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Speedway chairman Smith deserves Hall consideration

- tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com
Saturday, Jul. 03, 2010

So who did Bruton Smith make mad?

At one time or another, everybody.

Thousands of us walk away from an encounter with Bruton the way we do a collision. We deal with him one-on-one and feel outnumbered. We go to bed on a quiet Concord night and wake up next to his four-lane drag strip.

I wonder how many of his victims are members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame's 20-member nominating committee?

The committee recommended 25 candidates for the Hall's first induction class. Bruton owns seven of the tracks at which NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series competes.

On Thursday the committee recommended five candidates to replace the inductees. Bruton still was not one of them.

His omission is absurd.

Maybe it's payback. Bruton runs his race tracks the way Junior Johnson ran a race car. If you were in Junior's way, you ended up in the wall. If you're in Bruton's way, you end up in the trees, or would if he hadn't cut them down.

He and Curtis Turner built Charlotte Motor Speedway, which held its first NASCAR race 50 years ago. The track bankrupted Bruton. But it didn't stop him.

Bruton owns Speedway Motorsports Inc., the centerpiece of which is still CMS. He and the track's former president, the brilliant Humpy Wheeler, added amenities other officials mocked and later envied, such as a private club with linen tablecloths, condos and bright lights.

If it weren't for SMI, the France family would own every track on which Sprint Cup drivers compete, except Indianapolis. The Frances already own NASCAR. Collect the whole set.

I love family-owned restaurants. But I'm not keen on family-owned sports. Who would have the guts to say, you're wrong?

Bruton loves to tell people they're wrong, even when they're not. He regularly takes on the Frances. If he had a reason, he also would take on Paris, Grenoble and Nice.

He battled Wheeler. He battled the mayor of Charlotte. He battled the city of Concord. He chopped down protected trees. He built a drag strip without permission. When Concord briefly objected - and it should have - he threatened to pick up his track and leave.

Bruton, 83, is brash and outrageous, a bully behind sunglasses so ornate a starlet would wear them. He's a visionary with the courage, and the cash, to act upon his vision.

Had he not favored racing, tracks would be more ordinary, and so would the sport. Had he and Turner not built CMS, drivers might run their shops on the sand near NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach, Fla.

They should send Bruton a thank-you note.

You might not like the man. You might not respect his methods. You might want to grab the sunglasses off of his head and give them to your mom.

But the Hall ought to be about impact. How many other candidates come close to his?

If the nominating committee keeps this up, there won't be a tree within a mile of the Hall. When you see the stumps, you're there.

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