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Ingram: Bruton Smith Rides The Old-School Bus

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 13 2010

Bruton Smith, chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., is from another time. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

From the Monday Morning Crew Chief:

It’s always shabby when a prominent person steps on the fingers and toes of others to promote a personal agenda. That’s not unusual in business or politics. Such back-stabbing and petty name-calling is hardly unusual in motor racing, either.

Track owner Bruton Smith managed to insult everybody with his derogatory comments directed at the fact the season finale of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup is held in Homestead, Fla. Veering off track is old news for Smith, an old pro when it comes to brash or off-key statements served up to the media, some of which are amusing and some that are occasionally enlightening.

This case was another chapter in the Charlotte-Daytona wars involving NASCAR’s two most prominent promoters, Smith’s Speedway Motorsports, Inc. and the France family’s International Speedway Corp. The saga goes all the way back to the days when “Big Bill” France competed with Smith to promote a nationally recognized championship for stock cars in the 1940’s and 1950’s, which turned out to be NASCAR and not the organization of Smith, who was sidetracked by military service.

The particular bone being picked in this argument is whether to move the Sprint Cup season finale to Smith’s track in Las Vegas from the Miami-Homestead Motor Speedway. I’ve long since been on the record in favor of that change in the calendar and would still like to see it come about. But by choosing to deride Cuban-Americans as the means to rattle the cage of NASCAR and ISC, the aging Smith stooped as low – let’s hope – as he can go.

In addition to trying to deflect some of the criticism for his decision to move one of his race dates out of Atlanta, Smith’s comments were designed to cause pain in the offices of both NASCAR and the ISC in Daytona. Both organizations are consciously courting Hispanic ticket buyers in all major U.S. markets, especially south Florida. His comments were also sure to cause pain among those such as Cuban-American Felix Sabates, one of Smith’s fellow Charlotte residents and a longtime contributor to the success of NASCAR and its constituent tracks. And to an individual such as Ralph Sanchez, the Cuban-American who built the Homestead track.

It is sometimes overlooked that Cuban-Americans are exiles from a communist regime, many of whom lost everything and risked their lives to come to the U.S in the pursuit of freedom. In the case of Sanchez, he was forced to grow up in a Miami orphanage after his father, an employee of an American corporation, lost everything in the Castro-led revolution.

There’s something else that pains me as much as seeing a longtime friend who has contributed so much to the sport so cheaply derided as not belonging to the realm of stock car racing.

In the politcally correct world, somehow it’s often OK to use the word “redneck” but not some other highly charged and offensive phrases. This, too, is wrong. But how does this figure in the Smith affair?

His comments bring up that nasty image of the “r word” from which all white southerners suffer. It calls up images of bigotry that sustain caricatures better left behind. Like other ethnically charged slurs, it would be good to see the end of not only the “r word” in public discourse, but the image as well, one that is sustained whenever a person such as Smith results to a variation of name calling.

Smith knows all too well that NASCAR needs to incorporate team owners like Sabates — an integral part of this year’s phenomenal season by team principal Chip Ganassi — as well as drivers like Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, a Miami resident. That’s what makes Smith’s comments so petty.

In the case of Montoya, there’s no driver in this century or the last one that better typifies the values that NASCAR’s original participants stood for, especially when it comes to individualism, a willingness to sacrifice in pursuit of  honor and loyalty to family. The latter commitment is one of the chief reasons Montoya left Formula One behind and chose to defy the odds by taking up stock car racing. Predictably, he still hasn’t caught up with his career victory total in F1, but not for lack of talent or trying, such as his solid run at Richmond on Saturday night.

Over the long haul, the Hispanic world view and lifestyle matches up as well as any other ethnic group with what stock car racing is most about. Perhaps the values reflected in the Midwest, which are rurally oriented much like those of NASCAR’s founding fathers, might be a better fit. But not by much.

Smith’s comments were old school. I’m looking forward to more of the new school exemplified by the vast majority of current participants in NASCAR.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 13 2010
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Terry says:

    Are you also questioning the length of the bus…..?
    I like the Homestead track and race. I also like more old school tracks with TRADITION…..and I am ” old school ” about NASCAR…..
    I miss REAL CARS…REAL MEN DRIVERS….and slapping doors is ok….BUT to Dale Sr.. someone in the rear bumper..wrecking them for the pass or WIN ….is NOT. The new school fan has been sold by New NASCAR/ESPN …that this OK…….