Kyle Petty can't wait to rumble into the night.
Tonight, the All-Stars of NASCAR's Winston Cup circuit will qualify under the lights at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway to determine the lineup for tomorrow's historic race, The Winston. It is the first race in motorsports history to be run under the lights on a super-speedway.
"It's twice as exciting as racing in the day light," said Petty. "Standing here in the daylight, looking around, you can see the grandstands and your eyes perceive what a huge, massive place this is. But at night, the lights make everything seem smaller. You only see half of it. The rest is a wall of darkness."
Lighting Charlotte Motor Speedway is the biggest sports lighting project in history. It required the invention of a lighting procedure to eliminate glare and tall light poles,and it cost $2 million.
The 1.5-mile track is encircled with 1,200 two-foot poles. Lighfrom each 15,000-watt bulb is reflected off mirrors, eliminating shadows and sightline problems.
The company that took on the project is Musco Lighting, the same company that did the lighting for the movie "Field of Dreams." And if the line, "Build it and they will come," had meaning in the movie, it also has meaning at Charlotte, where ticket sales are running 120 percent ahead of last year's race. A crowd of about 130,000 is expected.
"I think it's the future of our sport," said Petty. "Our sport came from night racing on little, tiny tracks and now it needs to go back to night racing on our major speedways to move into the next growth stage.
"Our races are nearly all sold out, so we can't add to the number of people who see us at the tracks, but to stage our races from 7 to 10 on Saturday nights, with television coverage, that's prime time, that's the way to grow. Can you imagine, television could have the biggest day in motorsports history, if we ran the Coca Cola 600 at night. They'd have the Indy 500 in the afternoon and our race as the nightcap."
Petty also sees Saturday night racing as the answer, in a depressed economy, to help race fans cut costs. Surveys show the average fan drives to races from a 500- to 600-mile radius and make a weekend of it.
"Right now our fans are being gouged," Petty said. "With the races on Sunday afternoon, some of them almost have to stay overnight on Saturday and pay the $110 and $120 hotels hold them up for near the tracks. And by the time they get home after the race, they're exhausted when they go to work on Monday.
"But with a Saturday night event, they could drive here during the day Saturday, see the race and drive an hour or so toward home before stopping and not have to pay those big dollars for hotel rooms. And then they still have Sunday to get home and relax."
The Winston facts and figures
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway.
When: Tomorrow, 9 p.m.
TV: TNN, live.
Outlook: The Winston is an all-star race. Its field is made up owinners of Winston Cup races in 1991 and 1992, former Winston Cup Champions, former winners of The Winston and the winner of the Winston Open, which runs just before the feature event. The race is run in three segments. The first two segments are 30 laps each, with $72,500 shared by the top three finishers. The final segment is a mad 10-lap -- to the finish, where the winner collects the grand prize of $200,000. Among the top competitors are Dale Earnhardt, Davey Allison, Kyle Petty and Alan Kulwicki.