H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler has always had an affinity for the Great Race, so when he began exploring activities he could do with his grandchildren it seemed like the perfect event for the Mountain Island Lake resident and his 16-year-old grandson.
“I’ve always wanted to run in it,” Wheeler said about the annual event that began in 1983 as a rally for pre-World War II vehicles. “I was thinking I needed to do something with my grandkids, so this was a perfect opportunity. One of my grandkids, Austin Hardy, is out of (Providence Day) school then. He’s a superb mathematician. I put him through a couple of tests and he did great. So he’s going to be my co-pilot/navigator.”
Scheduled for June 21-29, the event for cars from 1972 and older begins in Ogunquit, Maine, and ends in The Villages, Fla. The seven-day journey will take the vintage cars through New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia.
“The event is limited to 100 cars and it’s already full,” Wheeler said. “Each day has a two-city stop, a minor one at lunch and then the major one for dinner and an overnight stay. About 500 people travel with this whole thing.”
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Rudy Zeck, who worked with Wheeler at 600 Racing, will travel in the support vehicle and handle any mechanical needs Wheeler’s car might encounter.
Before the participants begin each leg of the rally, the car’s odometer is concealed. GPS systems and digital stop watches aren’t allowed. Two-way radio communication also is limited. Only the judges know the correct time for covering the route that requires a great deal of navigation. The team closest to the correct time for completing the distance wins. Penalties are assessed for someone completing the route under the correct time because it means they exceeded the speed limit.
NASCAR team co-owner Jack Roush asked Wheeler to accompany him one year in the event, but the 75-year-old Wheeler’s obligations as then president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway kept him from accepting Roush’s invitation. Now, however, seemed like the perfect opportunity.
“I have been working on this Hudson Coupe for about three years,” Wheeler said. “It got finished about three weeks ago.”
Wheeler is turning the Hudson into a replica of the one in the Pixar movie “Cars.” That character – Doc Hudson – was voiced by Paul Newman. Wheeler also appeared in the movie as the voice of Tex Dinoco, a 1975 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.
“They only made one other real car and Pixar had it made for the premier,” Wheeler said. “I wanted to buy it after the premier and the guy wanted too much money for it. So I said, heck, I’d build one.”
It was then that Wheeler began a quest to find a Hudson. One day he was contacted by Hollywood producer Anthony Caruso who had located one in the Sierra mountains. It was a 1953 Coupe and Wheeler knew only 900 of them were manufactured. He took Caruso’s word on the car’s condition and purchased it without seeing it.
“I had a truck haul it to my house and the body was as good as or better than I thought it would be,” Wheeler said. “It had been sitting in the Sierras where it was so dry for 25 years and it was majestic when it got here.”
Wheeler recruited former race team fabricator Bobby Koski to handle the body work.
“At first, I wanted to preserve it as a real Hudson, but the parts were extremely expensive because there were so few of them left,” Wheeler said. “I put a fairly new Camaro underneath it that I found in South Carolina that unfortunately had driven under a truck. The guy didn’t get hurt and everything from the steering wheel down was in good shape.”
Wheeler acquired a NASCAR Sprint Cup engine, de-tuned it to 550 horsepower and installed it in the Hudson. He then obtained “Doc’s” paint numbers from Pixar. The car also has a 22-gallon fuel cell in its trunk.
Wheeler’s affection for the Hudson goes back to the early 1960s. After graduating from the University of South Carolina, the Belmont native began operating Robinwood Speedway in Gastonia. When legendary mechanic Smokey Yunick switched to Chevrolets, Wheeler obtained five Hudsons from him: three Hudson Hornet race cars and two passenger vehicles.
“I fell in love with them,” Wheeler said. “They were wonderful cars. They were so far ahead of themselves that they put themselves right out of business.”
Street Stock Stampede
Carolina Speedway has scheduled its Street Stock Stampede for May 30. It also will be $1 hot dog night.
In addition to the street stocks, other divisions racing that night will be the SECA Late Models, the Stock Car Steel/SRI UMP Modifieds, Tilley HD Renegade, the Q2U BBQ Pit Four Cylinders, and the Hornets.
Gates open at 5 p.m. and racing begins at 8 p.m.
Wilson 3rd in Pro Cup Series
After three races in the 12-event CARS X-1R Pro Cup Series season, Huntersville resident Reid Wilson is third in the standings, 17 points behind leader Caleb Holman. Mooresville driver J.P. Morgan is fifth, 22 points behind. The next event is June 7 at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va.