CONCORD, N.C. - Speedway Motorsports founder and executive chairman Bruton Smith passed away at the age of 95. Speedway Motorsports announced his death on Wednesday afternoon.
In a statement, Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports and chairman and CEO of Hendrick Automotive Group said this about this Smith: "A pioneer, a visionary and a true original. Never afraid to take a chance, Bruton will go down as one of the greatest promotors and innovators in the history of motor sports. I have tremendous admiration for the legacy he carved out in both racing and the car business. Even though we occasionally competed, I was always happy to call Bruton a friend. He was someone you wanted on your side because he was tough as nails and never backed down from a fight. At the same time, Bruton was incredibly generous and dedicated much of his life to giving back. The impact of Speedway Children's Charities and his countless acts of kindness cannot possibly be measured.
"Bruton and I both grew up on farms, and we shared a passion for racing and for the car business. In 1983, I held a press conference at City Chevrolet (in Charlotte, North Carolina) to announce a new NASCAR team that would become Hendrick Motorsports. He was there that day, and his support was something I never took for granted. Although most knew him as a savvy and successful businessman, I will remember Bruton first and foremost as a father, a family man and a dear friend. He was so proud of his children, and our families have always been close. On behalf of Linda (Hendrick), our family and our entire organization, I offer my deepest sympathies to the Smith family and the many, many people who loved and respected Bruton."
Smith founded Speedway Motorsports in December 1994 by merging his automotive holdings. In February 1995, it became the first motor sports company to trade on the New York Stock Exchange. The company owns and operates 11 racetracks.
Born March 2, 1927, Smith grew up on a farm in Oakboro, North Carolina, as the youngest of nine children. In his early 20s, Smith was drafted by the U.S. Army during the Korean War and served two years stateside as a paratrooper. Upon completing his service, he resumed the careers he started prior - selling cars and promoting auto races.
In 1959, Smith teamed up with NASCAR driver Curtis Turner to develop his first permanent motor sports facility and in his home state no less, with the building of Charlotte Motor Speedway. The track was opened in June 1960 with a 600-mile race, the longest ever in NASCAR and now a staple of the schedule. Hendrick Motorsports has 21 wins at Charlotte Motor Speedway - the most all time - and has won the 600-mile event a record 12 times.
Smith's race venues have been known for adding unique features like condominiums, restaurants, lighting and high-definition video boards.
In 2016, Smith was part of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class. He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2007.
Smith was also the founder and executive chairman of Sonic Automotive and Speedway Children's Charities. Like Hendrick, the automotive business was key to his success in racing. Under his leadership, Speedway's Children's Charities has distributed more than $61 million to local organizations across America that help improve the quality of life for children in need. Its chapters work with organizations to identify and resolve pressing issues ranging from hunger to childhood diseases to learning disabilities and broken homes.