Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR mogul Proton Smith dies

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Broughton Smith: 1927-2022

A Reminder of the NASCAR Broughton Smith Hall of Fame

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Proton Smithinsight and combat executive who helped shape NASCAR into the sport it is today, died Wednesday. He was 95 years old.

A Speedway Motorsports statement announcing his death said he died of “natural causes”.

Smith was the billionaire founder and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. , a group of racetracks that includes Charlotte Motor Speedway. Its Sonic Automotive Group ranks among the largest car dealerships in the United States

Smith was entered in NASCAR Hall of Fame In 2016. The year before, he overcame a case of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and earned a clean bill after surgery in the summer of 2015.

Smith started His career in motorsports As a promoter of short track racing in Caparros County. But, when he always thought big, he would later be known as one of NASCAR’s greatest innovators.

“Proton had all kinds of ideas, and money was never a thing,” famous driver Richard Petty said in 2016. And I did.”

Along with former SMI President HA “Humpy” Wheeler, Smith was responsible for – among many other things – fan-focused innovations in Charlotte, including the construction of condominiums at Turn 1, the upscale Speedway Club over the front extension and the installation of LEDs.

Smith’s ideas often went against traditional NASCAR standards.

“He was throwing the ax through the window,” Wheeler told the Observer. “Then maybe they’ll build a new window. That’s what we all need.”

Racing fans have always been and always will be, NASCAR lifelineNASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France said on Twitter. “Few know this fact better than Bruton Smith. Bruton built his race tracks using a simple philosophy: give racing enthusiasts memories to cherish for a lifetime.”

Proton Smith and His 11 Paths

Smith’s Speedway Motorsports owns 11 NASCAR tracks: Charlotte, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Bristol, New Hampshire, Texas, Kentucky, and Sonoma (California), as well as Dover, Delaware, Nashville and North Wilkesboro.

Smith also founded Children’s Charities Speedway in 1982 in memory of his late son Proton Cameron Smith. The nonprofit has distributed more than $58 million to charities over the years.

The early years of Broughton Smith

Smith was born on March 2, 1927, and grew up in the town of Oakboro in Stanley County, about 30 miles southeast of Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Smith family grew cotton, corn, and wheat and owned some livestock.

Smith, the youngest of nine children, said in 2008 that his parents “taught us what business is all about,” according to a Speedway Motorsports statement. “When I look back, that was a gift, although I certainly didn’t think so at the time. A lot of people don’t have that talent because they didn’t grow up working. But if you’re on a family farm, that’s what you do. Everything is hard work “.

Outside of the family farm, he was only 12 years old when he started his first job, working at a local chainsaw factory, according to Speedway Motorsports.

Speedway Motorsports officials said he took a job at a sock mill two days after graduating Oakboro High School and eventually bought a race car for $700, launching his motorsports career.

“The whole idea at the time was that I’d be a race car driver,” Smith later recalled, according to a Speedway Motorsports statement. “I learned to drive, but that career was short-lived.”

His mother, Speedway Motorsports officials, said, “started to fight in a dirty way.” “You can’t fight your mother and God, so I stopped driving.”

According to a Speedway Motorsports statement, “Smith sold his first car, a 1939 Buick sedan, for a small profit and continued to sell cars from his mother’s yard.”

Speedway Motorsports officials said Smith also promoted his first race before he turned 18.

“There was a lot of upheaval with drivers and car owners at the time,” Speedway Motorsports officials quoted Smith as saying at the time. “We had a meeting and I was fortunate enough to appoint a committee of one to promote the race. I had never done that before, but I promoted a race in Midland, North Carolina, and made quite a bit of money, so I thought I would try it again.”

“I’m a frustrated builder who had a knack for promoting racing, and it was fun trying to push the sport to higher levels for the masses,” Smith told the Associated Press in 2015.

In 1959, he partnered with NASCAR driver Curtis Turner and built the first permanent motorsports facility, Charlotte Motor Speedway. The track opened in June 1960 with the 600-mile race, the longest race in NASCAR history.

In the years that followed, Smith found success opening several car dealerships. Opened in 1966, his first sale was Frontier Ford in Rockford, Illinois, where he married and started a family.

“I love the racing industry,” he said at the time. “I want to contribute more and more.”

When he was 22, in 1949, Smith entered direct competition with NASCAR, and formed the National Auto Racing Association, which organized races in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

Smith enlisted in the US Army in 1951 during the Korean War. Smith trained as a paratrooper, and was not posted overseas. After leaving the army in 1953, he learned that mismanagement in his absence had forced his rival organization to dissolve.

Smith continued to promote races unchecked. But times were tough.

