MOORESVILLE, N.C. – The first thing I remember are the lights.
If you were at the 1992 Winston, NASCAR’s first superspeedway night race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, you know what I’m talking about.
You could tell this was going to be a spectacle. The novelty of night racing was in its infancy.
Even then, about six months shy of my fifth birthday, I knew sitting in my family’s seats near the start-finish line that this would be a special race.
It was my first. I’d been to qualifying for the Tyson Holly Farms 400 at North Wilkesboro Speedway the previous September, but I’d never seen a race live. Most kids that young don’t.
I wasn’t like most kids. My passion – which hasn’t changed to this day – was racing.
The Winston that year wasn’t like most races, either.
It was Richard Petty’s last season in NASCAR, and the final full seasons for Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki, who both tragically perished in aviation accidents in 1993.
Buddy Baker was still driving, Neil Bonnett was announcing and Joey Logano was just getting out of diapers.
Dale Earnhardt had that year’s race won. He was ahead of Kyle Petty on the last lap with Davey Allison out of contention, or so everyone thought.
Earnhardt drove his car into turn three too hard, lost the air on his spoiler thanks to Petty and went spinning.
You probably know what happened next.
Petty had the race won. He was ahead of Allison on the last turn.
Davey, however, came from out of nowhere to beat Petty to the line.
His reward? A $200,000 prize, a serious concussion and a driver’s-side collision with the wall.
For a four-year-old kid crazy about motorsports, that event had just about everything you could ask for in a race.
I remember Earnhardt’s spin, sitting on my dad’s shoulders as the race unfolded, and Mark Martin losing forward gear and backing into the pits.
I remember the finish, too. A sea of smoke, sparks, cheers and fireworks.
Still watching Earnhardt recover his car, my mom nudged me and told me to look toward the finish line at what was the most exciting All-Star finish ever.
Nearly 22 years later, it’s still the best race I’ve ever seen in person. I’ve been to quite a few.
A couple of months ago, I told Robert Yates – Allison’s car owner at the time, who accepted the Winston trophy while Davey went to the hospital – how fortunate I was to have been there.
“It hooked you, didn’t it?” Yates replied.
It really did. The Sprint All-Star Race, as it’s now called, has undergone significant change since then. So has the track it’s raced on.
Charlotte Motor Speedway is full of grandstands. A fresh coat of yellow paint will adorn the track’s walls when this weekend’s all-star showcase begins.
Big screens were reserved for living rooms, not the backstretch of a quad-oval, in 1992.
NASCAR had no Chase. Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs took the place of Toyotas. I had a blonde mullet back then.
So did Dale Earnhardt Jr. Times have changed.
This year marks the first time that no one from that race will be in the field.
Martin, who retired after last season, was the final holdover from a race that made you feel like you were part of a scene in a racing novel. A full moon on One Hot Night?
How could it get any better?
It probably can’t. One thing, however, is for sure: When the lights go on Saturday night, we’ll all be in for a show.
Here’s hoping it’ll be a good one.