “I had a ball up there. I’ve been to the Brickyard and all that but the Indy 500 is such a special … I’d been competing against it for all those years. I’d call Tony George the morning of every race and say, ‘We’ve got as many people as you do up there because what I did was let everyone who was walking down the street come and sit on the fans’ laps.’ He’d laugh and I’d say, ‘Is it raining yet?’
We had a big time and we did that every year that I was at the speedway after he took it over. I had a good time and I know Mary George and all the girls up there and had talked to them and kept up with them and talked to them quite a bit.”
Joy: Are you like me … when I don’t have that headset to put on, I don’t know what to do?
Wheeler: “No, I had plenty to do because I was reacquainting myself a lot. I’m good friends with a lot of those drivers like Dario Franchitti, and I was glad to see him win today because I thought he could have won that race had he not had that lousy pit stop he had.”
Joy: If the opportunity presented, would have an interest in going to promote the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, or as many people on our live chat have asked, would you have an interest in the new Formula One series?
Wheeler: “Well, that new series sounds interesting but it also sounds like a real pain in the eye. Starting from scratch on that thing … that’s going to be …… and then you’re going to have heads butting. I used to do that when I was operating dirt race tracks and I don’t want to do that anymore. As far as Indy is concerned, Tony (George) and I are good friends and I actually may help them do some things. As far as going to a full-time deal, that’s probably not in the cards. I think Tony will get this thing straightened out. We’re in a tough economy right now and racing all over’s been hit pretty hard.”
Joy: But you’re the fellow who once told me that an empty seat is a wasted seat, and you know how to fill a grandstand and make the people happy. So, I imagine you’d be a great benefit to someone.
Wheeler: “There’s nothing worse than an empty seat. Nothing. It just makes me cry when I see one.”
Joy: What do you think of Dave Despain’s idea for the 100th Indy 500, making it a “green race” and giving the teams 50 gallons to go 500 miles?
Wheeler: “Well, I might take it a step further because there are so many thousands of people working on alternative forms of energy. What if you said no fossil fuel at all? Think of the crazy stuff that would show up. There’s some battery stuff out there that’s really, really interesting right now. Some solar-powered things that are crazy.”
Joy: The silence would be deafening …
Wheeler: “You’d pipe the roar in (laughing) …”
Joy: What would Danica’s coming to NASCAR mean to race promoters?
Wheeler: “I want to have the first race. I’d come back for that because she would stir it up. I know Janet Guthrie certainly did when we had her for the first time at Charlotte for the 1976 Coca-Cola 600. She was killing us up in Indy. When she came down here, we sold every ticket out. We sold more tickets in one day when she made the starting field than we’ve ever sold in one day in the history of that speedway. So, Danica lights things up and it would be interesting. She’s also working on a contract up there (IndyCar).”
Joy: Update on Humpy’s Heroes?
Wheeler: “We took 10 outstanding young race drivers between 15 and 22 who have won almost 600 races amongst themselves but had never been in Cup cars. So, we took them down there to show them how to drive Cup cars. It’s something David Ragan and I are doing together and Gary Nelson is helping us with Kenny Wallace and Andy Hillenburg. It really opened things up. Then the next day we went through how to be interviewed. We said, ‘We’ve got a .357 Magnum and anybody who says “awesome,” you get shot right between the temples. And if you say “the boys back at the shop,” you get shot in the arm.’ We told them how to get their sponsors in without saying the obvious. We got rid of all those clichés and we didn’t have to shoot but two of them (laughing). They’ll also compete in four Legends car races and then we’ll take them back to Rockingham and run them in Cup cars in time deals just like they qualify. We’ll take them to a dirt track and see how they do there. Then at the end of the whole deal, we’ll pick one out as ‘Humpy’s Hero’ and we’ll have a second and third place and hopefully they’ll come through this thing with a good learning experience about not only how to drive the car but about what life’s like when you get into Cup racing.”
Joy: Legends, Bandoleros, Thunder Roadsters … did you have any idea how big all of this 600 racing program could become?
Wheeler: “No. When we started it back in ’93 or ’94, everyone said it won’t work, of course. We’ve sold 4,000 Legends cars since then and I think there are 2,000 races this year across the world. It’s not just the U.S. but in Europe and Pacific Rim countries. It’s been a good program and what’s made it work is it’s a specification car. You can’t change anything.”
Joy: Everybody was outraged when Kyle Busch smashed his Gibson guitar in Victory Lane. We got a great email on this … Kyle Busch, the way he is, bright light for NASCAR or is he a weed among their carefully-manicured roster of drivers?
Wheeler: “In a way, he’s a bright light because he’s different. He’s not holding to a sponsor and saying I’m not going to do this and that. I think the only thing he probably wasn’t thinking about was all the work Sam Bass put into painting.”
Joy: When you are woken up from the greatest racing dream of your life, where is the race you’re promoting, what track and who’s in it?
Wheeler: “It just might be that non-fossil fuel race at Indianapolis for the 100th anniversary. That would be the wildest thing you’ve ever seen. I just wish Smokey Yunick was still living to see what he would bring back. You don’t have to have a driver either. You can stand up on the top with your little transmitter and work the car.”