"Humpy" Wheeler Finds NASCAR Racing Looks Considerably Different in 2032
H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler's unique vision and innovative nature helped earn the longtime auto racing promoter a spot in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
As president and general manager of Lowe's Motor Speedway, Wheeler is known for his ability to look into the future and then craft a plan to bring that vision to reality. Under the direction and guidance of track founder/owner Bruton Smith, Wheeler has introduced such innovations as corporate suites, extravagant pre-race shows and lights for night racing, all of which are now standard elements of NASCAR racing.
Wheeler recently gazed into his crystal ball and found that NASCAR racing and the Bank of America 500 look considerably different in 2032.
Spectators are transported to Lowe's Motor Speedway via a high-speed transit system which originates from a variety of locations around the region, including the recently expanded NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte. It's just a 10-minute ride on the Race Day Transport, which moves on a cushion of air, from the Hall of Fame to the track's main entrance.
Once at the speedway, fans do not need tickets as a voice-recognition system is used to gain admittance. Fans purchasing multiple tickets simply speak once for each ticket and the members of his or her group are allowed through the automated turn styles.
A large digital video screen personally greets each visitor and displays the exact location of their seat and instructions on how to get there. This same information is also transmitted to the fan's digital assistant, complete with audio directions and other details about the day's events including race times, starting line-ups and late-breaking driver news.
Moving sidewalks transverse the grandstand concourses, taking fans to and from their seats. The seats are wide and automatically conform to each person's body through a computer-controlled air process. Seats also adjust vertically according to the individual's height in order to offer the best possible view of the track.
There is also no need to worry about missing any of the on-track action. Two giant digital video screens, each six stories tall, not only follow the action, but show replays of incidents and key moments of the race.
Contained in each seat is a fold-out screen from which fans can order a variety of concession items and souvenirs. The screen also displays in-car video from any car in the race by simply typing the car number into the key pad while noise-canceling headphones allow those in the grandstand to listen to conversations between drivers and their crews.
However enthralled the fan is with all the electronic paraphernalia, the track itself is even more mesmerizing. The black asphalt has been replaced by a blue, all-weather, synthetic surface that has ultimate grip.
The surface stays dry and debris free through the use of automatic blowers and magnets. The air and magnets combine to force debris to the apron where lasers instantly dissolve the metal, rubber or composite materials.
There is no need to worry about the track getting wet since the grandstand, track surface and pit road are covered. The infield, however, is still open at Lowe's Motor Speedway. At some tracks, only the grandstands are covered, but due to blowers the track surface stays dry enough to race on at all times. The cars race in the rain on these tracks utilizing a special windshield treatment that keeps visibility high even in the wettest conditions.
The grass between pit road and the frontstretch is still lush green, but is now irrigated and fertilized through an automated underground system.
The race cars are still fairly simple but are very different from the ultra-sleek, full-bodied scandium machines that have replaced Indy Cars by 2032.
Carbon fiber is cheaper than steel and the body of each NASCAR machine is made of the composite material once considered too expensive for extensive use in the sport. Engine blocks are molded from lightweight alloys while the roll cage and chassis are constructed of durium, a new material that combines metal alloys with composites in a honeycomb effect. Durium is stronger and lighter than any material previously used in auto racing.
Drivers are ensconced in made-to-form seats and strapped in with belts woven using composite threads. With speeds topping 225 mph, each car has airbags on both sides and in front of the driver that are deployed in the event of a major impact.
Many makes of cars are represented in NASCAR competition as all manufacturing has gone global.
Because of the extensive use of lightweight materials and tremendous gains in fuel economy, composite fuel cells have been reduced in size to just five gallons. This change guarantees that pit stops remain an integral part of NASCAR racing as cars require refueling every 80 to 90 miles.
The cars are very colorful because NASCAR implemented rules on car visibility several years ago. Only one sponsor is allowed and that sponsor must be designated in November of the prior year. Each car's paint scheme is approved by NASCAR at that time and can not be changed during the season.
The rule also requires at least 20 percent of the car's design be in a florescent color.
A significant amount of computerization has crept into the NASCAR race car. As a result, each team now includes a strategist who advises the crew chief on everything from tire wear to weather.
Due to NASCAR's careful crafting of the rules, speeds at Lowe's Motor Speedway have only increased about 30 mph since 2007. The pole position is generally won in the 215-mph range with race speeds around 210.
Competition has become much closer with qualifying times from first to 45th separated only by hundredths of a second and an average of 35 cars finish on the lead lap at each race.
However, the increased speeds, intense competition and extreme off-track demands are causing drivers to retire much earlier. It is very rare to see a driver over 40 years of age.
Careers advance much quicker too because of driving simulators. In 2007, the average NASCAR driver spent approximately 250 hours a year behind the wheel of a race car. Now, drivers spend 500 hours a year just in simulation.
Crew members who go over the wall on race day have continued to evolve into highly specialized athletes. Some even forego careers in the World Football League because of the monetary rewards in NASCAR.
The sanctioning body has also strengthened its performance-enhancing drug policy as athleticism of these crew members has become increasingly important.
Drivers and crew members are carefully monitored during each race.
Heart rates, blood pressure and glucose levels are constantly transmitted to computers which are monitored by the team bio-technicians. One bio-technician monitors the driver to ensure he is in top mental and physical condition while the other monitors the crew members.
Over the last decade, all mainstream American sports, including NASCAR, have become international. NASCAR now consists of two major series-the International Circuit and the North American Circuit.
The International Circuit runs 28 races each year. Twenty of these are points races and eight are super races. The super races award double points and are held at tracks such as Charlotte, Daytona, Texas, Las Vegas and other signature North American venues. Races are also run in Europe, the Pacific Rim and EurAsia.
The North American Circuit also consists of 28 races. These events are confined to the North American tracks where the circuit raced in 2007, plus Mexico and Canada. The eight double points super races are stand alone International Circuit events in which select drivers from the North American Circuit are eligible to compete.
Supersonic air travel has made the International Circuit quite viable as it extends not only to passenger travel, but also to cargo planes for transporting cars and equipment.
Australian race fans can fly directly to Charlotte in just seven hours and the giant supersonic cargo planes can transport a full field of race cars and equipment from Charlotte to Germany in five hours.
Drivers from around the world participate in both series, although the United States still has the edge in total number of competitors.
There is also a third NASCAR series that features electric cars.
These cars have become very popular among consumers because of their "Star Wars"-style bodies and the fact that they are extremely fast. As the result of a huge breakthrough in battery technology about a decade ago, nearly 50 percent of the motoring public drive electric cars.
Television coverage of NASCAR racing has improved dramatically. Six airborne remote cameras cover the track at every race. Stationary cameras, some embedded in the walls and some in the track surface, operate remotely.
There are no more bulky cables as all signals are transmitted wirelessly.
Helicopter and blimp cameras are no longer needed since the floating cameras can fly virtually anywhere.
One of racing's greatest innovations came a few years ago, enabling viewers to actually compete in the race.
Because of advancements in GPS and virtual technology, the race is transmitted into a viewer's home on a giant screen. After paying an entry fee, the viewer sits in a home driver's cockpit that includes an accelerator pedal, clutch, virtual transmission, etc., and actually competes in the race.
At the end of the race, there are two winners-the on-track winner and the virtual at-home winner-with each receiving prize money.
Home racers are offered services prior to the race that help them with strategy and car setups. There are also two points races, one for the real drivers and the other for the home drivers.
Back to 2007, tickets for all October NASCAR events at Lowe's Motor Speedway, including the Bank of America 500 on Saturday night, Oct. 13, can be purchased by calling the speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS or online.