Marcus Smith: Dad happier than expected with Hall selection

May 24, 2015, 6:00 PM

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Bruton Smith said reaching the NASCAR Hall of Fame was worth the wait.

“Well, we spent a year and half, two years waiting,” the 88-year-old Smith said Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “But it finally happened.”

Smith, founder and head of Speedway Motorsports Inc., said he had kind of given up on his chances of reaching the hall a couple of years back, but found himself tickled by his inclusion.

“It’s amazing the reaction about this,” he said. “That’s pretty special.”

Bruton Smith built SMI into one of the country’s premier owners of race tracks. Charlotte Motor Speedway, an SMI property, hosted the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night.

Smith said he has realized the past few days what his inclusion in the hall meant to SMI personnel.

“I have about 15,000 employees and I think that we heard from an awful lot of them,” said Smith, who spoke from his suite at the speedway. “And today, they are still walking up, congratulating me. So that was impressive.”

The congratulations have come from all over, Smith said. There were billboards on I-85 and a large infield logo with celebrating Smith’s accomplishment.

“That’s amazing,” he said.

Smith’s son, Marcus, said his father was happier than he expected at the honor. When word came down he was among the hall’s five newest members “it was certainly very special for him and certainly very special for all of us,” he said.

Others making the hall were two-time Sprint Cup champion Terry Labonte, 1970s modified champion Jerry Cook and the late drivers Curtis Turner and David Isaac.

Bruton Smith has not felt well much of the past week and kept a low profile during Charlotte’s two weekends of racing. The SMI head did not attend the hall announcement Wednesday.

But Smith said he felt fine. “Big day, big crowd,” he said. “When you have weather like this and there’s a big crowd, people get to thinking we know what we’re doing.”

Bruton Smith was a maverick promoter and track owner who wasn’t afraid to mix it up with the Frances, the first family of NASCAR racing. Still, it was NASCAR Chairman Brian France who kicked off Smith’s cause with the panel of Hall of Fame voters.

One power play came in the mid-1990s when he bought a half-share in the longtime Sprint Cup venue in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, then helped shut the track, citing disrepair, and moving its two races to two SMI race tracks.

Smith’s empire includes eight tracks that host 12 Sprint Cup races.

Smith, asked about his biggest accomplishments in NASCAR, said it was the $4 billion or so he has invested in the sport.

“We have invested an awful lot of money building these superspeedways, re-doing them, tearing them down, re-doing them again,” he said. “So it’s been a huge financial effort.”

Marcus Smith said he’s heard several comments praising his father from NASCAR officials like Mike Helton and others.

“All the great comments from so many people in support of my dad have been fantastic and that certainly means a lot to him, too,” Marcus Smith said.

Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick was part of the voting panel this year. He said probably the can’t-miss moment of next year’s induction ceremony next January will be Bruton Smith’s acceptance speech.

Marcus Smith concurred.

“It should be pretty neat,” Marcus said. “He’s got a great way with words and he always surprises us.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Marcus Smith: Dad happier than expected with Hall selection