Oakboro native, NASCAR pioneer Bruton Smith dies – The Stanly News & Press

The following is a press release from Speedway Motorsports:

A visionary and transformative figure in both business and entertainment, Ollen Bruton Smith, founder and CEO of Sonic Automotive, Speedway Motorsports and Speedway Children’s Charities, died Wednesday of natural causes. He was 95.

Born on March 2, 1927, Smith was the youngest of nine children and grew up on a modest farm in Oakboro. As a member of the Greatest Generation, Smith learned the value of hard work at an early age. With inspiring determination and relentless optimism, Smith built a business empire across the automotive and motorsports industries and left a legacy to inspire generations of his family, friends and colleagues.

“My parents taught us what work was all about,” Smith said in 2008. “Looking back, that was a gift, although I certainly didn’t think of it that way at the time. A lot of people don’t have that gift because they didn’t grow up working. But if you’re on a family farm, that’s what you do. It’s all hard work.”

Smith founded Speedway Motorsports by consolidating his motorsports holdings in December 1994 and, in February 1995, made it the first motorsports company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The company currently owns and operates 11 motorsports entertainment facilities: 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.

Speedway Motorsports also owns and operates subsidiaries SMI Properties, US Legend Cars International, Performance Racing Network and zMAX Micro Lubricants.

In January 1997, Smith founded Sonic Automotive and took it public on the New York Stock Exchange in November of the same year. In just a few years, Smith grew Sonic into one of the largest companies in the country, and in 2000 it was first officially recognized as a Fortune 500 company based in Charlotte. Sonic Automotive is now a Fortune 300 company and one of the nation’s largest automotive retailers with more than 160 retail dealerships in more than 23 states, representing 25 automotive brands. Since its inception, Sonic Automotive dealers have received many nationally recognized awards and recognitions for exceeding automotive retail brand performance and customer satisfaction standards.

In 2014, Smith’s passion for automotive retailing continued with the creation of EchoPark Automotive. A subsidiary of Sonic Automotive, EchoPark Automotive is the company’s high-growth segment based on supplying high-quality used vehicles while providing a world-class experience for guests. The company operates more than 40 EchoPark Automotive locations across the country.

Smith’s first job outside the family farm came at age 12 when he started working at a local sawmill. Two days after graduating from Oakboro High School, Smith took a job at a hosiery factory, before he finally made a purchase that would lead to two successful business careers.

“I bought a race car for $700. The idea at the time was that I was going to be a racing driver,” Smith once explained. “I learned to drive, but that career didn’t last long.” Smith’s mother had other ideas and she prayed to a higher authority. “He started fighting dirty,” Smith laughed 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 career before the age of 18.

“There was a lot of rioting with drivers and car owners at the time,” Smith continued. “We had a meeting and I was unlucky enough to be appointed by a committee of one to promote a race. I’ve never done that before, but I promoted a race in Midland, North Carolina, and made a little money, so I thought I’d try again.”

In his early 20s, Smith’s career as a car promoter and salesman took a turn when he was drafted into the US Army during the Korean War. Smith served two years in the United States as a paratrooper, then returned to selling cars and promoting auto racing with the burgeoning National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). Through a difficult era for the sport, Smith was one of the first professional promoters to pay big money, cater to the needs of fans and find unique ways to promote events at the racetracks he rented in North Carolina.

“I’m a frustrated constructor who had a knack for promoting races and it’s always been fun trying to take the sport to greater heights for the fans,” Smith told the Associated Press in 2015.

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 in NASCAR history.

In the years that followed, Smith found success opening several car dealerships. Opened in 1966, his first dealership was Frontier Ford in Rockford, Illinois, where he married and raised a family. As his auto business grew, 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 it’s a push for me to do more things. I enjoy the contributions I’ve been able to make to the sport.”

bass smithUnder the innovative direction of Speedway Motorsports, the Speedway Motorsports facility was the first in racing to add condominiums, fine-dining Speedway clubs, super-speed lighting and giant high-definition video screens.

“When you think of Charlotte Motor Speedway and Bristol, and tracks like New Hampshire, Sonoma and Atlanta, he’s been the best,” 2019 NASCAR Hall of Famer and fellow auto dealer Roger Penske told NASCAR.com. in 2016. “There is no question. He set the rod.”

“His mind is racing all the time; he’s done a lot for the sport,” Rick Hendrick, a car dealer and NASCAR Hall of Famer, said in a 2016 interview with NASCAR.com. “He’s very brave to go out and try things that have never been tried before. He helped build this sport.”

Following a 2021 win at zMAX Dragway, John Force dedicated the win to Smith.

“I love this kid and everything he has done for our sport,” the 16-time NHRA champion said. “I’m excited to be able to send this trophy to someone I love, a guy who built our sport.”

“I’ve learned from my own experience that when people go to an event, like a big race, they may know who won the race, but they don’t remember all the other things,” Smith once said. “I want to wear something so that regardless of who wins the race, it will be a memorable experience. We are here to entertain the fans and I want them to go home with a memory that will last forever.”

A true entrepreneur at heart, Smith had a passion for growing people and businesses. His love for the auto and racing business led him to continually build and expand, all while taking care of his family and co-workers.

Among his accolades, Smith was inducted into the 2016 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In 2007, he was inducted into the International Auto Racing Hall of Fame and became a member of the National Auto Racing 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 he kept his home office at his Town & Country Ford dealership in Charlotte throughout his career.

“You have trophies, you have championships, you have wins, but friends are what really make the difference,” NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip said of Smith in 2019. “Bruton Smith has been one of my heroes ever since. I started competing. in NASCAR in 1972.”

In addition to his business interests, Smith founded Speedway Children’s Charities in 1982 as a memorial and bequest to his son, Bruton Cameron Smith, who passed away at a young age. Given his background, Smith became passionate about wanting to help children in need and created Speedway Children’s Charities to focus on serving the communities surrounding Speedway Motorsports racetracks. Speedway Children’s Charities chapters work with organizations to identify and solve pressing problems ranging from learning disabilities and broken homes to hunger and childhood cancer.

bass smithleadership of 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; her daughter, Anna Lisa; her mother, Bonnie Smith; and seven grandchildren. Information on funeral arrangements will be released at a later date.

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