I hate to quote the Beatles, because it dates me and after watching the Billboard Awards, I get the feeling that no one knows what’s good music is anymore, but all I can say is the first line of a great Beatle song. I heard the news today, but oh boy. The latest news is Bruton Smith, billionaire CEO of Speedway Motorsports is considering moving the fall Charlotte race to Las Vegas. Smith has long wanted a second date at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but taking a race away from one of the sport’s iconic tracks is almost criminal, but that doesn’t matter to Smith. His motto is that it’s all about the money. Proof is in ticket prices that have reached triple digits at most of his tracks, even at Bristol—a 250 mile race. Let’s go a little deeper in this discussion.
There are no tracks that I’d rather visit than Bristol and Charlotte. I’ve been a season ticket holder at Bristol for years. I also attend both races at Charlotte and have for more than twenty years. I’ll be frank in saying that the racing at Bristol isn’t what it used to be and the racing at Charlotte is at best boring. It’s just the way it is. Regardless, both tracks are state of the art, and enjoyable places to visit. The officials at Charlotte have been gracious in granting me credentials forever. They are wonderful folks and in my short meetings with Smith, I find a gracious and wonderful person. There is no one in this sport who is as enthusiastic has Bruton Smith and I glory in the fact that he has lived eight decades and still is the innovator that helped fuel NASCAR’s great surge in the last 40 years, but I have a problem.
Charlotte Motor Speedway is an icon amongst tracks. Smith and Curtis Turner started this track in the 1960’s and today it sits as the crown jewel in the heart of NASCAR Country. Two races have always been there for as long as I remember, one in May and one in October. It’s a lovely facility. It has lots of camping and with the improvements there, it may be the best place to watch a race that isn’t Martinsville or Bristol. That said, the news today that Smith is negotiating a deal that would take the October race at CMS and move it to Las Vegas Motor Speedway “about 70/30” bothers me.
In my private life, I am a businessman. I’ve been pretty successful, and would be a millionaire by now without some missteps. Those missteps have cost me dearly in my career, but I have always kept some principles of what I do. First, don’t do anything that is always working. Don’t change the track (or business) that is so great to make it “different.” Don’t mess with history. If people are feeding the money machine, don’t change anything. It’s good to change things up, but history is important, especially in the south. Smith is forgetting both rules.
Charlotte is the hub of the sport. The Hall of Fame is there, as well as the All Star Race and most of NASCAR history. The sport has already lost iconic tracks at Rockingham and North Wilkesboro, one to Sprint Cup races and the other to any races. Darlington and Atlanta have both lost a race. Losing a race at Charlotte might be the death rattle, but there’s more to this than all of this.
My hope is this is a typical Smith game of politics. Smith threatened to move the race into another county a short time ago when they wouldn’t do what the county surrounding CMS wouldn’t do what he wanted him to do. The fact that he brought forth this suggestion on a Charlotte TV station reeks of politics. Times are tough. Recent Smith tirades have been against Kentucky Speedway’s traffic problems (remember “Vegas,Baby”, recently). With his money and considerable clout, maybe this is just politics as usual, but what if not? A large part of history is gone to an area of the country that has no sense of the history and beginnings of the sport, where only Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is a part of that history