Funeral Scheduled for Bruton Smith: Legendary Businessman, Philanthropist and NASCAR Hall of Famer
THE LAST (06/25/22):
CHARLOTTE, NC – A funeral service will be held for Bruton Smith on Thursday June 30that 1 pm
The funeral is open to the public at the Charlotte campus of Central Church at 5301 Sardis Road. Customers are requested to arrive and be seated by 12:30 p.m.
The service will also be streamed live on the Charlotte Motor Speedway YouTube channel.
CHARLOTTE, NC (Press Release) – A visionary and transformative figure in business and entertainment, Bruton Smith, Founder and Executive Chairman of Sonic Automotive, Speedway Motorsports and Speedway Children’s Charities died today of natural causes. He was 95 years old.
Born March 2, 1927, Smith was the youngest of nine children and grew up on a modest farm in Oakboro, North Carolina. As a member of the Greatest Generation, Smith learned the value of hard work early on. With inspiring determination and relentless optimism, Smith built a business empire across the automotive and motorsport industries and left a legacy to inspire generations of his family, friends and colleagues.
“My parents taught us what work was,” Smith said in 2008. “When I look back, it was a gift, although I certainly didn’t mean it at the time. Many people don’t have this 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 its motorsports holdings in December 1994, and in February 1995 made it the first motorsports company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Today, the company 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 listed it on the New York Stock Exchange in November of that year. In just a few years, Smith made Sonic one of the biggest companies in the country, and in 2000 it was officially recognized for the first time as a Fortune 500 company based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Sonic Automotive is now a Fortune 300 company and one of the nation’s largest automotive retailers with more than 160 dealerships in over 23 states, representing 25 automotive brands. Since their inception, Sonic Automotive dealerships have received numerous nationally recognized awards and accolades for exceeding automotive retail brand performance and customer satisfaction standards.
In 2014, Smith’s passion for automotive retail continued with the creation of EchoPark Automotive. A subsidiary of Sonic Automotive, EchoPark Automotive is the company’s high-growth segment, rooted in providing high-quality used vehicles, while delivering a world-class customer experience. The company currently operates more than 40 EchoPark Automotive locations nationwide.
Smith’s first job outside of the family farm came at age 12 when he went to work at a local sawmill. Two days after graduating from Oakboro High School, Smith took a job at a hosiery factory, eventually making a purchase that would lead him 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 race car driver,” Smith explained. “I learned to drive, but that career didn’t last long.” Smith’s mother had other ideas and prayed to a higher authority. “She started fighting dirty,” laughed Smith in a 2005 interview with Motorsport.com. “You can’t fight your mom and God, so I quit driving.”
Smith sold his first car, a 1939 Buick sedan, for a small profit and continued to sell cars in his mother’s front yard. The young entrepreneur also promoted his first race before the age of 18.
“There was a lot of unrest with drivers and car owners at that time,” Smith continued. “We had a meeting and I was unlucky to be appointed a committee of one to promote a race. I had never done this, but I promoted a race in Midland, NC, and won some money, so I thought I’d give it a try.
In his early twenties, Smith’s career as a car promoter and salesman took a turn when he was drafted into the United States 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 starring the fledgling National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). Through difficult times for the sport, Smith was one of the first professional promoters to pay good purses, meet the needs of fans and find unique ways to promote events at the tracks he leased in North Carolina.
“I’m a frustrated builder who had a knack for promoting racing and it was fun always trying to push the sport to greater heights for the fans,” Smith told The Associated Press in 2015.
In 1959, he teamed up 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 run, the longest in NASCAR history.
In the years that followed, Smith managed to open several car dealerships. Opened in 1966, his first dealership was Frontier Ford in Rockford, Illinois, where he married and started a family. While growing his automotive business, Smith’s passion for motor racing never wavered.
“I love the racing world. I want to contribute more and more,” Smith said in 2015. “You hear us preaching about ‘fan friendly.’ I appreciate the contributions I have been able to make to the sport.
Under Smith’s innovative leadership, Speedway Motorsports’ facilities were the first in racing to add condominiums, gourmet Speedway clubs, superspeedway 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 Fame inductee and fellow automaker Roger Penske told NASCAR .com in 2016. “There’s no question. He set the bar.”
“His mind is racing all the time; he’s done so much for the sport,” said Rick Hendrick, an auto dealer and NASCAR Hall of Famer, in a 2016 interview with NASCAR.com. “He’s so brave to go out and try things that have never been tried before. He helped build this sport.
After a win in 2021 at the zMAX Dragway, John Force dedicated the win to Smith.
“I love this guy and everything he’s done for our sport,” said the 16-time NHRA champion. “I’m delighted 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 might know who won the race, but they can’t remember all the other stuff,” Smith said.
“I want to put something in there so that whoever wins the race is going to be a memorable experience. We’re 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 business. His love of automotive and racing businesses has driven him to continually build and grow, while caring for his family and colleagues.
Among his accolades, Smith was inducted into the 2016 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In 2007 he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and he became a member of the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 2006.
Even with his many motorsport accomplishments, Smith has often said auto retailing was his first love and has maintained his main office at his Town & Country Ford dealership in Charlotte throughout his distinguished career.
“You have trophies, you have championships, you have wins, but friends are what really make the difference,” NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Darrell Waltrip said of Smith in 2019. “Bruton Smith has been one of my heroes since I started racing in NASCAR in 1972.
In addition to his business interests, Smith founded Speedway Children’s Charities in 1982 in memory and legacy of his son, Bruton Cameron Smith, who died at a very young age. Given his background, Smith became passionate about wanting to help children in need and Speedway Children’s Charities was created to focus on serving the communities surrounding Speedway Motorsports race tracks. Speedway Children’s Charities chapters work with organizations to identify and address pressing issues ranging from learning disabilities and broken homes to hunger and childhood cancer.
Under Smith’s leadership, 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; his daughter, Anna Lisa; their mother, Bonnie Smith; and seven grandchildren. Information regarding funeral arrangements will be released at a later date.