Memorial Day – Coca Cola 600 – Take 2 May 25, 2009Posted by claireblang in 2009 Season.
Tags: claire b lang, Coca Cola 600, Humpy Wheeler, Lowe's Motor Speedway, NASCAR, www.claireblang.com
Standing By In the LMS Garage
I’m here in the Lowe’s Motor Speedway garage talking with team guys about the chances that we’ll get this race in and that it will indeed be the Coca Cola 600 and not the 500 or less. The weather is teasing us with moments that appear brighter with dark clouds on the horizon and green blobs on the weather radar. Many of the team guys told me that they were to be working Monday anyway so they might as well be at the race track. Others were planning family or team cookouts and several said that if this race gets done soon enough they are going to head to cookouts that will be several hours delayed. Several team guys told me that their marriages depended on days like this Memorial day off to hang with the family. Instead, they’ll be racing because that is what they do.
Tuesday NASCAR Meeting – R&D Center
Everyone here is talking about the Tuesday meeting that NASCAR has called with primaries on the teams. While everyone is talking about what the meeting might mean related to tweaks to the car of tomorrow there’s no indication that has anything to do with the meeting. Crew chiefs are not a part of the meeting because it’s not about nuts and bolts. The meeting’s to be held at 10 and 2 p.m. will include drivers, team owners and team general managers if they’d like to come. It’s an open forum and the conversation in the garage is who might speak up and who are the leaders in the sport who might stand up and express their thoughts openly. Names in the garage being brought up, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton and Michael Waltrip. Some drivers told me that they do not feel it is their place to stand up and that they will go and listen but that they miss a guy like Dale Eanrhardt who would have NASCAR’s ear. With E it was a two way street – he’d not only go tell NASCAR what he thought – they’d come to him to solicit advice. Let’s not forget though that NASCAR has had these meetings several times a year recently when they feel it just might be a good time to lend an ear and an open forum to the teams. NASCAR has always said that their door is open and that drivers do come in and vent and offer suggestions. From within the garage – there is conversation today that they miss Dale Earnhardt at times like this because they trusted him to speak up on their behalf behind closed doors.
H.A. Humpy Wheeler – “It’s just how you treat people”
I was on the air with “Dialed In” for the rain delay coverage here at LMS and talking about some of what Speedway Motorsports CEO Bruton Smith had to say in a sit down with the media here on Saturday. You could have heard a pin drop in the room when he addressed the controversial topics of the day and talked about why he and former track president H.A. Humpy Wheeler and he parted ways on the worst of terms.
Humpy, who retired, had been invited by Tony George to go to Indy for the Indy 500 this past weekend….and there was word that Humpy had not been invited to attend the 50th running of the Coca Cola 600 here at LMS.
While discussing what Bruton had to say my cell phone rang. I was on air – which makes answering a cell phone difficult but managed to get the phone answered off air while on air which is kind of like walking a tightrope while dancing. It was Humpy Wheeler, calling and I asked him if he’d come on air with me and open up about his side of the story. He agreed and I appreciate it.
For 45 minutes, Humpy answered my questions and talked about not only how he felt about not being invited to LMS for the 50th Coke 600 (Bruton says he does not invite people and that Humpy has a NASCAR hard card to get in) but also how he felt about other issues of the day.
Humpy Wheeler is the real deal. I got laid off of a job at one point in my career and it was not easy. Funny how your phone rings when you are all that – but when you are down and out for one brief moment in your life (even if it lasts an hour a day or a month)- the phone calls come only from those who really are your friends. You never forget who it is that is there for you in tough times.
Humpy called me at my house while I was languishing in self pity and feeling pretty down and out the day after I got laid off. I had no idea that he even knew how to reach me. He talked me through the time in his life when he lost his job through no fault of his own (because of tough economic times) and how it felt and advised me to never look back. I had never figured a guy like Humpy would have had that sort of moment in his life but he did.
This rift between Humpy and Bruton is sad and private, because none of us knows what actually goes on behind closed doors. Both of these guys love racing and the two made magic together. Bruton is a hugely successful man who has always been kind to me on his property covering this event and Marcus Smith is working hard to carve his own niche as president of this track and to serve the fans in a way that will make the guests to his dad’s track proud.
But Humpy should not feel that he is not welcome at LMS (whether it’s intended or not) and Humpy Wheeler is valuable to the sport.
I will tell you one thing – Humpy taught me a valuable lesson – I now call everyone I know who is laid off, fired, or looses a job due to the economy or for any other reason if I have their number. We often feel the person will be bummed out and that they will not want the call – but I have never found that to be the case.
Humpy will survive – he doesn’t need an invitation to LMS to continue to be called on for quotes and respected for what he accomplished in this sport and Bruton says he doesn’t invite folks and that Humpy could come with his NASCAR hard card. Maybe so.
Like I said – no one knows what actually went on behind closed doors and we’ll never know for sure.
All I know is that these are two powerful guys in the sport and I wish they could get along.
I also appreciate the call from Humpy.