“He worked for decades before he got to a place where he had a few pennies to make together,” the son of Marcus Smith, now SMI’s president, told the Observer in 2016.

Smith quickly grows into the racing promotion game.

“He could cheat with the best of them,” Max Mullmann, a former Charlotte sports marketing executive who covered races for the Charlotte News in the 1950s, told The Observer in 2007. And you would be afraid that it was too dangerous. And then he comes out laughing.”

Smith & Charlotte Motor Speedway

In 1959, Smith and teammate Curtis Turner (who was also a top NASCAR driver) began building the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Smith worked long hours and long days to have the 1.5-mile track in Concord ready for the first track of the World 600 track on June 19, 1960.

Smith exhausted himself so much that he fell asleep in the middle of the race, which Joe Lee Johnson won.

Debts incurred largely due to construction problems and delays bankrupted Smith and the track two years later. He left North Carolina to open a car dealership in Rockford, Illinois. Meanwhile, a group led by businessman Richard Howard of Denver, North Carolina pulled the highway out of bankruptcy in 1967.

Smith gradually repurchased the track’s shares and regained control in 1975.

As NASCAR grew in popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, Smith Wheeler Tandem developed Charlotte and other SMI tracks among the nation’s most innovative sports facilities.

In 2011, Charlotte’s Highway Track installed a 16,000-square-foot HD video screen, then the largest in the world but since eclipsed the “Big Hoss” screen at Smith’s Track in Texas (where Smith has also built condos). The Bristol Track features the world’s largest outdoor and permanent center-mounted digital display.

“He’s always been ahead of the curve in his rinks – more seats, more pomp and celebration,” said NASCAR Team Owner Roger Pinsek. “I think we all followed that up.”

Proton, Humpy and NASCAR

Alongside Smith was Wheeler, who is often left to know how to pay for his boss’ seemingly outlandish ideas.

“Oh, we were arguing about things,” Wheeler said. “It was the Ritz-Carlton. I was a Holiday Inn.”

Smith—who never drunk, smoked, or swears—was also known for his many disagreements with NASCAR and local governments, many of which were played out in public.

His differences with NASCAR are well documented. Smith’s resentment toward NASCAR founder Bill France, and later Bill France Jr., came about due to power struggles over circuit acquisitions and race timings.

There was a long debate over whether Smith’s Highway in Texas deserved a second date on the NASCAR schedule (he eventually got one). It was also rumored that Smith wanted to secede from NASCAR completely, buy some of the best drivers and develop his own racing series on his own tracks.

“Knowing Francis and Proton, neither of them wanted to let the other outrun them,” said former driver Daryl Waltrip. “But it’s just like people are racing to be that way.”

Smith also pushed for changes in the competition aspect of NASCAR.

“One of the things we’ve pushed really hard for is to finish racing under the green (flag),” Wheeler said. “We’ve been selling tickets and expecting exciting endings, but if there’s a wreck five laps before, you won’t see anything. We’re the only sport that has that.

“That needed to change and in the end they did. It was so much for the better.”

NASCAR owes him a lot

Although the two competed in the auto industry, NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick said he and Smith were “good friends. We both grew up on a farm and loved cars and racing.”

Hendrik told The Charlotte Observer Wednesday that their children were also friends.

Hendrik Smith described him as an “incredible innovator” who “never stopped coming up with ideas to improve things or grow things”, including four-wheel drag racing.

“I think NASCAR owes him a lot,” Hendrick said. “NASCAR and the trails have taken him to some really unique places. Just brave enough to try anything.”

The controversy is off track

Smith was no stranger to off-track controversies.

In 2004, Charlotte Motor Speedway illegally cut down 166 trees around a new parking lot on the property. Smith said he received permission from Charlotte government officials to cut them off, which he denied.

After being ordered to replace the trees, Smith sold the property instead.

When Concord City Council voted in 2007 to prevent Smith from building what is now the zMax Dragway, he threatened to close the highway and build another road (along with a driveway) elsewhere. The council relented, and the road was eventually built near Charlotte Motor Speedway.

In addition to an $80 million stimulus deal, mainly to improve roads and reduce traction sector noise, Concorde Council offered Smith something else:

In 2008, the road connecting Concord Mills Mall and Interstate 85 to Highway was renamed Broughton Smith Boulevard.

Smith once said, “At work, if you’re negotiating… you’re fighting.” “When you get into a mental battle with someone, you want to win. I think they think I’m stronger than I am right now. Come straight to that, I’m kind of a soft guy.”

Adam Bell, Jonathan Limehouse, and Joe Marusak contributed to the book.

David Scott: @davidscott14

This story was originally published June 22, 2022 4:25 pm.

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