Drag Illustrated Issue 177, July / August 2022 | Page 48


but that career didn ’ t last long .” Smith ’ s mother had other ideas and prayed to a higher authority . “ She started fighting dirty ,” laughed Smith in a 2005 interview with Motorsport . com . “ You can ’ t fight your mom and God , so I stopped driving .”
Smith sold his first car , a 1939 Buick sedan , for a small profit and continued to sell cars from his mother ’ s front yard . The young entrepreneur also promoted his first race before he was 18 years old .
“ There was a whole lot of unrest with the drivers and car owners at that time ,” Smith continued . “ We had a meeting and I was unlucky enough to be appointed a committee of one to promote a race . I had never done that , but I promoted a race in Midland , North Carolina , and I made a little bit of money , so I thought I ’ d try it again .”
In his early 20s , Smith ’ s career as promoter and car salesman took a turn when he was drafted by the U . S . Army during the Korean War . Smith served two years stateside as a paratrooper , then returned to selling cars and promoting auto races featuring the burgeoning National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing ( NASCAR ). Through a rough era for the sport , Smith was one of the first professional promoters to pay good purses , tend to the needs of the fans , and find unique ways to promote events at speedways he leased around North Carolina .
“ I ’ m a frustrated builder who had a knack for promoting races and it ’ s been fun to always try and push the sport to greater heights for the fans ,” Smith told the Associated Press in 2015 .
Smith and Dale Earnhardt .
In 1959 , he partnered with NASCAR driver Curtis Turner and built his first permanent motorsports facility , Charlotte Motor Speedway . The track opened in June 1960 with a 600-mile race , the longest ever in NASCAR ’ s history .
In the years that followed , Smith found success opening several automotive dealerships . Opened in 1966 , his first dealership was Frontier Ford in Rockford , Illinois , where he married and started a family . While growing his automotive business
, Smith ’ s passion for auto racing never wavered .
“ 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 .”
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 Funny Car 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 .”
Among his accolades , Smith was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame ’ s 2016 class . In 2007 , he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and he became a member of the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 2006 .
Even with his many accomplishments in motorsports , Smith often commented that the auto retail business was his first love and maintained his primary office at his Town & Country Ford dealership in Charlotte throughout his distinguished career .
“ You have trophies , you have championships , you have wins , but friends are what really make the difference ,” said fellow NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Darrell Waltrip about Smith in 2019 . “ Bruton Smith has been one of my heroes since I started racing in NASCAR in 1972 .”
In addition to his business interests , Smith founded Speedway Children ’ s Charities in 1982 as a memoriam and legacy to his son , Bruton Cameron Smith , who passed away at a very young age . Given his experience , Smith became passionate about wanting to help children in need , and Speedway Children ’ s Charities was created to focus on serving communities surrounding Speedway Motorsports racetracks . Speedway Children ’ s Charities chapters work with organizations to identify and resolve pressing issues ranging from learning disabilities and broken homes to hunger and childhood cancer .
Under Smith ’ s leadership , Speedway Children ’ s Charities has distributed more than $ 61 million to local organizations across the country that improve the quality of life for children in need .
Survivors include sons Scott , Marcus and David ; his daughter , Anna Lisa ; their mother , Bonnie Smith ; and seven grandchildren . Information regarding funeral arrangements will be released at a later date . DI
48 | Drag Illustrated | DragIllustrated . com Issue 177