Thursday, May 17, 2012

Humpy Wheeler Selects Kahne to Win 2012 NASCAR All-Star Race

By Micah Roberts

Humpy Wheeler has correctly picked 10 of the last 19 All-Star race winners
When Humpy Wheeler talks, people listen, especially when it comes to talk about who will win NASCAR’s All-Star race.

H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler may have been the most instrumental person in getting the All-Star race started in 1985 at his Charlotte Motor Speedway where he was President until 2008, but that doesn’t necessarily make him an expert in picking winners. Nor does the fact that he brought night racing into NASCAR, gave Dale Earnhardt his first Cup ride or that he promoted races with a P.T. Barnum flair that turned him into a legend in the sport.

When people start eagerly awaiting a selection on who will win any sporting event, it’s only because of one thing: they’ve established a record of past excellence. And that’s what Humpy Wheeler had done over the years while in charge of promoting his All-Star race. He gave out non-stop winners at a rate that might have gotten him barred in a Las Vegas sports book if he were a bettor.

What started out as just an observation from his upstairs office, became a science that not even the oddsmakers in Las Vegas could grasp. Wheeler would take out a stop-watch and time the cars going through turns three and four as he was on the phone. He just happened to mention to the media who he thought looked the best before a race and that driver went on to win. For 19 straight years the media kept asking who would win, and more times than not, he was right.

Over that stretch, Wheeler correctly picked 10 winners in 19 races, an amazing stretch considering how volatile the All-Star races are with drivers racing for no points and a giant purse that only the Daytona 500 can match.

Just think about the type of winnings Wheeler might have enjoyed if he actually did go to Las Vegas with that type of success rate. We’re not talking about picking a football winner where there is a point spread with the same odds attached to each side. NASCAR winners usually pay out 6-to-1 or higher in Las Vegas and in the case of a couple of Wheeler’s selections, they paid out at 20-to-1 or higher.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was Wheeler’s choice as a rookie in 2000 and ended up paying out at 20-to-1 odds in Las Vegas. In 2005, something Mark Martin did caught the eye of Wheeler and he chose him to win which ending up paying out 25-to-1 at the books when Martin eventually took the checkers. You could imagine how large of a bankroll bettors might have accumulated by simply listening to Wheeler’s picks.

Although he doesn’t have the benefit of sitting in his office with his stop-watch anymore, Wheeler still has other sources of information that always helped his equation on deciding who might win the race.

“I look at what they did at Texas and more recently at Darlington,” said Wheeler from his home in Charlotte. “There are also other variables involved; you have to be a combat driver. Matt Kenseth (2004 winner) is a combat driver, he just doesn’t act like it. This race was made for drivers like Dale Earnhardt and some of the younger guys are in a bit of a holding pattern here because of that. But one young driver that stands out is Brad Keselowski. He’s got the mentality that it takes to win here.”

Kenseth and Keselowski were two of the three drivers Wheeler had on his mind before deciding who he thought had the best chance to win this week.

“I like Kasey Kahne (2008 winner) to win this week because he kind of fits that criteria of gaining some momentum coming in at key race tracks and being hungry for a win,” said Wheeler.

Although Wheeler used practices before the All-Star race in the past as a measure, he says that has all changed now to the point where there isn’t much valuable information gained there anymore.

“You can’t tell anymore during practices because most of the set-ups are for a pole run,” said Wheeler. “You won’t get more than 10 laps run in race set-up so I‘m keying on a driver’s momentum, mentality and performances on key tracks that translate well to Charlotte.”

After a rough start to the season that saw Kahne finish 14th or worse in his first six races, Kahne has reeled off five straight top-10 finishes coming into Saturday night‘s event, including a seventh at Texas and eighth at Darlington, the two tracks Wheeler says he pays the most attention to.

As for the Las Vegas odds on Kahne this week? The LVH Super Book has Kahne listed 12-to-1, the ninth choice listed by the sports book.

- Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas Sports Book director.


Wheeler's Marketing Helped My Career

By  Micah Roberts

One thing I could have probably mentioned in the Wheeler selection post was the association I indirectly had with him for all my years in Las Vegas without ever having met him.

I went to one Charlotte race (2004 Coca-Cola 600) and never introduced myself, but should have because I owe a lot to what happened in my career to Humpy as a result of his promotions.

I used to get calls at my Las Vegas office from a Charlotte Motor Speedway PR rep in the late 90's wanting odds for the All-Star race and each year they would send out a press release with my comments. My sports book got a lot of exposure from the press releases and led to a great relationship with writers, who then continued to use me as a source for many of the odds I did in Las Vegas for big events.

You can't beat free advertising and any comment that mentions your casino without any negative connotations is a positive one. The casinos pay specialty firms to gauge how much value they got through the media, whether in print, radio or on television. 

Part of what made me attractive to casinos was the ability to market my sports book with lots of publicity locally and nationally. Whether we had a promotion going or not, my hotel and casino had its name in the news, sometimes even on live national TV as Brent Musburger did a few times, and always because of odds.

The other link to Humpy I had was a link to his past with Mel Larson, a former NASCAR driver who turned into the mastermind of the Mint 400 and marketing vice-president for Circus Circus. Larson's ideas were light years ahead of what anyone else had done in Vegas before, but is now common-place at hotels and casinos throughout town. He was the first to guarantee a room, "Rooms available, if not, we'll place you."

Larson and Humpy have always been very good friends, and because of Larson's love for promoting in the same fashion Wheeler did for his track, not to mention his love for NASCAR, one of the things Larson did was ask that Circus Circus had odds placed on every NASCAR race.

Larson was also influential in bringing NASCAR to Las Vegas because it was his boss, Circus Circus president Bill Bennett, who helped raise the money to build the facility.

Back in 1993, only the Daytona 500 odds had been regularly offered in Las Vegas sports books. Along with the Indy 500, those two races remained the norm for most sports books' auto racing menu. I got to be involved with Circus Circus -- while going to school -- punching out tickets as a part-time ticket writer on weekends. The corporate director of sports for the company soon allowed me to make odds and recommend line changes after practices and qualifying because I followed the sport.

By the time NASCAR came to Las Vegas in 1998, I was soon on my way to bigger and better things as director of race and sports books. It was the additional time I put in with NASCAR that got me noticed by my boss, Terry Downey, who then became a general manager with another company and took me with him to run his sports book.

All that came from odds, and in particular NASCAR. I always followed other sports and was good with numbers, but Las Vegas already had a dozen sports directors who could could offer opinions in baseball or football, but only one could really talk about NASCAR. I had found my unique niche in Vegas.

My direct link to Humpy may not be as unique as the actors link to Kevin Bacon, but nevertheless, I still owe a lot to Humpy for his creative marketing that allowed me to gain my first voice.

Had Wheeler's friend Mel Larson not asked for weekly odds, I might not have had a jump on the rest of Las Vegas when the timing was right for a bookie expect. Because Wheeler went through all avenues of marketing to make news for his races, I happened to be fortunate enough to get the calls.

So a special thanks goes out to Humpy for setting the stage that allowed me to achieve a few of my goals.

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