Bruton Smith Gains Control of Charlotte Motor Speedway


For over a decade from its creation in 1960, the Charlotte Motor Speedway, now known as the Lowe's Motor Speedway, sat there, more or less neglected.

But Bruton Smith could see the real value of the track he had built and been fired from when RJ Reynolds decided to sponsor NASCAR.

In 1975, Smith, who had become a millionaire selling cars for Ford, acquired enough stock to regain control of the track. Twenty-eight years later, under Smith and Humpy Wheeler, the track president, the speedway has become the cornerstone of an industry that pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy.

Twice a year, during the Coca-Cola 600 in May and the UAW-GM 500 in October, Lowe's Motor Speedway becomes the fourth largest city in the state. Smith beams when he says the motorsports industry employs over 5,000 people in the Charlotte region.
"I knew at that time that racing would be different because this big company was going to put a lot of money into the sport," says Smith, the visionary chairman of two billion dollar companies, Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI), the parent company of the Lowes Motor Speedway and five other tracks, and Sonic Automotive, which owns and operates 161 automobile dealerships across the country.

"It was obvious to me that great things were going to happen. That's when I started buying up the stock. Nobody else was paying attention to it and I managed to get control."

In 1995 Smith took racing to Wall Street. SMI became the first motorsports company to be publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Even if they weren't talking about it in SouthPark, it certainly became a topic of conversation in the rare air of corporate hierarchy. Rivals International Speedway Corp., the sister company to NASCAR, followed, and today only the NFL surpasses stock car racing on national sports television.

Steve Goldberg, a longtime contributor to this magazine, profiled Bruton Smith and Humpy Wheeler's rise to stock-car racing prominence in the September/October 1997 issue of this magazine. He also written about racing for several other publications.