If you weren’t at the 1992 running of The Winston — the race now known as the Monster Energy All-Star Race — it’s almost impossible to explain just how big a deal it really was.
That race, which occurred exactly 25 years ago tonight, was the first time NASCAR ever raced under the lights at a 1.5-mile speedway.
Sure, there had been hundreds, maybe even thousands of Saturday night races at small, dimly lit short tracks scattered throughout the South, but this was a revolution, a humongous undertaking and a huge, costly gamble.
Fittingly, it took place at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a track founded by Bruton Smith and a facility that has always been known for big ideas, big events and big money.
When it first opened in 1960, CMS hosted the longest race in NASCAR, the World 600, which today is known as the Coca-Cola 600. Advertised as “the race with the $100,000 purse,” the first World 600 paid an unheard of sum of money back in the day.
Since then, the track has been at the forefront of many other innovations, including the construction of 40 condominiums outside Turn 1 in 1984, and the installation of a state-of-the-art, $1.7-million MUSCO lighting system in 1992, making it the first superspeedway capable of hosting a night race.
And the track’s first night race was one they still talk about today.
Billed as “One Hot Night,” and run in front of packed grandstands and a crowd of about 200,000, the memorable 1992 NASCAR All-Star Race saw a fierce three-way battle for the win on the last lap among Dale Earnhardt, Kyle Petty and Dave Allison.
On that dramatic last lap, Earnhardt had his black No. 3 Chevrolet in the lead going into Turn 3, where he got turned by second-place Petty.
Coming to the checkered flag, Petty led, but Allison dove underneath him, the two neck and neck for the victory. At the start-finish line, Allison edged out Petty, but as they crossed the line, the two cars made contact and Allison went around, his black No. 28 Robert Yates Racing hitting the frontstretch wall hard, driver’s-side first.
With no SAFER barriers in those days, the savage impact knocked the Alabama driver unconscious. Allison was taken to a local hospital, where he spent the night.
For his troubles, Allison became the first driver to win consecutive All-Star races and for his trouble spent the night in a local hospital as his team – led by crew chief Larry McReynolds – had to celebrate in Victory Lane without their star driver.
“The wreck at the end was just as much my fault as it was his,” Petty said of Allison. “We were leaning on each other. I tried to chop him off, but if I had cut across in front of him, I would have ended up in the infield. At the end, he cut on me, as I would have on him. We clipped when we came across the line.”
Despite his last-lap spin, Earnhardt was thrilled with the first all-star race run under the lights.
“I can’t wait until next year,” Earnhardt said. “I turned Kyle down where he was dragging and sparking. He went into the corner and tried to take what was his. That’s all there was to it—good, hard racing. That’s what it’s all about. It was the last lap.”
After the race, Petty had to go to the track’s press box and to get there, he had to walk through the grandstands, which were lined with angry fans.
“According to every fan, I wrecked Earnhardt going into Turn 3 and I wrecked Davey right here. That’s a fact,” Petty said, pointing to the start-finish line.
Petty and then-CMS public relations manager Eddie Gossage walked without security into the grandstands. “They cussed us, they threw stuff,” said Petty. “It was ugly.”
Larry McReynolds, who was Allison’s crew chief, said he knew his driver was injured, but he was also concerned because the scoring pylon had listed Petty as the winner.
“That 5 percent of the racer just stayed in me,” said McReynolds. “I kept looking at the scoreboard and it kept the 42 up top. I knew we won the race. I was still looking at Davey. I kept looking at the scoreboard. Finally, they flipped the numbers. I was like, ‘OK, I know we won the race now. Now I’ve got to worry more about Davey.”
gallery: 8 things you need to know about the Monster Energy All-Star Race