Smith, aged 95, passed away due to natural causes.
He was a transformative figure in American motorsports, and was inducted to both the NASCAR Hall of Fame (2016) and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (2007).
After graduating high school, his $700 purchase of a race car set the course for the rest of his life. Initially hoping to become a racer himself, he quickly moved to the business side of things.
The young entrepreneur bought-and-sold cars from his mother’s front yard and promoted his first race while still a teenager.
Partnering with Curtis Turner in 1959, he built his first permanent motorsports facility — Charlotte Motor Speedway, which would come to host NASCAR’s longest race at 600 miles.
Speedway Motorsports Inc., which he founded in 1994, currently owns and operates eleven race tracks: Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway, Texas Motor Speedway, Dover Motor Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway, North Wilkesboro Speedway, and Kentucky Speedway.
SMI-owned tracks make up over a third of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series schedule.
He was a philanthropist as well and founded Speedway Children’s Charities in 1982, in memory of his son, Bruton Cameron Smith, who passed away at a very young age. They have provided over $60 million dollars to local organizations nationwide with the goal of improving the quality of life for children in need.
He leaves behind his sons Marcus and David, his daughter Anna Lisa, their mother Bonnie Smith, as well as seven grandchildren.
Photo by: Michael C. Johnson
The NASCAR Hall of Fame released the following statement in response to his passing:
“First and foremost, on behalf of the NASCAR Hall of Fame team, I want to offer our most sincere condolences to Bruton’s sons Scott, Marcus, David and daughter Anna Lisa, the entire Smith family and everyone at Speedway Motorsports on the passing of Bruton Smith.
“From promoting his first race prior to turning 18 to becoming one of the most successful businessmen in all of motorsports O. Bruton Smith did as much as any single person in creating the standard for the modern racetrack. In 1959, he led the effort to design and build Charlotte Motor Speedway working alongside fellow Hall of Famer Curtis Turner. The track became the flagship of Smith’s company, Speedway Motorsports, which through his vision of taking SMI public in 1995 has grown to operate tracks across the country.
“Smith has always sought to focus on the fans and competitors and how he could make things better from their perspectives. His tracks were the first to add lights to a superspeedway and add innovative amenities such as officer towers, condominiums and high-end restaurants — all ushering in a new era of tracks.
“A multi-faceted businessman, Smith founded Sonic Automotive, Inc., a group of several hundred auto dealerships across the United States. His philanthropic foundation, Speedway Children’s Charities, has contributed millions of dollars across the SMI footprint for children’s related causes.
“NASCAR has lost one of its true pioneers, visionaries and innovators. Bruton’s legacy and incredible accomplishments in and contributions to NASCAR will forever remain in our minds, our archives, at the cathedrals of speed he built and celebrated at the NASCAR Hall of Fame forever.”
“Race fans are, and always will be, the lifeblood of NASCAR. Few knew this truth better than Bruton Smith Bruton built his race tracks employing a simple philosophy: give race fans memories they will cherish for a lifetime. In doing so, Bruton helped grow NASCAR’s popularity as the preeminent spectator sport. His vision and legacy inspired many, and his fan-first mentality remains today through his son Marcus. On behalf of the France family and all of NASCAR, I offer my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Bruton…