Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Race track owner revs mouth

Makes threat to NASCAR days before vote on HoF induction

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Bruton Smith just can't help himself sometimes.

The eccentric track owner this week suggested he might move a race away from Charlotte Motor Speedway at the exact same time a committee is considering electing him into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

When the 54 voters cast their ballots today, it will be impossible to overlook Smith's most recent headline-grabbing stunt. He told Charlotte television station WBTV on Monday there's a "70 per cent chance" he'll move the October race at Charlotte to his Las Vegas property.

He backtracked Tuesday in a statement that indicated his comments were out of anger in his fight with Cabarrus County over taxes.

"No final decision has been made regarding any race date move, and I have not discussed this with NASCAR," he said, before listing $100 million in improvements at CMS the past six years. "We've done this without asking for a handout from the government, like we've seen from so many other sports facilities, teams or franchises, and yet at the same time property values are falling during the recession, our Cabarrus County taxes have doubled since 2005."

Smith was left off the list of 25 nominees the first four years of the Hall of Fame. He maintained he didn't care, but when his name was finally added last month to the list of nominees, the overwhelming congratulations made him realize the magnitude of the honour.

"It wasn't something I was particularly concerned about," Smith said in a recent interview from the office he works out of at his Ford dealership. "But then I was nominated and became a candidate and all the people around me told me how wonderful it was. So it was wonderful."

The public tax squabble could jeopardize his chances to become a first ballot Hall of Famer. But that's who Smith is -- he says what he thinks at the moment and doesn't much worry about consequences. He also likes to bluff, and the game is much easier when you've got as many chips as the billionaire owner of Speedway Motorsports Inc.

It's a game he's long played with NASCAR, dating to the early days when founder Bill France Sr. was still building his regional stock-car series. Smith has been hooked since his family took him as an 8-year-old to the old Charlotte Fairground for his first race.

"I loved it so damn much I needed another set of eyes because I couldn't see enough," said Smith, who was driving cars at 11 and figured out by 16 the vehicles he had access to didn't go fast enough for his liking.

His plan wasn't to become a race promoter; Smith maintains he was "talked into that" during a driver meeting. But he agreed to give it a shot, and despite heavy rains the day of the race, made enough money on his first event that his interest was piqued.

So Smith tried to promote a second race and made a little more money, correcting the mistakes he'd made in his first outing. By the time he promoted his third event, he was hooked.

"Making money can be quite habit forming," Smith said.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 22, 2013 C13

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