(QUEEN CITY NEWS) — Bruton Smith, founder of Speedway Motorsports Inc. and the Charlotte Motor Speedway, has passed away at the age of 95.
The Charlotte Motor Speedway we know today was created by Smith.
“I built this place and started in 1959 and ran the first race in 1960,” Smith told NASCAR in an interview. “It’s kind of like I gave birth to this one.”
An innovator, Smith was always pushing his team to do the next great thing in racing.
“We’re reminded every day of his adage that we work for the fans and that’s our lens through which we look at everything we do,” said Greg Walter, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame says Smith bought his first race car when he was just 17 and went on the next year to promote his first stock car race in Midland.
He grew to become a racing titan, also founding Sonic Automotive and Speedway Motorsports, then growing the brand beyond Charlotte to owning other tracks around the country.
Smith’s name is stamped on Concord too. The road named for him is a main corridor near Concord Mills.
“Exit 49 off I-85 and all that’s done economically. You look at the track and all that’s done for 63 years, millions of people have come to our community,” said Walter.
Smith also gave back generously through his Speedway Children’s Charities.
He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. Queen City News was there in 2014 when Smith didn’t waste the spotlight, taking the mic to talk money and track upgrades with then Governor Pat McCrory.
“So anyway, do you want me to come and see you and talk to you, or do you want to do it right here in front of God and everybody?” said Smith to McCrory.
“I just came back from a prayer breakfast, so why don’t we do it later?” said McCrory.
Years before that, Smith even threatened to move the speedway out of Concord because of a disagreement with the City of Concord over development of the zMAX Dragway. An agreement was made on an $80 million incentive plan for upgrades to the area around the speedway property.
Bold and innovative, Smith helped bring racing to Concord. His death is leaving those who worked with him mourning.
“No matter how prepared you are, it’s always a shock and always a hurt to the heart,” said Walter.
They’re reflecting on a storied career and an empire left behind: “His legacy will be part of us in everything we do moving forward.”