Regarded by many as a visionary whose love of motorsports led to a Hall of Fame career as a track owner and successful promoter, O. Bruton Smith, founder of Speedway Motorsports Inc., who listed New Hampshire Motor Speedway as one of the many venues his company owned, died Wednesday. He was 95.
His death was announced by Speedway Motorsports, which cited natural causes.
“Race fans are, and always will be, the lifeblood of NASCAR. Few knew this better than Bruton Smith,” NASCAR chairman Jim France said. “Bruton built his racetracks employing a simple philosophy: give face fans memories they will cherish for a lifetime. In doing do, Bruton helped grow NASCAR’s popularity as the preeminent spectator sport.”
Born March 2, 1927, on a farm in Oakboro, N.C., 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 racecar at 17 for $700, but his career didn’t last long. “You can’t fight your mom and God, so I stopped driving,” said Smith, whose mother prayed her son would stop racing.
Smith instead became an entrepreneur — promoting his first race at age 18 — and became one of the giants in 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, Ga.; Bristol, Tenn.; Concord, N.C.; Loudon, N.H.; Sonoma, Calif.; Fort Worth, Texas; Dover, Del.; Nashville; North Wilkesboro, N.C.; Sparta, Ky.,; and Las Vegas.
Smith was on the ground floor as stock car racing grew in popularity, starting in the Deep South. Smith joked that he was “unlucky enough” to be appointed by a committee of frustrated racers and car owners to begin promoting races.
Smith, who was inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in 2016, partnered with Curtis Turner in 1959 to build his first permanent motorsports facility, Charlotte Motor Speedway. It opened in June 1960 with a 600-mile race, the longest in NASCAR history. The Coca-Cola 600 to this day is considered a crown jewel on the NASCAR calendar.
Smith became known for building state-of-the-art facilities that embraced the fan experience. His tracks have condominiums and Speedway Clubs that offer fine dining and giant, high-definition video screens.
“I love the racing business. I want to contribute more and more,” Smith said in 2015. “You hear us preach about ‘fan friendly.’ I think that is a driver for me to just do more things. I enjoy the contributions I’ve been able to make to the sport.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.