Bruton Smith's north of Cuba line hits south of the belt


Tuesday, Sep. 07, 2010

Bruton Smith has a good point.

But he's making it the wrong way.

Smith is one of NASCAR's leading figures and one of America's richest men. As chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. - which owns eight NASCAR tracks around the country including Charlotte Motor Speedway - Smith has created a vast business empire.

This weekend he spoke to reporters in Kentucky and again criticized the fact that the final race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season will be in Homestead, Fla., just south of Miami, once again this season.

Smith called that area of the country "north Cuba," according to a widely circulated report by the Associated Press.

The exact quote, according to AP: "If you're going to do a championship, you've got to do it at the proper place, and I don't think North Cuba is the proper place."

I talked to Smith about it Monday in a phone interview.

"I meant to say 'north of Cuba,'" he said. "The 'of' part - I didn't mean to leave that out. But I don't really see anything wrong with saying it. I was just having some fun. It's just a geographical reference. I've used it before, and I may use it again - although I'll say 'north of Cuba' from now on."

That's the phrase Smith used in March 2009 when several reporters quoted Smith as asking: "Why would you have the last race of the year in some Godforsaken area that is north of Cuba?"

I agree with Smith in part. Homestead shouldn't host NASCAR's final event.

Smith wants it to be at one of the tracks his company owns - specifically, in Las Vegas. "I realize I would have something to gain if that happened," Smith said. "Everyone loves Vegas, though. It'd be the perfect finale."

I would prefer having the final race of NASCAR's playoffs at a classic NASCAR track like Bristol, Indianapolis, Daytona or Charlotte.

I strongly disagree with Smith's "north Cuba" comment, however. Or "north of Cuba," for that matter. As a former resident of Miami, it felt to me like a cheap shot.

Technically, Smith is right. Miami is 228 miles north of Havana, Cuba. But it's also south of Orlando, east of Fort Myers and so on.

It seems to me that Smith is trying to denigrate the Miami-Dade County area by saying it's - to use his preferred phrase - north of Cuba.

That sounds like a "they're not like us" sort of expression, perhaps to remind people that 62 percent of Miami-Dade County (which includes Homestead) is of Hispanic or Latino origin.

The Hispanic population is exactly one of the communities NASCAR is trying to reach, of course, with its drive for diversity.

I lived and worked in Miami for four years in the early 1990s and loved all of it except for the ridiculous traffic. The beaches were great. The weather was gorgeous. The Cuban-infused culture and food were a happy revelation.

With all that said, NASCAR doesn't belong in Miami for the final race of the season. Auto racing is about No. 8 on the list of sports the city cares about. Again in 2010, the Nov. 21 race will be more of an afterthought behind the Dolphins' playoff chances, the University of Miami's football team and whatever LeBron James is up to.

Smith, who is in his early 80s, used to host the final event of the NASCAR season at his Atlanta track. He wants it back. That's understandable.

But references to Cuba have no place in this discussion.