Bruton Smith, one of the most iconic and memorable figures in motor sports, died Wednesday, Speedway Motorsports has announced.
Smith was 95. He was a NASCAR Hall of Fame member (2016) and a member of the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame (2006).
Smith founded Speedway Motorsports, which operates 11 racing facilities. Along with Curtis Turner, Smith built Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1959, and the track became the first facility to hold races under the lights.
A visionary, Smith worked to make sure his facilities were some of the most modern and innovative in the country. Condominiums were built at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, while Smith also had massive HDTV screens installed on the backstretches of Texas and Charlotte. AT Bristol, the Colossus TV hangs above the track.
“His mind is racing all the time; he’s done so much for the sport,” Rick Hendrick told NASCAR.com in 2016. “He’s so brave to step out and try things that have never been tried before. He helped build this sport.”
Following a 2021 victory at zMAX Dragway, John Force dedicated the win to Smith.
“I love this guy and everything he’s done for our sport,” said the 16-time NHRA champion. “I’m excited I get to send this trophy home to somebody I love—a guy who built our sport.”
“I learned from my own experience that when people go to an event – like a big race – they may know who won the race, but all the other stuff they don’t remember,” Smith once said.
“I want to put something on so regardless who won the race, it will be a memorable experience. We’re here to entertain fans, and I want them to go home with a memory that will last forever.”
But in addition to his passion and support of racing and businesses like Speedway Motorsports, Sonic Automotive and EchoPark Automotive, Smith cared about the community. In 1982, he founded Speedway Children’s Charities, which has distributed more than $61 million to local organizations.
Smith is survived by sons Scott, Marcus and David; daughter Anna Lisa; their mother Bonnie Smith; and seven grandchildren.
(Info from the NMPA)
After the announcement Wednesday began to flood in from the NASCAR industry:
“Race fans are, and always will be, the lifeblood of NASCAR. 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.”
– Jim France, NASCAR Chairman and CEO
“It has been a true honor and privilege to have grown my entire career working for and being mentored by entrepreneur titans, Bruton Smith and his son, Marcus. Together they have created a family-like atmosphere at Speedway Motorsports, making today’s news of Bruton’s passing a sad day for all of us at Bristol Motor Speedway and Dragway.
“The impact of Bruton’s contributions to the sports and entertainment world are too many to name, but his lasting legacy of building world-renowned destinations will stand the test of time. His contributions personally touched so many in the state of Tennessee throughout his businesses and philanthropic endeavors.
“His vision and passion for creating the most amazing experiences for our guests lives on today through his mantra of, ‘We work for the fans.’ We will continue to carry the torch he built and lit for us to the best of our abilities to honor and celebrate the legend we lost today.”
– President and General Manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, Jerry Caldwell
“With heavy hearts, we join the NASCAR community in mourning the passing of Bruton Smith. I remember first meeting Bruton in the 50’s 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.”
– Richard Petty
“A pioneer, a visionary and a true original. Never afraid to take a chance, Bruton will go down as one of the greatest promotors and innovators in the history of motor sports. I have tremendous admiration for the legacy he carved out in both racing and the car business. Even though we occasionally competed, I was always happy to call Bruton a friend. He was someone you wanted on your side because he was tough as nails and never backed down from a fight. At the same time, Bruton was incredibly generous and dedicated much of his life to giving back. The impact of Speedway Children’s Charities and his countless acts of kindness cannot possibly be measured.
“Bruton and I both grew up on farms, and we shared a passion for racing and for the car business. In 1983, I held a press conference at City Chevrolet (in Charlotte, North Carolina) to announce a new NASCAR team that would become Hendrick Motorsports. He was there that day, and his support was something I never took for granted. Although most knew him as a savvy and successful businessman, I will remember Bruton first and foremost as a father, a family man and a dear friend. He was so proud of his children, and our families have always been close. On behalf of Linda (Hendrick), our family and our entire organization, I offer my deepest sympathies to the Smith family and the many, many people who loved and respected Bruton.”
– Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports and chairman and CEO of Hendrick Automotive Group
Bruton Smith was a pioneer who helped make motorsports mainstream and allowed guys like me to make a living doing what we love. He helped grow not just NASCAR, but all kinds of racing. He had his hands in all of it, and even though he’s gone, his fingerprints remain. https://t.co/wsbrQMo7UM
— Tony Stewart (@TonyStewart) June 22, 2022
This is not “goodbye…”
This is “I’ll see you later…”❤️
In loving memory of Ollen Bruton Smith.
March 2, 1927 ~
June 22, 2022 pic.twitter.com/gmHLcR5hBL
— Cassi Mitchell Smith (@G88Gassi) June 22, 2022
I’ve had so many incredible memories with Bruton over the years but one of my favorites was gifting him my final Martinsville clock. The smile on his face that day I’ll never forget. Rest easy Bruton, we are keeping the whole Smith family in our thoughts and prayers. pic.twitter.com/wsso6G7PUu
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) June 22, 2022
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