Bruton Smith was a ‘visionary’ in retail and racing

“She started fighting dirty,” laughed Smith in a 2005 interview with Motorsport.com. “You can’t fight your mom and God, so I quit driving.”

During his teenage years, Smith began promoting track racing. He would later lead the National Stock Car Racing Association and started the Charlotte Motor Speedway, which opened in 1960. When the speedway went bankrupt after a few years, Smith returned to car sales and bought his first dealership in 1969. But in Along the way, Smith quietly began to acquire shares of the highway and eventually regained control.

“There was a lot of turmoil with drivers and car owners at that time,” Smith recalled. “We had a meeting, and I had the misfortune of being named a single committee to promote a race. I had never done that, but I promoted a race in Midland, North Carolina, and I won some money, so I thought I’d try again.”

In his early twenties, Smith was drafted into the military, briefly interrupting his career as a promoter and car salesman as he served two years as a paratrooper in the United States during the Korean War. When he was released from active duty, he resumed selling cars and promoting races governed by the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.

In the years that followed, Smith found success in dealerships. His first store, opened in 1966, was Frontier Ford in Rockford, Illinois, where he married and started a family. While growing his retail business, Smith’s passion for motor racing never wavered.

For years, Smith maintained a modest office at Town and Country Ford in Charlotte, near Sonic’s headquarters.

In 2007, Smith described dealer IPOs as the “wave of the future”.

“These things take so much money today that you almost have to go public with them,” he said. Automotive News. “Or you must have eight or 10 wealthy uncles who pass away and leave you a huge inheritance.”

Smith’s work ethic was admired, and he expressed his willingness to stay involved in his businesses. Marcus Smith said The New York Times in 2008 that his father liked to be “in the thick of it” and would step in to help sell a vehicle or direct traffic if he spotted a traffic jam on a freeway.

In a June 2019 interview with Automotive News, David Smith said his father remains active in the business and “probably would call any minute.” Bruton Smith was credited with selling the first car at Sonic’s EchoPark store in Charlotte in the fall of 2018, David Smith said.

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