Track czar still entertaining at 83

Track owner's big offer is part of long history

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CONCORD, N.C. --- A week before fans start arriving in town for the Sprint All-Star race and this Sunday's Coca-Cola 600, Charlotte Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith already was talking about a promotion for next year.

Bruton Smith, owner of Speedway Motorsports Inc., says his greatest contribution to NASCAR is bringing comfort to the fans.   Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Bruton Smith, owner of Speedway Motorsports Inc., says his greatest contribution to NASCAR is bringing comfort to the fans.

If a driver can win the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same day, he'd give them $20 million.

Smith has been getting people's attention like that for more than 50 years. As the CEO and owner of Speedway Motorsports Inc., nothing is out of bounds. At 83, his mind never stops working. Racing is more than a sport, it's entertainment, so it's not enough to watch cars go fast in circles. People need to be comforted, they need to be amused.

Even if it costs $20 million.

The Indianapolis-Charlotte doubleheader has been done before, but nobody who has done it has been able to win either race. With the Indianapolis 500 now starting at 2 p.m., there's really no way a driver can win at the Brickyard and be at Charlotte in time for a 6 p.m. start.

But he made news with his offer. He got people interested. He turned heads.

"I feel like I've helped bring this sport out of the corn fields," Smith said.

Smith also owns Atlanta Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Infineon Raceway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

His group has been a longtime business rival of the 12 tracks owned by International Speedway Corp. Smith and former NASCAR president Bill France Jr. often battled over the direction of the sport, each pushing the other to be bigger and better -- and neither backing down.

"Billy and I had our own opinions, but we had a lot of respect for each other," Smith said. "I remember in 1994 in New York he asked me to help him build NASCAR. I remember thinking, 'What do you think I've been doing?' "

Smith built the first luxury boxes in the sport. He was the first to modernize the grandstands.

He cleaned up and added new restrooms. He built condominiums overlooking four of his tracks. He also changed the menu in the concession stands.

The sport inducted its first class into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Sunday, a place where Smith someday will take his place.

"Of all the things I've done, I'd like to think the best thing is I've brought a little comfort to the fans," he said.

Reach Don Coble at don.coble@morris.com.

Coca-Cola 600

(13TH OF 36 RACES)

Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C.

WHEN: 6 p.m. Sunday

TRACK DIMENSIONS: 1.5-mile quad-oval with 24-degree banking

BROADCAST: Television -- 5 p.m., Fox-Ch.54; Radio -- 5 p.m., Performance Racing Network, Sirius Satellite Radio 128

RACE FORMAT: 400 laps

2009 WINNER: David Reutimann


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