The 95-year-old businessman from North Carolina named Bruton Smith passed away on Wednesday from natural causes. He was one of the most active track owners and promoters in NASCAR history. Speedway Motorsports Inc., the organization Smith created and which included his motorsports portfolio, confirmed his passing.
Jim France, chairman of NASCAR, issued a statement
“NASCAR depends heavily on its racegoers and always will. Nobody knew this better than Bruton Smith. A straightforward idea guided Bruton’s construction of his racetracks: to provide racegoers with lifelong experiences. Bruton contributed to the growth of NASCAR‘s recognition as the most popular spectator sport in the process. Many others were impressed by his vision and legacy, and his son Marcus continues his fan-first philosophy today. I extend my condolences to Bruton Smith’s family and friends on behalf of NASCAR as a whole and the France family. He was a legend in our sport.”
After graduating from high school, Smith, who was born in 1927 to a farming family in Oakboro, North Carolina, decided to pursue his dream of driving a race car. He used the $700 he had saved from his employment at a hosiery mill to fund his vehicle. Smith’s racing career was short-lived, so he resorted to marketing automobiles and racing sponsorships before being called up to serve in the American Army during the Korean War. Smith returned to his automotive business after serving as a paratrooper in the United States for two years, this time advertising motor races for the newly formed NASCAR.
With Curtis Turner, Smith built Charlotte Motor Speedway
A cutting-edge 1.5-mile track that has grown to be one of NASCAR’s most recognizable venues after proving itself as a reliable promoter. This partnership would set the standard for the remainder of Smith’s career. By combining all of his racing holdings more than 30 years later, Bruton Smith created Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI) in December 1994. SMI soon became the first motorsports business to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
Smith rose to prominence in NASCAR as a controversial and creative personality
Thanks to his portfolio of nearly a dozen tracks and focus on cutting-edge infrastructure. During the 1990s, he played a key role in the growth of the sport by supervising the development of the Texas Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which helped the sports branch out from its southern roots and into more developed markets. Aside from that, he was in charge of big-budget initiatives like the 1992 installation of lighting at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He also handled the modernization of circuits like Atlanta Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway.
But Smith became a contentious figure because of their techniques. He was heavily criticized, for example, for purchasing the storied North Wilkesboro Speedway, shuttering it, and shifting the two Cup Series events from that track to his more contemporary sites when the track’s founder Enoch Staley passed away.
In order to construct a drag strip next to Charlotte Motor Speedway, he also utilized strong-arm tactics against the city of Concord. He was also suspected of harboring animosity toward NASCAR when he was alleged to have secretly supported two antitrust cases against the sanctioning organization. Smith did, however, make a significant contribution to NASCAR. The NASCAR Hall of Fame also recognized Smith in 2016 by inducting him.
Smith had been giving way to son Marcus in recent years
He had a less visible position at Speedway Motorsports Inc. Sonic Automotive, EchoPark Automotive, and SMI affiliates like U.S. Legends Cars International, Performance Racing Network, and zMAX Micro Lubricants were all included in Smith’s portfolio of businesses.
Scott, Marcus, and David Smith’s sons, Anna Lisa Smith’s daughter, Bonnie Smith, and Bruton Smith’s seven grandchildren are his only heirs.
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