When Bruton Smith talks about the roots of stock-car racing, he might as well be talking about himself. Smith was there from the beginning, promoting races in the 1950s at a time when the sport had a small-but-passionate following confined primarily to the South.
A half-century later, those roots have spread throughout the country, and Smith has grown right along with them. His groundbreaking influence on stock-car racing has landed him a spot in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Smith will be inducted into the IMHOF on April 26 along with Jack Ingram, Wayne Rainey, Ray Hendrick, Warren Johnson and Junie Donlavey.
Smith was still a teenager when he promoted his first race, at what he calls “an old, sorry dirt track in Midland, N.C.” It was exactly the type of place that created NASCAR, and Smith doesn’t want people to forget it.
“Stock-car racing was born from blue-collar roots,” Smith said. “We can’t forget where we came from, and who helped get us here.”
Smith certainly is one of the people who helped transform the sport. He expanded his operations in the 1950s to the point that he was promoting three or four events per week. Then he teamed up with veteran dirt-track driver Curtis Turner to develop Charlotte Motor Speedway (now Lowe’s Motor Speedway) in 1960.
Like many large tracks in the ‘60s, Charlotte Motor Speedway struggled with attendance and financial problems. Smith even briefly left auto racing and returned to his old job of selling cars. But Smith stuck with a sport that he says he “absolutely loved,” and things began to improve in the 1970s.
During that time, Smith hired Humpy Wheeler – who already is a member of the IMHOF – to help promote the races. Together, they expanded the experience for fans to include a thrilling pre-race show.
Over the next 20 years, as NASCAR exploded in popularity and became a true national sport, Smith built or purchased a number of tracks throughout the country, from Bristol, Tenn., to Sonoma, Calif. In 1994, he consolidated his race tracks by forming Speedway Motorsports, Inc., which became the first motorsports company to be listed on the Big Board of the New York Stock Exchange.
In 1997, Smith opened Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. With a seating capacity of approximately 150,000, TMS is the second-largest race track in the country, surpassed only by Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Speedway Motorsports now owns and operates six race tracks that host NASCAR–sanctioned events. In addition, Smith expanded his auto retail business by increasing holdings in dealership franchises, and in 1997 he named Sonic Automotive as his network. Today, Sonic Automotive operates 173 dealerships at 150 locations, and also owns 37 collision repair centers in 15 states.
All told, Smith has parlayed his passion for cars into a business empire. He currently is 215th among the “Forbes 400” with an estimated worth exceeding $1.3 billion.
There is no doubt that Smith has had an excellent career as a promoter. But as his achievements are recognized by induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, Smith wants to make it clear that he has been more interested in promoting the sport he loves, not himself.
“I work hard to promote my business interests, but I also do a lot of things and don’t say anything to anyone about them because I’m not seeking that attention,” Smith said. “I do things because I want to do them, and if I give somebody a car because they need one, I don’t let people know about it.”
About the International Motorsports Hall of Fame & Museum
Opened in April of 1983, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum is dedicated to the preservation of the history of motorsports. Each year, the annual International Motorsports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is held on the grounds of the museum to honor those men and women chosen for induction from among the greatest names in all of motorsports. This year’s black-tie ceremony consists of a reception, banquet and awards ceremony and is set for Thursday, April 26, 2007. Individual tickets are $125 and a table for eight may be reserved for $1,000 by calling (256) 362-5002. Visa, Mastercard and Discover are accepted. The IMHOF and Museum and Pitshop Retail Store are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., 7 days a week with the exception of major holidays. Admission to the museum is $10 for adults, $5 for kids age 7 to 17 and free for kids age 6 and younger. Tours of Talladega Superspeedway are also available at a cost of $5 for adults, $4 for kids age 7 to 17 and free for kids age 6 and younger. A discounted combo tour of both facilities is also available.
About Aaron’s Dream Weekend At Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega Superspeedway officials are preparing to welcome back fans for its first races of the 2007 NASCAR season during the Aaron’s Dream Weekend, featuring the Aaron’s 312 NASCAR Busch Series and Aaron’s 499 NEXTEL Cup Series races, set for April 27-29. Tickets for and more information about the Aaron’s Dream Weekend are available by calling 1-877-Go2-DEGA (462-3342) Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. CDT, or by logging onto www.racetickets.com. For our hearing impaired guests, please call TDD 1-866-ISC-TRAK (1-866-472-8725). You may also purchase tickets in person at Talladega Superspeedway’s Ticket Office from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. CDT, Monday – Friday.