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

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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.”

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.