Race promoters and track owners are very important people in the world of motorsports. Without them, races simply don’t get held. A venue is always necessary, its safety is always paramount and it’s necessary to have a team to get both competitors and fans to the tracks to compete.
In the world of motorsports, there have been only a few giants in the race promotion and track ownership game, but Bruton Smith, who passed at age 95 on June 22, 2022, was certainly a huge presence. His company, Speedway Motorsports, has 11 estimable tracks under its umbrella: Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte, Las Vegas, New Hampshire, Sonoma, Texas Dover, Nashville, North Wilkesboro and Kentucky, all named “Motor Speedways” except for Sonoma Raceway.
Smith’s empire was built with his personal grit and is maintained by superlative personnel, including his son Marcus. At his death, Smith was the CEO Emeritus of Speedway Motorsports, Speedway Children’s Charities and Sonic Automotive Group, one of the nation’s largest automobile dealership conglomerates. He always thought big and his properties continue to espouse his theories of innovation in the racing game.
Selected to join the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2016, Bruton Smith made both friends and enemies as he focused his energies on putting together programs at each of his racing properties that would thrill the public and open his tracks to new promotions. “Race fans are, and always will be, the lifeblood of NASCAR,” NASCAR CEO Jim France tweeted about Smith’s passing. “Few knew this truth better than Bruton Smith. Bruton built his race tracks employing a simple philosophy: give race fans memories they will cherish for a lifetime.”
Raised about 30 miles from North Carolina’s Charlotte Motor Speedway, Smith always loved cars, although boxing was his first love in the world of sports. He began promoting races at a nearby short track, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. After a couple of years in the military, and without his guiding hand, his promotional company had to be dissolved. He never gave up and continued to promote races. “He worked for decades before he got to a place where he had a few pennies to rub together,” Marcus Smith told the Charlotte Observer in 2016.
Speedway Motorsports is the first motorsports company to trade on the New York Stock Exchange, achieving that distinction in 1995. The company currently hosts 15 NASCAR Cup Series events in addition to its many NHRA contests, including the only two Four-Wide contests in NHRA’s Camping World Drag Racing Series.
As the news came in about Smith’s passing, the Speedway Motorsports Executive Chairman was lauded by those who have worked with him and son Marcus. “It has been a true honor and privilege to have grown my entire career working for and being mentored by entrepreneur titans, Bruton Smith and his son, Marcus. Together, they have created a family-like atmosphere at Speedway Motorsports,” said Jerry Caldwell, president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway and Bristol Dragway.
“While today is a sad day in the world of motorsports, it’s also a day to reflect on the incredible influence Bruton Smith had on the world of sports and entertainment,” said Jeff Motley, vice president of communications at Sonoma Raceway. “His focus on innovation set the gold standard for turning speedways into majestic sports facilities. His vision here in Sonoma was key in developing Sonoma Raceway into one of the most legendary and visited motorsports facilities in the world. We will continue to work hard every day to continue the legacy that he has established.”
In addition to his passion and support of racing and the businesses he formed and developed, Smith cared about the community. He started Speedway Children’s Charities, which has distributed more than $61 million since its 1982 formation, which occurred after the promoter lost a young son.
The youngest of nine children, Smith had been out of the public eye since battling – and overcoming – non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He is survived by sons Scott, Marcus and David, by daughter Anna Lisa and by their mother Bonnie Smith and seven grandchildren. No announcement of interment or services has been made.