Humpy Wheeler: NASCAR needs more villains, less “pretty boys”


It’s been established that former Charlotte Motor Speedway president and legendary racing promoter Humpy Wheeler is not afraid to state his opinions on the sport.

Last November, Wheeler prescibed what he believed were the cures for what’s been ailing IndyCar racing in North America. Then in January, he discussed the sometimes thorny subject of “pay drivers” in motorsports.

Now he’s sounded off again to Autoweek, this time on what NASCAR needs in order to build its fan base back up after it eroded somewhat over the last decade.

Wheeler says that the new Chase for the Sprint Cup format, which enables drivers to effectively make NASCAR’s post-season with a regular season win, was a good call.

However, he believes that NASCAR needs to take away some speed from the cars in order to really improve the on-track product.

“You can’t really race when you’re more than 200 mph on an intermediate track,” he said. “They should slow ’em by at least 10 mph. And they need to attack the dreaded “aero push” problem.

“They haven’t done it yet, but they’re starting to look at it. Downforce is creating aero push, so they have to figure that out.”

Wheeler is also critical of what he sees as a lack of compelling figures in the sport. To him, the sport desperately needs “a superhero, like Tiger Woods or Joe Namath, somebody like that.”

And what does every superhero need in order to be, well, a superhero? That’s right – a villain. But Wheeler doesn’t see those around, either.

“Walt Disney told his people to draw in a villain within the first 90 seconds,” he said. “We need something like that. We need villains, but, instead, we have too many pretty boys. There just aren’t any personalities.”

Still, Wheeler is optimistic about the sport as a whole is about to come into a relative boom period.

“Racing is at a plateau right now like so many other sports have been at plateaus,” he said. “It’s a normal thing because you just can’t have these 10- or 15-year periods of percentage growth like we did. I think it’s about to turn the corner.”

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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