Bruton Smith’s threats to move Charlotte race remind me of other foul moments Opinion

Wednesday, May. 22, 2013

In 2007, Bruton Smith threatened to move his race track.

This week, Bruton threatened to move one of his races.

At 86, the chairman of Speedway Motorsports is mellowing.

But his premise hasn’t changed. Help him fight perceived injustice or he will take away something, a speedway or a race, that we apparently take for granted.

We fell for it six years ago and, based on the early reaction I’ve heard in and out of the sport, we’re going to fall for it again.

I kind of like the way that Bruton, who owns Charlotte Motor Speedway, seven other tracks and many other things, does business. He’s an old-school promoter behind ornate sunglasses, and he’s rarely boring.

He once invited me to his suite at his race track in Atlanta and told me I had to use the bathroom. No, I don’t. Yes, you do. No, I said, I’ve reached the age where I can decide all by myself.

The third time he told me to go, I went. It was his suite. Behind every urinal was a television, and this was long before sports bars or anybody else put them there.

All hail the innovator.

Although Bruton wasn’t selected Wednesday for the NASCAR Hall of Fame class of 2014, he will get in eventually. And he should. He had better. If he doesn’t, fans will head downtown one day and the Hall will be gone.

In 2007 Bruton was in a battle with Cabarrus County and Concord. How does he punish them? He moves the track to a place he will be appreciated.

A speedway employee told me that Bruton was serious, that there were land-use plans and helicopters and aerial photography.

Right. I wrote 10 columns guaranteeing that Bruton would not call a moving company and have his track hauled piece by piece to South Carolina.

Bruton, be careful with those bathroom TVs.

The speedway is one of the most impressive pieces of architecture in the Carolinas. Take a lap not around the oval, but around the facility. It’s more than a stadium or an arena. It’s a town full of distinctive neighborhoods, each with a personality.

And he was going to trash the track and start over in a new locale and perhaps a new state at the age of 80?

Unfortunately, Concord and Cabarrus County had no choice but to believe Bruton. In 2009 Phillip Morris, which employed 2,500 people and was Concord’s biggest taxpayer, announced it was closing its plant. The news was devastating, and real.

They couldn’t risk a one-two, Phillip Morris-Charlotte Motor Speedway combination. So a treaty was reached, a deal cut and a street was named after Bruton.

This time Bruton is upset because, he says, the track’s taxes have doubled since 2005. He’s lucky the track isn’t in Charlotte.

Bruton wasn’t available to speak Wednesday, so this is a guess. Bruton also is angry about the perceived lack of attention and support he and his sport receive.

Bruton opened the speedway in 1960, decades before the NBA and the NFL came to town.

Yet the Charlotte City Council pledged $87.5 million to upgrade Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers. Where’s Bruton’s money?

Bruton told WBTV Monday there’s a 70 percent chance he will move the fall race from Charlotte to his track in Las Vegas.

He said six years ago that there was a 90 percent chance he would yank his track out of Cabarrus County.

I love percentages, so here are some more.

There’s a 100 percent chance Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be cheered Sunday, a 100 percent chance Jimmie Johnson will be booed and a 100 percent chance a NASCAR race will be held this and every other fall at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The Las Vegas odds, however, have yet to be posted.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119