NASCAR drivers, former NASCAR drivers, Legends racing champions, television personalities and legendary Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith were among the notables gathered in the Charlotte Motor Speedway infield media center Tuesday afternoon.
None was the day’s star, however.
The big attraction was the money. Piles of it. A million dollars, all in ones. Fresh from the Federal Reserve Bank in Charlotte.
The cash was guarded by four grim-looking guys with guns and SWAT-type uniforms.
They watched it closely, but probably not as closely as a handful of drivers in attendance. They represented the almost 300 drivers who have entered this week’s Legends Million competition at CMS. The winner of Saturday night’s feature race on the CMS quarter-mile track will take home $250,000 (of the $1 million purse), a huge amount for a 100-lap short-track race of any sort.
SPEED will televise the event from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET Saturday. The event also includes practice and competition Thursday and Friday.
Race coordinator Don Hawk toyed with the cash, which was spread across the room in stacks and packs, and kidded the drivers about the available funds.
“This is unprecedented for grassroots racing,” said Hawk, once president of Dale Earnhardt Inc. “We have no idea what the drivers are going to do when there’s this much money on the line.”
Smith, who has presented such elaborate, money-laden promotional schemes most of his long racing career, had somewhat of an idea.
“I think you’re going to have a lot of these drivers be awfully aggressive,” he said.
Saturday night’s racing will feature the young (12-year-old Gray Gaulding) and the old (72-year-old Will Cagle) and everybody in between, including a couple of NASCAR connections in drivers Geoffrey Bodine and David Ragan. Ragan got his motorsports start in Legends cars.
Drivers from 36 states, Canada and the Netherlands are entered. The final spot in Saturday night’s main event will pay $10,000. Legends cars, built in a factory about two miles from Charlotte Motor Speedway, cost about $13,000 each and are designed as entry-level vehicles.
“We needed something that will really spotlight what we’re doing with these cars,” Smith said. “I said, ‘Well, why don’t we have a race for a million-dollar purse?’ Somebody said, ‘You’re nuts.’ I didn’t have an argument for that.”
The race has generated a lot of publicity for the speedway and Legends cars, however, and Smith said the announcement about the million-dollar purse resulted in new Legends car sales.
“So many great drivers maybe never have the opportunity to race,” Smith said. “This does afford them the opportunity. This week spotlights what we’re doing – for the cars and the drivers.”
The feature race is a 100-lap event split into 50-lap runs. There also will be Masters and Young Lions/Semi-Pro races.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.