Bruton Smith

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O. Bruton Smith
Born Ollen Bruton Smith
(1927-03-03) March 3, 1927 (age 87)
Oakboro, North Carolina
Nationality United States American
Occupation Racing promoter and race track owner
Years active 1949-present
Organization Speedway Motorsports, Inc.
Net worth $1.5 billion (2005)
Parents James Smith, Mollie Smith

Ollen Bruton Smith (born March 3, 1927 in Oakboro, North Carolina[1]) is a promoter and owner/CEO of NASCAR track owner Speedway Motorsports, Inc. He was ranked #207 on the Forbes 400 list with an estimated worth of $1.5 billion in 2005,[2] and fell to #278 (worth an estimated $1.4 billion) in 2006.[3] He is divorced with four children. He was inducted in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2007.

In 2012, Smith was classified by CNN Money as the oldest CEO of the Fortune 500.[4]

Background[edit]

Bruton Smith watched his first race as an eight year old.[2][5] He bought his first race car at 17.[5][6] He began promoting stock car events as an 18 year old at Midland, North Carolina.[5][6] He claims that he beat NASCAR legends Buck Baker and Joe Weatherly.[5][6] He quit racing because his mother wanted him to quit.[5][6]

Business Involvement[edit]

NSCRA[edit]

In 1949, Smith took over the National Stock Car Racing Association (NSCRA), one of several fledgling stock-car sanctioning bodies and a direct competitor to the recently founded NASCAR, and announced that the series, which sanctioned races across Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina, would establish a "Strictly Stock" division that year; some believe this caused Bill France, Sr., NASCAR's founder, to accelerate his plans for his own Strictly Stock division, which would later become the Winston, then Sprint Cup Series; it also touched off a rivalry between Smith and the France family that continues to this day.[7] France and Smith discussed merging their sanctions in 1950, and came to a tentative agreement on the issue,[8] however Smith was drafted into the United States Army to fight in the Korean War in January 1951, becoming a paratrooper;[1] two years later, when Smith returned to civilian life, he found that mismanagement in his absence had caused NSCRA to dissolve.[1][8]

Speedway Motorsports[edit]

Smith built Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1959 for $1.5 million,[6] with financing from his wealthy brother-in-law.[5] Well-known racer Curtis Turner helped with promoting the track.[5] Smith went bankrupt two years later.[2] The track was turned over by Judge J.B. Craven to local furniture store owner Richard Howard, who ran the track and worked it out of its debts (the mortgage was burned publicly in 1967) while Smith moved to Illinois, eventually buying out other shares of stock in the track to regain control in the early 1970s.[9]

He later founded Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI), which owns eight NASCAR tracks that host twelve NASCAR Sprint Cup events.[2] Speedway Motorsports owns Charlotte Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway, Kentucky Speedway,[10] Las Vegas Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway,[11] and Texas Motor Speedway.[12] The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race is also held annually at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. He shook up the motorsports world in 1995 when he took the company public and traded it at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).[12] SMI was the first motorsports company traded at the NYSE.[13] Smith is the current chairman and chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports.

Smith announced that he would return the Labor Day weekend NASCAR race from Auto Club Speedway in California (where it had been run since 2004) to the south beginning in 2009. His Atlanta track hosted the late summer holiday weekend event from 2009 until it's final running on August 31, 2014. Beginning in 2015 the race returns to its longtime Labor Day home in Darlington, S.C., a track not owned by Smith's Speedway Motorsports, Inc. SMI's Atlanta Motor Speedway will host it's only race of 2015 on March 1.[14][15]

Charlotte Motor Speedway controversy[edit]

Controversy broke out in September/October 2007 when Smith revealed plans to build a drag racing strip on land close to Charlotte Motor Speedway. Many residents living near the speedway in the city of Concord, NC opposed this move, stating that it would cause excessive noise and traffic. The city of Concord then changed the zoning around the track, essentially preventing him from being able to build the drag strip. On October 2, 2007, Smith demanded that the Speedway and his surrounding land be unannexed from the city of Concord or he would shut down the speedway, taking hundreds of millions of dollars away from Concord and businesses surrounding it, and move it to a different plot of land within the metropolitan area of Charlotte, North Carolina. He said that he would be able to finish such a project with $350 million and 11 months.[16] At that time the city council reversed its decision under pressure from both the mayor and NC Gov. Easley.

