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NASCAR Classic: How 'One Hot Night' changed the All-Star Race forever

Motorsport.com looks back to classic NASCAR races, this time focusing on 'One Hot Night' in 1992 with an All-Star Race unlike any other.

The 1992 All-Star Race was an event where everything perfectly came together to create one of the most memorable races in NASCAR history, and it wasn't even an event that counted towards the season-long championship.

To understand the race's significance, we have to go back before the green flag even flew. The NASCAR All-Star Race began in 1985 as 'The Winston.' It was a definitive success, but after a few years, the newness wore off and there were questions about whether or not the event would continue in 1992. 

Under the lights for the very first time

This is where legendary promoter Humpy Wheeler comes in. With interest in the race waning, he proposed they run the race at night. That may not sound like a novel concept now, but in 1992, few believed it was possible to properly light up a track the size of Charlotte Motor Speedway for a car race.

It was a challenge Wheeler gladly accepted and despite skepticism from the drivers and a tight window to get it done, he managed it. Labeled 'One Hot Night,' it promised to be a must-see event for all NASCAR fans.

The intrigue was there and well over 100,000 people packed the 1.5-mile track to see this nighttime spectacle. Oh, and a Full Moon overhead only added to the already electric atmosphere. 

Now all they needed to do was to put on a thrilling show to match the hype. Well, there's a reason I'm writing about this exhibition race 32 years later.

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

Davey Allison led the field of 20 the initial green flag. After just three laps of racing, several drivers were collected in a backstretch pileup. Dale Jarrett, Hut Stricklin and Morgan Shepherd were all eliminated from the race.

But up front, Allison was firmly in control. The second-generation racer led the entirety of the first segment, but the fans had a say in the way this race as well. The voted to invert the field, putting the No. 28 Yates Racing Ford to the rear. About 64% of fans called for the invert.

There were also some payouts for the top runners with Allison earning $50,000 for dominating the first segment. Bill Elliott was running second and earned $15,000, and Rusty Wallace in third got $7,500.

 Now they had a lot of work to do, and 40 laps to go. They were helped by the inclusion of double file restarts, which is now a staple of NASCAR racing.

Geoff Bodine inherited the race lead with 'The King' Richard Petty, who was 53 years old, running second. But Dale Earnhardt was charging forward, and that iconic black No. 3 was putting pressure on the two leaders while the dominant Allison tried to claw his way through the pack.

Kyle Petty helped Earnhardt around his legendary father, and the two drivers quickly dispatched Bodine.

The younger Petty, driving for Felix Sabates, was the first driver to make a green-flag pass for the lead, doing so on Lap 38 of 70. He went on to win Segment 2. Ernie Irvan and Earnhardt also finished in the money.

But what about Allison? The blistering fast Ford Thunderbird was up to sixth place, but only ten laps remained as the competition caution brought the field back together.

Petty skipped away on the restart while Irvan and Earnhardt argued over the runner-up position. Irvan nearly lost control at the exit of Turn 4, allowing Earnhardt to escape, but Petty had already pulled out to an impressive lead.

Allison thought about shooting the gap between Kenny Schrader and an out-of-control Irvan, but the door slammed shot just as he went to look up the middle. Soon after, he pulled to the inside of the two cars out of Turn 2 and made it three-wide in a spirited battle for third. He powered ahead into Turn 3, but it appeared to be too little too late. Petty was cruising to the $1 million dollar payday ... Caution. Darrell Waltrip spun, setting up a seven-lap sprint to the checkered flag.

Earnhardt vs. Petty vs. Allison

On the ensuing restart, Petty appeared to fall apart as Earnhardt and Allison pounced. He fell back to third, but the Mello Yello No. 42 machine was not done yet.

He regrouped and launched a counterattack. Petty drove back around Allison and began to reel in Earnhardt in the battle for the win. It appeared the fans were about to get the show they were promised. He was all over Earnhardt at the white flag, painting that white line through Turns 1 and 2, while Earnhardt pushed up the track.

But 'The Intimidator' wasn't one to back down from a fight, whether there was $1 million on the line or just bragging rights. He blocked aggressively down the backstretch, and Petty kicked up dust as he bounced along the apron. Neither driver lifted as the fans roared in anticipation.

With a shallow entry while Petty was locked onto his rear bumper and  disturbing the air, Earnhardt had no hope of making it through Turns 3 and 4. He slid sideways and spun, white smoke billowing from the screaming rear tires. Petty had to feather the throttle to avoid being collected, which allowed Allison to rejoin the fight. 

A photo finish and a shower of sparks

He had all the momentum, pulling alongside Petty as the two drivers slammed doors.

"Here comes Davey Allison to the bottom!" called the broadcast. "It'll be the finish everyone was waiting for!"

Despite the invert, Allison had done it. He passed the entire field and by half a car length, he beat Petty to the finish line. It was a spectacular photo finish that was about to get very ugly. The cars came together as they crossed under the checkered flag.

Allison had won the race, but spun toward the outside wall, violently hitting it with the driver-side door. Screeching to a halt in a shower of sparks and a cloud of smoke, every thought quickly shifted from the spectacular finish to the well-being of Allison.

The 1992 All-Star Race winner was briefly knocked unconscious and was later airlifted to a local hospital broken collarbone and severe bruising. He never made it to Victory Lane. The destroyed car made its way there via a flatbed truck, but after protests by Robert Yates, it left just outside the winner's circle as they worried about the condition of their star driver.

While being treated by the medical team, Allison had only one question on his mind ... who won the race?

And despite his injuries, Allison was competing the very next week in NASCAR's longest race. After 600 grueling miles at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Earnhardt would take the victory while an injured Allison willed himself to a fourth-place finish, right behind Petty.

The 1992 All-Star Race not only injected new life into the event, but made the idea of racing at night on superspeedways a reality for the sport. NASCAR now finds themselves in a similar position as they did in 1992. The past few years, they have been looking for new and exciting ways to reinvent the All-Star Race.

Race winner Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro

Race winner Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

They took the race away from Charlotte, trying it at Bristol Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, but neither were able to capture the kind of excitement that surrounded past events. NASCAR needed to try something truly bold, like with the introduction of the lights in 1992.

Last year, they resurrected the legendary North Wilkesboro Speedway, which will now host the event for the second consecutive year. The track was part of the original NASCAR Cup Series schedule in 1949, but closed down in the 1990s. The track was packed with enthusiastic fans and Kyle Larson captured the checkered flag. This year, NASCAR will trial multiple tire compounds during the exhibition race.

To this day, the All-Star Race serves as a testing ground for new ideas and paves the way for the future of the sport, which also paying tribute  its storied past.

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