Bruton Smith, a NASCAR Hall of Famer who founded Speedway Motorsports and Speedway Children’s Charities, died on June 22 from natural causes. He was 95 years old. Following news of his death, NASCAR legends and industry members alike sent their condolences and talked about his impact on the sport.
Smith, a Korean War veteran who served as a paratrooper, was a race promoter and competitor of NASCAR. However, he began working with the company while focusing on fans and finding unique ways to promote the races on the schedule. Smith also earned a reputation as someone that paid good purses.
“Race fans are, and always will be, the lifeblood of NASCAR. Few knew this truth better than Bruton Smith,” said Jim France, NASCAR Chairman and CEO, in a statement. “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.”
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Smith Helped Build a Top-Tier Facility
Smith spent years promoting races at a variety of venues, but he made an even bigger contribution to the sport of stock car racing in 1959. He partnered with NASCAR driver Curtis Turner, and they built Charlotte Motor Speedway.
This facility, which was Smith’s first permanent motorsports facility, opened in June 1960. NASCAR held a 600-mile race, the longest ever in series history, which Joe Lee Johnson won in the No. 89 Chevrolet after he led 48 of the 400 laps. This race has continued at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and the winner of the Coca-Cola 600 has received the Bruton Smith Trophy since 2006.
NASCAR’s Cup Series drivers have competed at Charlotte Motor Speedway a total of 124 times since it first opened. The facility has become one of the go-to destinations in the sport, and it was the first intermediate track in the sport to have lights.
Smith founded Speedway Motorsports in 1994, which now owns and operates 11 facilities around the country, including Nashville Superspeedway and North Wilkesboro Speedway. Smith’s son, Marcus, has continued to lead the charge after taking over as CEO of the company in 2015.
“I have so much respect for Bruton,” Kurt Busch tweeted on June 22. “He was a true trailblazer of our sport. Always did things big. So sad to hear the news of his passing. Sending condolences to the Smith family.”
Smith Was Inducted Into the NASCAR Hall of Fame
Smith did not compete on NASCAR’s tracks, but he made an everlasting impact on the series. He founded Speedway Motorsports, took the company public in 1995, built Charlotte Motor Speedway, founded the Speedway Children’s Charities, and made numerous other improvements to tracks around the country.
The list also includes “Colossus,” the world’s largest permanent outdoor center-hung digital display at Bristol Motor Speedway, the Neon Garage at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and “Big Hoss,” a 22,704 square-foot HD screen at Texas Motor Speedway. Smith also added condos and major infrastructure upgrades to Atlanta Motor Speedway.
These efforts — and many others — led to Smith becoming a member of multiple Hall of Fames. He was inducted into the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame and National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame in 2006. One year later, he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2016.
“With heavy hearts, we join the NASCAR community in mourning the passing of Bruton Smith,” seven-time champion Richard Petty said in a statement. “I remember first meeting Bruton in the 50s at a dirt race where dad was racing and Bruton was the promoter at the time. Since then, Bruton became so much more than a track owner and promoter.
“He was a pioneer of our sport and instrumental in building it to what it is today. His vision and passion to make the sport better was seen and felt across many decades and generations of fans. From racetracks to Speedway Children’s Charities, Bruton touched the lives of so many and impacted the lives of everyone he met. Our hearts are with the Smith family during this difficult time.”