On November 26, 2007, Smith announced his intent to retain Charlotte Motor Speedway in its current location in Concord, NC. His decision was an apparent response to an incentive package offered by the city, county, and state, worth approximately $80 million. As part of the incentives, Speedway Boulevard was renamed to Bruton Smith Boulevard, and will be re-aligned or widened. The package includes three other major road projects near the speedway. Sources of funding for the projects are still under discussion, but could include a sales tax increase for local residents.[17]

Car dealerships[edit]

Smith founded Sonic Automotive, a group of 100 car dealerships across the United States.[6]

Minor league baseball[edit]

Smith was a part-owner of the Kannapolis Intimidators minor league baseball team with Dale Earnhardt until Earnhardt's unexpected death at the 2001 Daytona 500.

Philanthropy[edit]

Smith supports child-related causes with his charity Speedway Children's Charities.[2] Also, he pledged $50 million toward a Lynx Rapid Transit Services light rail line that would have connected Charlotte Motor Speedway to Uptown Charlotte, while also passing near the original Charlotte Speedway (the site of NASCAR's first race).[2] The LYNX line was part of Charlotte's successful bid to secure the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Ultimately, the city of Charlotte decided to end the line at UNC Charlotte, a few miles short of the speedway.[18]

Criticism[edit]

Smith purchased a half-interest in the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway with Bob Bahre in 1996. The Speedway was the first to hold a NASCAR race, and was a popular track with many fans due to its history and the short track, which provided many chances for the "bumping" and "banging" associated with the early days of the sport. However, Smith and Bahre created a controversy when, citing the Speedway's age, lack of modern amenities, and relatively small stadium area, they decided to transfer its two Winston Cup events to Bahre's New Hampshire International Speedway and Smith's Texas Motor Speedway. This move came under criticism from many NASCAR traditionalists, who felt that Smith was moving NASCAR away from its small-town roots in North Carolina, and that he was slighting smaller-venue short tracks, which traditionalists believe better reflect the history of the sport, in favor of the large tracks which allow more fans but provide a less-intimate fan experience. The process of moving NASCAR races away from smaller but historic tracks in the small-town South to much larger tracks nationwide continues to be a source of controversy.

Other criticisms of Smith stem from controversies involving his other speedways. When Atlanta Motor Speedway was reconfigured there was a series of hard crashes in March 1998 and in several race weekends thereafter. His Lowe's Motor Speedway underwent a process called "levigation" for 2005 but the result was a NASCAR-record 22 cautions, mostly for crashes, in the Coca-Cola 600. The initial two seasons of Texas Motor Speedway were riddled with multicar crashes that led to some speculation (reported on ESPN at the time) the track would lose its NASCAR dates. Smith's ownership of so many speedways is also a target of criticism from fans who feel independent track owners should not be crowded out of the sport.

Awards[edit]

References[edit]

Citations
  1. ^ a b c Zeller, Bob (July 2003). "Bruton and the Two Bills: A 50-Year Rivalry". Car & Driver. Retrieved 2012-04-26. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "#207 Ollen Bruton Smith". Forbes. Retrieved 2007-05-03. 
  3. ^ "#278 Ollen Bruton Smith". Forbes. September 21, 2006. Retrieved 2007-05-03. 
  4. ^ Our annual ranking of America's largest corporations, CNN Money, may 21 2012
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Bruton Smith on Racing's Past, Present & Future (interview with Bruton Smith); May 6, 2005; Retrieved October 5, 2007
  6. ^ a b c d e f Jeff Wolf (June 5, 2005). "Bruton Smith makes motorsports his playground". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved 2007-05-03. 
  7. ^ Thompson 2006, pp. 282-283
  8. ^ a b Thompson 2006, p. 335
  9. ^ See Benyo, Richard, SUPERSPEEDWAY: The Story Of NASCAR Grand National Racing, 1977
  10. ^ SMI Purchasing of Kentucky Speedway
  11. ^ Speedway Motorsports Purchases New Hampshire International Speedway
  12. ^ a b Jim Dunn (April 26, 2007). "Bruton Smith pioneered the art of race promotion". The Birmingham News. p. 1. Retrieved 2007-05-03. 
  13. ^ a b "Bruton Smith". International Motorsports Hall of Fame. 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  14. ^ Template:Cite web /url=http://www.foxsports.com/motor/story/darlington-raceway-gets-labor-day-back-in-2015-082614
  15. ^ Darlington Raceway gets Labor Day back in 2015
  16. ^ http://www.charlotte.com/109/story/303156.html
  17. ^ The Charlotte Observer, 11/27/2007, page 1
  18. ^ Fryer, Jenna; Motor, AP (May 24, 2005). "Smith proposes monorail in N.C. Hall of Fame push". USA Today. Retrieved 2007-05-03. 
  19. ^ "Bruton Smith worthy of Hall honors". Charlotte Observer. January 21, 2006. Retrieved 2007-05-03. [dead link]
Bibliography
  • Thompson, Neal (2006). Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR. New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 978-1-4000-8225-4. 

External links[edit]