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Bruton Smith Speaks: but what did he really say?

  Bruton Smith: What's up his sleeve? He's not saying (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Might track owner Bruton Smith take a Sprint Cup date – this specific late June weekend -- from this Boston-market track and move it to his Kentucky Speedway?
   That's been part of the intense speculation the past few weeks, in questions about Smith's plans for the Cincinnati area track he bought two years ago. And it appears to be a big story in the area media and in shops and stores around this market.
   Smith Friday downplayed that speculation but would only talk in circles about what he might have planned.
   Smith and Lesa France Kennedy, who runs the France family's International Speedway Corp., both have similar agendas here: Smith needs to find a Cup date for his Kentucky track, and Kennedy needs to find a second Cup date for her Kansas City track, both preferably for 2011.
   And it appears there are some quiet behind-the-scenes negotiations going on.
   One possibility being heard is that the planned new Indy-car date here next season, next July apparently (an announcement is expected Sunday), could help make the loss of a Cup weekend here more palatable, and more economically feasible, even though Indy-car races don't generate nearly as much money as a Cup race.
   The speculation about the loss of one of this track's two Cup weekends follows a dispute between Smith and the local police department over the cost of providing security and traffic control for NASCAR races here. The department has been charging about $170,000, and Smith wants it cut to about $65,000.
   Smith Friday says he's turned that police dispute "over to the attorneys."
   And he didn't really want to address the issue of possibly moving a Cup date away from here, despite being peppered with questions over just that issue.
   Then again, would NASCAR executives allow Smith to move a Cup date out of this market?
   Smith once proposed moving his Sonoma Cup date to Las Vegas, but NASCAR quickly vetoed that because the San Francisco market is so important.
  Smith bought New Hampshire Motor Speedway for $340 million a few years back, from Bob Bahre, the local businessman who was once Smith's arch-rival, after a lingering 1995 dispute over North Wilkesboro Speedway. Smith bought half of the North Carolina track and moved that Cup date to his then-new Texas track in Fort Worth. Bahre quickly bought the other half and move that Cup date to this track for a September race, as a second Cup weekend.
   This track, though it's in the middle of New Hampshire, is only a little more than an hour north of Boston, and that's a big market for NASCAR....and the next closest NASCAR tracks are Pocono (300 miles from Boston) and Dover (400 miles from Boston).
   Smith said he has not yet had any talks with NASCAR about the 2011 schedule. And he insisted it wasn't too late to make a pitch of some sort to get a Cup date for Kentucky. "We have had no meetings about the schedule for next year," Smith said.
    So will there be a Cup race in Kentucky next season?
   "Since I'm a race fan, I would hope there'd be one," Smith replied, obliquely.
   And which track might lose a date to make Kentucky work?
  "We're not prepared to make any announcement today," Smith says.
   "We'll talk to NASCAR about all this. We like to do what is good for the sport. And every time we are about to do something, we always ask 'is this good for the sport?' And if it is, we do it."
    Would NASCAR's Mike Helton think moving a Cup date from here to Kentucky 'good for the sport?'
   "I'm going to have lunch with Mike, and I'll ask him that for you," Smith said.
   Smith said he would need NASCAR's permission to move any race date. "We're in this together, NASCAR and I," Smith said. "We have television to consider...."
   Smith was the center of an intense media scrum Friday afternoon, and he delighted in the spotlight.
   But just what points Smith might be trying to make with this Boston-area media were unclear.
   Smith insists he's not backing away from the possibility of a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at his Kentucky Speedway in 2011, but when pressed and pressed about that subject the mega-track owner danced around the issues.
   "What am I going to do about Kentucky?" Smith said, repeating a question on everyone's mind, referring to the $150 million track near Cincinnati.
   "I am getting involved in politics in Kentucky, and there are certain people I'm supporting on the election. So I'll be very busy with the election."
   Will there be a Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway in 2011?
   "I think there are races in the future, in Kentucky and Ohio, races in their future," Smith said. "I really believe there is racing in their future.
