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By Zane Miller

On Saturday, October 6th, 2001, Greg Biffle took the victory in the Little Trees 300 NASCAR Busch (now Xfinity) Series race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway (now Charlotte Motor Speedway), as he got by future Cup Series teammate Matt Kenseth with three laps to go and proceeded to win the event under caution with Kenseth spinning out. However, this article isn’t about the race itself, but rather the crazy controversy involving the speedway and the television broadcaster, TNT. In fact, the squabble between the two parties almost resulted in the race being pulled from the channel entirely.

Starting in 1999, home improvement supply store Lowe’s acquired the naming rights to what had been known as Charlotte Motor Speedway since its opening in 1960. This was noteworthy as the first-ever naming rights deal for a NASCAR track, though it was soon followed by Sears Point Raceway becoming Infineon Raceway in 2002. Lowe’s had been involved in NASCAR as a sponsor since the 1960’s and was headquartered in the Charlotte area, so sponsoring the track made plenty of sense.

In 2000, both Cup Series races at Lowe’s Motor Speedway were aired on TBS, which is owned by the same company that owns TNT. In both races, TBS evidently had no problem with using the corporate name of the track, seeing as how it was prominently featured in both broadcasts. However, in 2001, the TBS portion of the schedule was shifted to TNT as the company felt NASCAR would be more in line with TNT’s branding. In addition, the network joined forces with NBC to use the same on-air talent and production crew, as the two networks had broadcasting rights to the second half of both the Cup Series and Busch Series seasons.

The rift began during NBC/TNT’s coverage of Cup Series practice two days before the Busch Series race, as the announcers did not refer to Lowe’s Motor Speedway as such, instead calling it simply “Charlotte” whenever the track itself was mentioned. This was reportedly due to Lowe’s not paying for any commercial space during the race weekend, thus prompting the network to tell their announcers not to mention Lowe’s during the broadcast. According to the speedway’s president, Humpy Wheeler, he held a meeting with the network executives to inform them that they were required to call the track “Lowe’s Motor Speedway”, stating "This television deal is supposed to be a partnership between the speedways, NASCAR and the networks.” This meeting apparently did not go as planned, however, as TNT continued to refuse to mention Lowe’s in the leadup to the Busch Series race on Saturday.

With his argument falling on deaf ears, Lowe’s Motor Speedway opted to go with a more extreme approach to solving the problem, which was to order track security guards to begin towing the TNT satellite trucks, responsible for allowing the race to be broadcast over the air, out of the facility. At this point, there was a very real possibility that this petty bickering could cause the Busch race to not be broadcast at all. However, it’s uncertain whether this maneuver was a genuine threat or just track officials trying to make their point, as although there were tow trucks hooked up to the satellite trucks, no attempt was made to actually being removing them from the premises. TNT, still incredibly determined to not give out any free advertising, continued to refuse to mention Lowe’s during the pre-race show.

This pre-race show would last quite a bit longer than initially planned, as the start of the Busch race was delayed for over two hours due to rain. During the entire delay, the tow trucks reportedly stayed attached to the satellite trucks. However, once the weather cleared up and racing was finally able to commence, the broadcast went off without a hitch. In case you were wondering, TNT only referred to the track as “Charlotte” for the rest of Saturday, but finally relented in time for the Cup Series race on Sunday by using the Lowe’s Motor Speedway name throughout the broadcast, bringing an end to the bizarre dispute.

Had this controversy occurred at any other time, it likely would have gotten far more coverage and would have been more likely to be remembered today. However, due to the September 11th terrorist attacks occurring less than a month earlier and the fatal accident involving part-time Busch Series driver Blaise Alexander, who was killed in an ARCA crash at Lowe’s Motor Speedway just two days prior, this story became a brief footnote that isn’t covered much today.

In 2009, the naming rights deal with Lowe’s expired, leading to the speedway reverting back to its original name of Charlotte Motor Speedway. TNT’s last broadcast of a Busch Series event came in 2006, though it would continue to broadcast Cup Series races until 2014. While TNT will pick up its NASCAR coverage once again in 2025, it is unlikely that the situation with Lowe’s Motor Speedway will repeat itself.

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