CONCORD, N.C. — Humpy Wheeler announced his retirement as president and general manager of Lowe's Motor Speedway on Wednesday, ending a 33-year career as one of NASCAR's top promoters.
Wheeler will step down after Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at the track near Charlotte. No replacement was selected for the 69-year-old Wheeler, who plans to write a book and host a television show.
Wheeler said he first considered retirement about a year ago, although he sidestepped a question on whether the decision to leave was completely his. Wheeler's boss is Speedway Motorsports CEO Bruton Smith, who hired Wheeler in 1975 and made him track president a year later. Smith was not present at Wednesday's news conference.
"Some of it is on my own terms," Wheeler said. "I won't say it all is. Some of it is, and I'll let it rest at that."
Reached at his office Wednesday afternoon, Smith denied he forced Wheeler out.
"Six months ago we had a meeting, and he told me then that he had discussed retiring," Smith said.
Wheeler has done almost everything to get fans to his track. He employed magicians, used back-flipping dogs, re-enacted war scenes in elaborate prerace shows and emphasized driver rivalries to sell the sport.
"We did a lot of things to try to make it better for the fans, and he did a lot of that," Smith said.
LMS, formerly Charlotte Motor Speedway, was the first major track to have lights and to reach a naming rights deal. Under Wheeler's management, the track expanded its seating capacity to 167,000 and was the first track to offer extensive VIP suites, condominiums and extravagant prerace entertainment.
Wheeler's lowest point came in 1999, when three spectators were killed and eight others injured from flying debris after a wreck during an Indy Racing League event. Wheeler immediately canceled the rest of the race, and the IRL has yet to return to the track.
Wheeler also helped develop other forms of racing. He was instrumental in the creation of the Legends Car and said he hopes to develop another low-cost car.
He'll have no consulting role with the track after Sunday's finale. Wheeler will become the chairman of the Charlotte Regional Partnership in 2009 and could be considered for a post at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which is scheduled to open in 2010 in downtown Charlotte.
new sponsor for edwards: Insurance giant Aflac Inc. will be the primary sponsor of Sprint Cup driver Carl Edwards' No. 99 Ford Fusion next year, bumping current sponsor Office Depot.
Aflac would not disclose the terms of its multiyear deal with Roush Fenway Racing, Edwards' race team. But it is believed to be for three years and worth $78-million, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
helio to stay, for now: Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves said he doesn't plan to leave the IRL's IndyCar Series any time soon. Refuting a story in Wednesday's editions of the Los Angeles Times that speculated on the Brazilian heading to NASCAR, Castroneves said his comments were taken out of context.
ANDRETTI conspiracy: Marco Andretti said his father's 1993 stint with F1 team McLaren was sabotaged. Andretti said people don't know "the real story" behind his father's poor performance, insisting the team tried to make his dad look bad so they could make room for a promising young driver — Mika Hakkinen, who would go on to win two world championships.