  "I'd like to see one (Cup race at Kentucky Speedway) in 2010, but I don't think that's possible. I hate to put off till next year what we ought to be doing this year.
   "But there was a lawsuit that slowed us down a bit. That lawsuit went on and on and on, and the lawsuit finally went away.
   "And we're going to accelerate now."
   Smith dismissed the possibility that Michigan International Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway might be in the same general market as Kentucky Speedway and that that might have to be a factor to be considered in planning a date for Kentucky.
   In fact Smith curtly dismissed the Michigan area in general: "The unemployment up there is huge....and Michigan is never, ever going to be what it used to be.  Because the automobile industry is moving, moving south where it belongs.
     "If I owned Michigan, I'd probably take one date to Kentucky and one date to Las Vegas."
    Maybe Smith is planning to buy a current track and take a date?
   That's been his style.
    But there aren't many independent tracks left. Dover, Pocono and Indianapolis.
    Is Smith planning to buy one of them?
   "If opportunity knocks, we like to get up and open the door," Smith says.
    Dover? Smith says he knows the majority stockholder: Henry Tippie (55 percent). "I know Henry well," Smith says. "He's a nice man. And he's got a lot of cows – about 3500. Mother cows. That's important if you're in the cow business.
   "I've talked with him about shooting coyotes. I haven't talked to him lately, but I'll invite him to the race. I like Henry."
    In fact, in the spring of 2007 Smith and Kennedy met with Tippie to discuss buying the Dover track. At what price is unclear. And how the situation was left is also unclear. And what the two planned to do with Dover is also unclear.
   "I haven't talked with Mary (Hulman George, who runs Indianapolis) lately....but any time she wants to talk, I'm available," Smith said.
   There is some speculation that Smith might move a Cup date to Kentucky from Atlanta Motor Speedway.
   But Smith danced around that too.
   Atlanta? "I've never heard that," Smith insisted.
    And which of his tracks might lose a Cup date to make room for Kentucky?
    He says he knows; "but not today."
   Three weeks ago, during the annual Nationwide weekend at the 1-1/2-mile Kentucky track, Smith appeared to downplay the prospects for a 2011 Cup race there, even though the long-running lawsuit had been finally resolved, after several years.
   Now Smith says that's not an entirely correct assessment, but he declined to be pinned down on much.
   "No, no, no, no," Smith says.
   And he pointed to the lawsuit as slowing everything down.
   "The lawsuit didn't end early enough," Smith said. "We would have liked it to have ended months and months earlier. That would have allowed us to make some plans.
   "But it did deter our plans some."
   How much?
   He wouldn't explain.
   Maybe next week's meeting with Kennedy will make things clearer?
    Kennedy has promised Kansas Speedway a second Cup date for 2011, but she has not said which ISC track would lose a date to make room on the calendar. So she's in the same boat Smith is.
    "I always look forward to talking with Lesa; we have a good rapport," Smith says. "Whatever Lesa wants to talk about we'll talk about."
    Maybe a second Cup date in Las Vegas too......    
    And just how is Smith going to get that long-awaited second Cup date in Las Vegas?
   "Carefully," Smith said with a grin.

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Bruton has long suffered from

Bruton has long suffered from a lack of sense. The notion of taking away a Loudon date for Kentucky makes no sense because the sport is not gaining a stronger racing demographic - the rural New England region has proven to be a superb racing demographic and Kentucky, although a pretty stout racing demo itself, isn't stronger. That he talks in riddles a lot suggests even he can't make up his mind beyond furthering whatever personal goal he's set for himself.

As for Kansas, the reality is Martinsville has worn out its welcome as a racing demographic - it has not been able to really sustain two dates anymore.

And this, in response, from

And this, in response, from Michigan pres Roger Curtis, who runs MIS for the France family, and takes exception to all that:
"I really don't know what the fixation is with MIS and our hundred thousand plus fans. First Felix (Sabates), now Bruton.
"I think Bruton should spend a little more time looking at his own tracks.
"But then again I imagine that he is envious of our crowds, given that our crowd a couple of weeks ago could sell out NHIS and KY.
"Guess I will just let our fans, and what MIS does for them, continue to speak for themselves."

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