NASCAR track owner Bruton Smith has died. He was 95.
Smith founded Speedway Motorsports, a company that owns and operates numerous tracks on the NASCAR schedule. Smith built Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1959 and Speedway Motorsports also owns and operates Bristol Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The company also purchased Dover Motor Speedway in 2021.
He got into the track ownership business after running a stock car series designed to compete with NASCAR. The series Smith was running, however, fizzled out in the 1950s after he served during the Korean War.
Despite owning and operating tracks on the NASCAR schedule, things weren’t always cozy between Smith and the France family, the company that owns NASCAR and many other tracks where the sanctioning body hosts races. As Smith’s track portfolio grew in the 1990s he built Texas Motor Speedway northwest of Fort Worth. The track was built to host over 150,000 and Smith wanted to get two Cup Series races at the track.
Texas only got one to start. Smith had purchased part of North Wilkesboro Speedway in an apparent attempt to make sure that Texas had two Cup Series races when it opened in 1997. That didn’t happen, and Smith long thought that NASCAR owed him a second race at Texas while North Wilkesboro hosted its final Cup Series race in 1996.
The construction of TMS and NASCAR’s move away from North Wilkesboro was a big sign of NASCAR’s expansion from a regional Southeast auto racing series to a national one. In addition to Texas, NASCAR started hosting races in Las Vegas, Fontana, California, Kansas City, Chicago, and Homestead, Florida among other locations in the late 1990s and early 2000s as it grew in popularity.
That popularity boom came after Smith took Speedway Motorsports public in the 1990s. NASCAR’s track company International Speedway Corporation also went public and the two companies were publicly traded across multiple decades. Not every expansion move worked out, however. NASCAR-owned Chicagoland Speedway is now closed and Speedway Motorsports' Kentucky Speedway also no longer hosts NASCAR races.
Those track companies are no longer publicly traded either as NASCAR regroups and attempts to recapture the popularity that it had in the 2000s. ISC no longer exists; all tracks that were owned by ISC are now owned by the sanctioning body itself. The Smith family’s company Sonic Financial Corporation owns Speedway Motorsports and Smith’s son Marcus is the current CEO and is the company’s public face.
The elder Smith was inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January of 2016 after Marcus was named Speedway Motorsports’ CEO in 2015.