Speedway Motorsports founder Bruton Smith dies at 95

Jun 22, 2022, 1:45 AM | Updated: 3:19 pm
FILE - Hall of Fame inductee Bruton Smith entertains the crowd as his son, Marcus Smith, left, look...

FILE - Hall of Fame inductee Bruton Smith entertains the crowd as his son, Marcus Smith, left, looks on during NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016. Bruton Smith, a North Carolina native and entrepreneur who fell in love with auto racing and parlayed it into a career as an eccentric and successful promoter, died Wednesday, June 22, 2022 of natural causes. He was 95. His death was confirmed by Speedway Motorsports, the company he founded and owns and operates 11 race tracks across the United States. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn, File)

(AP Photo/Mike McCarn, File)

              FILE -New Hampshire Motor Speedway Chairman of the Board Bruton Smith speaks during a news conference at the track, Friday July 15, 2011, in Loudon, N.H. Bruton Smith, a North Carolina native and entrepreneur who fell in love with auto racing and parlayed it into a career as an eccentric and successful promoter, died Wednesday, June 22, 2022 of natural causes. He was 95. His death was confirmed by Speedway Motorsports, the company he founded and owns and operates 11 race tracks across the United States. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)
            
              FILE - Hall of Fame inductee Bruton Smith entertains the crowd as his son, Marcus Smith, left, looks on during NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016.  Bruton Smith, a North Carolina native and entrepreneur who fell in love with auto racing and parlayed it into a career as an eccentric and successful promoter, died Wednesday, June 22, 2022 of natural causes. He was 95. His death was confirmed by Speedway Motorsports, the company he founded and owns and operates 11 race tracks across the United States. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn, File)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — O. Bruton Smith, who emerged from North Carolina farm country and parlayed his love of motorsports into a Hall of Fame career as one of the biggest track owners and most successful promoters in the history of auto racing, died Wednesday. He was 95.

His death was announced by Speedway Motorsports, which cited natural causes.

His son, Marcus, the current president and CEO, on Tuesday posted a tribute to his father on social media: “I had a wonderful Father’s Day weekend. I am so thankful to be a dad, and to have an amazing dad,” said the post, which was accompanied by photos of Smith surrounded by his family.

“Race fans are, and always will be, the lifeblood of NASCAR. Few knew this better than Bruton Smith,” NASCAR chairman Jim France said. “Bruton built his race tracks employing a simple philosophy; give face fans memories they will cherish for a lifetime. In doing do, Bruton helped grow NASCAR’s popularity as the preeminent spectator sport.”

Born March 2, 1927, on a farm in Oakboro, a small town 30 miles east of Charlotte, Ollen Bruton Smith was the youngest of nine children. He watched his first race as an 8-year-old during the Depression and bought his first race car at 17 for $700.

“The whole idea at that time was that I was going to be a race car driver. I learned to drive, but that career didn’t last long,” Smith said about his early start, claiming his mother prayed for him to find another passion. “You can’t fight your mom and God, so I stopped driving.”

Smith instead became an entrepreneur — promoting his first race at age 18 — and became one of the giants in stock car racing. Speedway Motorsports, the company he founded, was the first motorsports company to trade on the New York Stock Exchange and it currently owns 11 facilities across the United States.

The tracks host NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA and other series in Hampton, Georgia; Bristol, Tennessee; Concord, North Carolina; Loudon, New Hampshire; Sonoma, California; Fort Worth, Texas; Dover, Delaware; Nashville, Tennessee; North Wilkesboro, North Carolina; Sparta, Kentucky, and Las Vegas.

NASCAR races this weekend at Nashville Superspeedway, a track that was purchased by Speedway Motorsports late last year.

“My parents taught us what work was all about,” Smith said in 2008. “As I look back, that was a gift, even though I certainly didn’t think so at the time. A lot of people don’t have that gift because they didn’t grow up working. Bu if you are on a family farm, that’s what you do. Everything is hard work.”

Speedway Motorsports also owns and operates a number of subsidiaries. Smith founded Sonic Automotive in early 1997 and took it public 11 months later; in 2000, it was recognized as a Fortune 500 company and has hundreds of dealerships in over 20 states.

Smith was on the ground floor as stock car racing grew in popularity, starting in the Deep South. Smith joked he was “unlucky enough” to be appointed by a committee of frustrated racers and car owners to begin promoting races.

