NASCAR Hall of Famer Bruton Smith passes away

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Bruton Smith, who helped grow the NASCAR fan experience at his tracks with visionary ideas, died Wednesday from natural causes. He was 95.

Smith founded the company that is Speedway Motorsports and owns nine tracks that host Cup races, including Nashville Superspeedway, which hosts the NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series this weekend.

“For me, Bruton Smith passing away is like Bill France Sr. or Bill France Jr. passing away,” NBC Sports analyst Kyle Petty said Wednesday. “It’s the connection to the very, very beginning of the sport, a connection to guys who had a dream and a vision and believed in what NASCAR and auto racing could become. They put it all out there.

“It’s sad for me to see that generation go. We could sit down and talk with them and hear those stories, and now they’re gone.

“I think most race fans believe he owned Charlotte Motor Speedway and went head-to-head with Bill France, but he was so much more. He went back to the 1940s when he promoted races. The majority of fans see him as the titan of Charlotte and what he did in Texas and building speedways, but he was more than that. He was a pillar of the sport and part of the foundation.”

Smith’s tracks, which included Charlotte Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, among others, used the slogan “fans first” in providing unique experiences for fans, whether it was special pre-race shows, mammoth video boards, or special food in the concession stands. He also added lights to Charlotte, making it the first 1.5-mile track to run races at night, something that has become common.

“I’ve told people before that he doesn’t do things to get awards,” Marcus Smith, Burton’s son, said of his father in January 2016. “He doesn’t really relish a victory as much as he does a challenge, and that’s probably something in common with a lot of Hall of Famers, I would guess. 

“He’s certainly someone who just relishes the challenge, loves the climb and when he achieves a goal, he quickly moves to the next opportunity and the next challenge.” 

“Race fans are, and always will be, the lifeblood of NASCAR,” said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France. “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. In doing so, Bruton helped grow NASCAR’s popularity as the preeminent spectator sport. His vision and legacy inspired many, and his fan-first mentality remains today through his son Marcus. On behalf of the France family and all of NASCAR, I offer my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Bruton Smith, a giant of our sport.

Smith entered the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January 2016, joining a class with Curtis Turner, Terry Labonte, Bobby Isaac and Jerry Cook.

“From promoting his first race prior to turning 18 to becoming one of the most successful businessmen in all of motorsports O. Bruton Smith did as much as any single person in creating the standard for the modern racetrack,” said Winston Kelley, NASCAR Hall of Fame executive director. “In 1959, he led the effort to design and build Charlotte Motor Speedway working alongside fellow Hall of Famer Curtis Turner. The track became the flagship of Smith’s company, Speedway Motorsports, which through his vision of taking SMI public in 1995 has grown to operate tracks across the country.

“Smith has always sought to focus on the fans and competitors and how he could make things better from their perspectives. His tracks were the first to add lights to a superspeedway and add innovative amenities such as officer towers, condominiums and high-end restaurants — all ushering in a new era of tracks.”

In 1959, Smith partnered with Turner and built his first permanent motorsports facility, Charlotte Motor Speedway. The track opened in June 1960 with a 600-mile race, the longest ever in NASCAR’s history.

“His mind is racing all the time; he’s done so much for the sport,” Rick Hendrick said of Smith in 2016. “He’s so brave to step out and try things that have never been tried before … He’s a sharp guy. He helped build this sport and it’s (Hall of Fame induction) well deserved.” 

Smith, who founded Speedway Children’s Charities in 1984 also was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame (2006), the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (2007), and Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame (2008). 

Speedway Children’s Charities has distributed more than $61 million to local organizations across the country that improve the quality of life for children in need.

Smith, born March 2, 1927, was the youngest of nine children and grew up on a modest farm in Oakboro, North Carolina. Survivors include sons Scott, Marcus and David; his daughter, Anna Lisa; their mother, Bonnie Smith; and seven grandchildren. Information regarding funeral arrangements will be released at a later date.

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