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Racing entrepreneur, pioneer Bruton Smith dies at 95

The North Carolina native died Wednesday of natural causes, his company said.
Credit: Speedway Motorsports
Bruton Smith with Dale Earnhardt

Racing visionary and entrepreneur Bruton Smith died Wednesday at age 95.

In the 1990s, the North Carolina native founded Speedway Motorsports, whose holdings included Bristol Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Kentucky Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway.  Speedway Motorsports became the first motorsports company with shares trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

"The impact of Bruton’s contributions to the sports and entertainment world are too many to name, but his lasting legacy of building world-renowned destinations will stand the test of time," Bristol Motor Speedway President and CEO Jerry Caldwell said in a statement on Wednesday. "His contributions personally touched so many in the state of Tennessee throughout his businesses and philanthropic endeavors."

His accolades included being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Smith also helped organize "The Battle at Bristol" between Tennessee football and Virginia Tech in 2016. It holds the record for largest attendance for an NCAA football game at 156,990.

Smith also was founder and executive chair of Sonic Automotive and Speedway Children's Charities.

Like many of his generation, Smith credited his parents for teaching him the value of hard work.

“As I look back, that was a gift, even though I certainly didn’t think so at the time," he said in a 2008 interview. "A lot of people don’t have that gift because they didn’t grow up working. But if you are on a family farm, that’s what you do. Everything is hard work.”

According to Speedway Motorsports, Smith founded the company by consolidating his motorsports holdings in December 1994.

Other tracks in the group included Las Vegas Motor Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

He founded Sonic Automotive in January 1997. It's one of the country's biggest automotive retailers, according to Speedway Motorsports, with over 160 retail dealerships in more than 20 states.

Credit: Speedway Motorsports
Bruton Smith with Richard Petty, John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor among others.

He made his first sale on a 1939 Buick sedan. He promoted his first race when he was 18, according to Speedway Motorsports.

"I had never done that, but I promoted a race in Midland, North Carolina, and I made a little bit of money, so I thought I’d try it again," he once recalled.

Driven by a desire to help children in need, he founded Speedway Children's Charities in 1982. Chapters focus on trying to identify and resolve "pressing issues ranging from learning disabilities and broken homes to hunger and childhood cancer."

The organization has handed out more than $61 million to local organizations across the country to help children.

Survivors include sons Scott, Marcus and David; his daughter, Anna Lisa; their mother, Bonnie Smith; and seven grandchildren. Information regarding funeral arrangements will be released at a later date.

Credit: Speedway Motorsports
Smith at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which he built in 1960.

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