For Bruton Smith, It Started With a Taste For Eskimo Pies

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 1 2022

Bruton Smith climbed to the top. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

NASCAR CEO Jim France described Bruton Smith as one of those people who was “bigger than life” during Smith’s celebration of life service Thursday at Central Church in south Charlotte, but one cannot grasp the magnitude of France’s statement without understanding Smith. 

Smith didn’t come from money, but he realized its importance at a young age. The youngest of nine children, Smith grew up on a modest farm in Oakboro, N.C., 21 miles from Concord where he and Curtis Turner constructed his beloved Charlotte Motor Speedway. His family always had plenty of food, but Smith never possessed the 10 cents needed to purchase an Eskimo Pie in his school’s cafeteria. 

“I would see some other students that had that dime, and I remember one of them specifically,” Smith told me during a 1997 interview. “He was about two grades ahead of me in school. Every day I would see him eating an Eskimo Pie. I thought, ‘Gee whiz. His family must have a lot of money.’ And I thought, ‘Maybe that’s where we’re short. We’re short on money.’ I just wanted to one day reach that goal in life where if I wanted an Eskimo Pie, I could buy one.”

That desire, that tenacity remained with him throughout his life, all 95 years of it. It was what led him to become a visionary and transformative figure in motorsports and an astute businessman in the automotive industry. A tough negotiator with a soft heart for children and his family. A person who never retired.  

NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick brought that to the attention of the hundreds attending Thursday’s service. Hendrick said Smith once put his arm around him, told him he needed to retire, sell him all of his dealerships and focus on his race teams. It was then that Hendrick pointed out to Smith that he was 22 years his junior. 

Smith never let an opportunity pass to take a jab at someone or a corporation that he felt hadn’t supported him and his projects.

During Smith’s 2016 NASCAR Hall of Fame induction speech, he noted he once approached Pepsi about financially supporting his speedway and in return he would give the company a 50-year exclusive deal. Pepsi wasn’t interested and “to this day we have not sold any Pepsi at that track, … but we have sold a lot of Coca-Cola.” Coca-Cola has sponsored the race originally known as the World 600 since 1985.

Smith enjoyed attention and he knew how to use the media to achieve his objectives. He broke new ground in the motorsports industry by constructing trackside condos and The Speedway Club. A self-described frustrated builder, Smith constantly looked for ways to make his speedways bigger and better. Humpy Wheeler, Charlotte Motor Speedway’s president for more than three decades, once told me that when it came to the track’s building projects, he took the Holiday Inn Express approach while Smith was always the Ritz Carlton. 

Smith knew his success rested with the fans and he never let his employees lose sight of that fact. He outlived his contemporaries who constructed the sport’s facilities in the 1950s and ‘60s. Physically, Smith is gone, but the motorsports/automotive legacy this farm boy who loved ice cream built remains. 


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 1 2022
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