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O. Bruton Smith, who came out of the North Carolina farm country and parlayed his love of motorsports into a Hall of Fame career as one of the track’s largest owner and most successful promoter of history of auto racing, died Wednesday. He is 95 years old.
His death was announced by Speedway Motorsports, citing natural causes.
His son, Marcus, the current president and CEO, on Tuesday, posted a tribute to his father on social media: “I had a beautiful Father’s Day weekend. Very grateful I’m a father, and have a wonderful father, ”the post said, accompanied by photos of Smith surrounded by his family.
“Race fans are, and always have been, the life of NASCAR. Few know it better than Bruton Smith,” NASCAR chairman Jim France said. “Bruton makes his race tracks using a simple philosophy; giving fans memories of the face they will cherish for a lifetime.
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 the time was that I was going to be a race car driver. I learned to drive, but that race didn’t last long,” Smith said of his early start, saying his mother prayed for him to find another. love. “You can’t fight your mom and God, so I stopped driving.”
Smith instead became an entrepreneur – promoting his first race at the age of 18 – and became one of the giants of 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 the Nashville Superspeedway, a track purchased by Speedway Motorsports late last year.
“My parents taught us what work is all about,” Smith said in 2008. “To my recollection, it was a gift, even if I never thought of it that way at the time. A lot of people didn’t have that. .gifts because they didn’t grow up working. But if you’re on the family farm, that’s what you do. It’s all hard work. “
Speedway Motorsports also owns and operates several subsidiaries. Smith founded Sonic Automotive in early 1997 and took it to the public 11 months later; in 2000, it was recognized as a Fortune 500 company and had hundreds of dealerships in more than 20 states.
Smith was on the ground floor as stock car racing became popular, starting in the Deep South. Smith joked that he was “unlucky” to be appointed by a committee of frustrated racers and car owners to start promoting the races.
He partnered with Curtis Turner in 1959 to build Smith’s first permanent motorsports facility, the Charlotte Motor Speedway. It opened in June 1960 with a 600 -mile race, the highest in NASCAR history. The Coca-Cola 600 is still considered a crown jewel on the NASCAR calendar.
Smith is known for building the latest facilities that adopt the fan experience. His tracks feature condominiums, Speedway Clubs offering good food and giant, high-definition video screens.
“I love the career business. I want to contribute more,” Smith said in 2015. “You hear us preaching about ‘fan-friendly.’ I think that’s a driver for me to do a lot of things. I enjoy the contributions I’ve made to the sport. “
He has regularly sparred with NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. and his successor, Bill France Jr., and fought for NASCAR leadership for decades trying to bring elite Cup Series races to his possessions. The two largest operators of racetracks in the country rarely catch the eye, but Smith, with his gold-framed shaded sunglasses and wild sport coat, never backed down.
“Bruton’s contribution to stock car racing is hard to measure,” said NASCAR Hall of Famer fellow Dale Earnhardt Jr. “His ambitious vision creates growth and opportunities that I will be forever grateful for.”
Eddie Gossage, who worked for Smith in Charlotte before leaving to help open Texas Motor Speedway and guide it for the first 25 years, paid tribute to his former employer.
“I’ve met American Presidents and scholars. Astronauts and artists. The world’s famous musicians and athletes. But the most famous man I’ve ever met was Bruton Smith,” said Gossage, who retired last summer. “We really enjoyed working together. He always treated me equally 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 later. Jim France called Smith “a giant in a sport.”
“Everyone knows what he’s done for motorsports, NHRA and NASCAR,” said drag racing legend John Force. “He was like a second father to me. I met him when he opened Bristol. I’m sure I love him. I miss him. His legacy will continue.”
Smith is survived by sons Scott, Marcus and David, daughter Anna Lisa, their mother, Bonnie Smith and seven grandchildren. Funeral arrangements await.
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