Bruton Smith, who brought NASCAR to North Texas, has died.
He was 95.
Smith founded Speedway Motorsports, which became the first motorsports company to trade on the New York Stock Exchange in 1995. The company operates 11 tracks across the country, including Texas Motor Speedway.
TMS hosted its first NASCAR race in April 1997.
“I’ve put American Presidents and scholars. Astronauts and artists. World famous musicians and athletes. But the greatest man I ever met was Bruton Smith,” former TMS president Eddie Gossage said in a release.
“For whatever reason, he saw something in me, blessed me with the opportunity to join him in building one of the largest stadiums in the world. We had so much fun working together. He always treated me like an equal as he taught me lessons about business & life.”
The Oakboro, North Carolina, native was born March 2, 1927. He was the youngest of nine children. He saw his first race at age 8 and bought his first race car for $700 at 17.
“Race fans are, and always will be, the lifeblood of NASCAR. Few knew this truth better than Bruton Smith,” NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France said in a release. “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 Smith, a giant of our sport.”
When he was elected into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015, Smith reflected on his career.
“I’m a frustrated builder who had a knack for promoting races, and it’s been fun to always try to push the sport to greater heights for the fans,” Smith said. “Even if they don’t remember who won the race, I want them to remember the pre-race show and having the time of their lives. I want fans to know we’re always working to build the best facilities for them and that’s who I really owe this recognition to. The millions of fans who’ve attended our race tracks all of these years are the ones who really deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.
“They’ve built the sport right along with us, and I want to sincerely say thank you to them and the voting committee.”
Racing fans and drivers paid their respects to Smith in social media posts, including driving legend Darrell Waltrip.
“I’m heart broken this afternoon,” Waltrip posted in a message on Twitter. “my good friend Bruton Smith passed away, he helped me in so many ways, he was an icon in the sport he loved, RIP my dear friend!”