He partnered with Curtis Turner in 1959 to build Smith’s first permanent motorsports facility, Charlotte Motor Speedway. It opened in June 1960 with a 600-mile race, the longest in NASCAR history. The Coca-Cola 600 to this day is considered a crown jewel on the NASCAR calendar.

Smith became known for building state-of-the-art facilities that embraced the fan experience. His tracks have condominiums, Speedway Clubs that offer fine dining and giant, high-definition video screens.

“I love the racing business. I want to contribute more and more,” Smith said in 2015. “You hear us preach about ‘fan friendly.’ I think that is a driver for me to just do more things. I enjoy the contributions I’ve been able to make to the sport.”

He often sparred with NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. and his successor, Bill France Jr., and battled the NASCAR leadership for decades trying to bring elite Cup Series races to his properties. The two largest operators of racetracks in the country rarely saw eye-to-eye, but Smith, with his gold-framed shaded sunglasses and wild sport coats, never backed down.

“Bruton’s contribution to stock car racing is hard to measure,” said fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. “His ambitious vision created growth and opportunities that I am forever thankful for.”

Eddie Gossage, who worked for Smith at Charlotte before leaving to help open Texas Motor Speedway and guide it through its first 25 years, paid tribute to his former boss.

“I’ve met American Presidents and scholars. Astronauts and artists. World famous musicians and athletes. But the greatest man I ever met was Bruton Smith,” said Gossage, who retired last summer. “We had so much fun working together. He always treated me like an equal as he taught me lessons about business and life.”

Smith in 2016 was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame for his contributions to motorsports. He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2007 and the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame a year earlier. Jim France called Smith “a giant of a sport.”

“Everyone knows what he’s done for motorsports, NHRA and NASCAR,” drag racing great John Force said. “He was like a second father to me. I met him when he opened Bristol. I sure loved him. I’m going to miss him. His legacy will live on.”

Smith is survived by sons Scott, Marcus and David, daughter Anna Lisa, their mother, Bonnie Smith and seven grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were pending.

___

More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...
Associated Press

Vikings hire Brian Flores as defensive coordinator

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings hired Brian Flores as their defensive coordinator on Monday, their first step toward trying to revive a once-dominant unit that ranked among the NFL’s worst last season. Flores was a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach this season for Pittsburgh, after three years as head coach in Miami. Prior […]
18 hours ago
Denver Broncos new head coach Sean Payton is introduced during a news conference at the team's head...
Associated Press

Sean Payton brings old-school style to Denver in his return

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Sean Payton is bringing an old-school style sown by his mentor Bill Parcells and steeped in discipline and accountability as he takes over as the Denver Broncos’ new head coach. One thing that means is that Russell Wilson will no longer have his own entourage at the team’s headquarters as he […]
18 hours ago
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) attempts a three-point shot as New Orleans Pelicans guard T...
Associated Press

Irving trade official as Mavs essentially start season over

DALLAS (AP) — Luka Doncic has his co-star, and the Dallas Mavericks are set for their season essentially to start over after trading for Kyrie Irving. The blockbuster deal with Brooklyn sending the mercurial Irving to the Mavericks became official Monday, two days before what figures to be his Dallas debut at the Los Angeles […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz stands on the field before an NCAA college football...
Associated Press

If Iowa offense ups its game, OC Brian Ferentz recoups pay

Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz is taking a pay cut as part of a new contract that will reward him if the Hawkeyes average 25 points and win at least seven games next season — and make it easier to fire him if they don’t. The athletic department on Monday released an amended contract for […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Qatar hires coach Carlos Queiroz through the 2026 World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Former Portugal and Iran coach Carlos Queiroz has worked at the last four World Cups and was hired on Monday by Qatar to aim for a fifth straight at the next edition hosted in North America. The Qatar Football Association hired former Real Madrid coach Queiroz until 2026 to take charge […]
2 days ago
Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen (23) and Charlotte Hornets guard Dennis Smith Jr. (8) battle for ...
Associated Press

Jazz owner aims to showcase Utah with NBA All-Star Game

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — When the NBA All-Star Game returns to Salt Lake City for the first time in three decades, Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith anticipates the event will help build Utah into a destination for other major sporting events. “All the lights will be on us, but I think it is one […]
2 days ago
Speedway Motorsports founder Bruton Smith dies at 95