Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Bruton Smith, sometimes outrageous, sometimes right-on-target....but always fun to spar with


Bruton Smith: Okay, big guy, let's get out the checkbook and make something happen....wanna buy NASCAR? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Bruton Smith, Take Two:
   Let Detroit do what it does best – build cars. And design NASCAR stockers.
   "These geniuses in the garage have made this car better," the sport's second-most-powerful says, referring to Sprint Cup crew chiefs and the still controversial car-of-tomorrow. "But they're still a year away from making it where the race fans…..
   "I think the race fans were turned off by that car-of-tomorrow," Smith says. "And we've got to do a lot of educating those fans to make them love that car.
   "I do think the car-of-tomorrow turned a lot of race fans away.
   "It's not easy now to find who's driving a Ford, who's driving a Chevrolet…
   "We need more 'identification.'
   "This sport was built on that -- on cars and drivers."
    And now all the cars look alike, and most of the drivers even sound alike….
    On top of that, running a Cup team is exorbitantly expensive: Kyle Busch, for example, says that to start up just a NASCAR Truck team from scratch right now would cost him $8 million in start-up costs alone, plus a $3 million annual working budget.
   Smith says that shows the sport has lost some "commonsense."
   Running a Cup operation "shouldn't cost more than that," Smith says. "We've allowed this sport to get too expensive…and we need to detune it.
  "We don't need 850 horsepower motors. This sport wasn't built on 850 horsepower motors."
   With blown engines suddenly an issue, should NASCAR reconsider its current testing ban? Smith says NASCAR should open each race track a day earlier for anyone wishing to test. "That's the way to do it," Smith says. "It would save a lot of money."
   This is Bruton Smith unleashed.
   This is Bruton Smith, ace promoter, pushing for headlines, pushing for ticket sales in a sluggish economy.
   This is Bruton Smith at his classic best – outrageous at times, pointed at times, and on-target at times, despite how much it might hurt to hear it.
   "I'd like to buy a hundred of these old cars, cut the tops off, turn them into convertibles, and go racing. I think we'd fill the place up," Smith says.
   That, between some odd tirade complaining about the final race of the NASCAR season being held at Homestead-Miami Speedway…
   Maybe Smith should simply put up or shut up – make an offer to buy California's Auto Club Speedway, make an offer to buy Homestead-Miami Speedway.
   Let's see, what might be a fair price for the Miami track? Maybe $150 million right now. That would anticipate a profit of about $30 million a year, with a five-year straight-line payback…..
   Put some numbers out there.  
   "Isn't that a lot of money?" Smith says with a wry grin. After all he just spent $340 million for New Hampshire Motor Speedway, overpaid, by considerable margin.
   However the product on the track here today – is it good enough?
   Isn't it time for 'Car-of-tomorrow-II,' as some aggravated Sprint Cup crew chiefs are saying. "With a clean sheet of paper," says one.
   Smith's take: "I don't think I want to go there," he says cautiously.
   NASCAR's hard-line on car-of-tomorrow rules could be an issue: "Maybe if NASCAR would lighten up….because we do have some geniuses working on these cars, and they'll eventually get this car to where it makes some sense," Smith says.
   "But, man, it's been a long, hard road."

Fans clamor for an autograph from Dale Earnhardt Jr. after practice for Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. But why did Earnhardt and the rest of the Rick Hendrick guys all blow off Friday's big meeting with General Motors officials? (Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)


Isn't the entire front of this car-of-tomorrow simply poorly engineered: some weird, snowplow bumper that drags the ground, but is so fragile that teams have to use exotic-designed 'bump-stops' to, in effect, turn off the springs and shocks?
    "I'm glad you said that, but I didn't," Smith says. "Whose idea was that to begin with? It wasn't mine.
   "I've always thought we should let the manufacturers design the cars. They've got a long history of building cars, and they've done pretty well at it."
   Of course Smith is in the awkward position of having to promote races that feature this car that he is criticizing….so he doesn't want to step over the line too far.
   "Now that Jeff Gordon is able to drive the car, that's good," Smith says.
   That, however, may be a backhanded compliment, because Gordon – though he has done well at times in the new car – hasn't won a NASCAR Sprint Cup tour event since October 2007.
   Smith insists he's not trying to pick a fight with NASCAR over this.
   "But I am concerned about the sport. I am a race fan. I am serious about this.
   "You are asking me questions about selling tickets. And we need some things we don't have right now.
   "I have asked Brian the last three years to 'lighten up, lighten up.' I've told him we need to see a 'softer side of NASCAR.'
   "Remember when Jeff Gordon got out of his car after a race at Bristol and pushed another driver? NASCAR fined him $10,000. Now if he'd knocked three teeth out, that would have been different.
   "But what was that all about? NASCAR ought to give him his money back.
   "Don't have people sitting up there in that control tower looking to find somebody they can catch – 'Oh, I've got one.'"

Kyle Busch (L) and Jeff Gordon. One of these two men should win Sunday's Atlanta 500...if Carl Edwards sticks to his conservative early-season game plan (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Kyle Busch, who may well be the best driver on the NASCAR tour today, says crews – and their engineers – have pretty much maxed out the current race car, in chassis setups and cornering-speed designs. And he says the only two significant areas for improvement are under the hood and on pit road.
   Hence the current rash of engine failures, surprising, and generally across the board. And hence the problems on pit road – when even Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson and Greg Biffle are blowing pit stops, there's obviously something afoot.
   So here's Bruton Smith, one of the most powerful men in American sports, with his two cents worth, on that, on street racing in Long Beach, and on Formula One….pick a topic, he's got something to say about it.
   A few weeks ago Smith predicted the turnaround point in the U.S. economy would come between March 15th and March 30th.
   Will NASCAR crowds be any indication?
   Las Vegas had a very good crowd, on Saturday and on Sunday.
   Now Atlanta Motor Speedway, for years, has had less than great crowds, even though it's in the heart of stock car country --- "Did you know that this is the 100th anniversary of the first major race track in this country, up at …., where the airport is now?" Smith asks.
   But Bristol, next up on the tour, March 22, and Texas, two weeks after that, should be telling. Both tracks typically have huge crowds.
   Will Bristol have another sellout?
      "If you don't call Bristol by Monday for tickets, there won't be any more tickets, and you won't be able to get in," Smith says optimistically, while talking on the phone with Jeff Byrd, who runs that track for him.
   Will Texas have a sellout?
   "Eddie (Gossage) seems to think he will, and I have to go along with Eddie," Smith says. "But there are a lot of seats to fill down there.
   "But Eddie may get the job done.
   "We are a democratic organization, and it's one-man, one-vote….We had meetings in the off-season with all our people and we all agreed we are going to work harder this year. And you saw the results of that in Vegas.
   "When you work harder, you win. I was very pleased with what I saw in Las Vegas."

   But aren't some International Speedway Corp. tracks simply not doing their part in promoting the sports, maybe in fact dragging the sport down?
   Smith takes a long pause.
   Shouldn't Smith, for the good of the sport, help out Los Angeles' California Speedway? After all, Smith's Vegas track is really part of that market, just three hours up the road.
   Another long pause.
   "I should be running the southern California Speedway? You like me better than that, don't you. You don't wish that on me?
   "Gillian Zucker (who runs the track for the ISC) is doing a good job with what's she's got.
   "Study the history of racing in Southern California – I think we're in the wrong place."
   But, seriously, this sport needs to promote itself more effectively in the Los Angeles market, doesn't it?
   "But what you're advocating is selling something that people won't buy," Smith insists. "That would be like trying to feed pickles to a cow.
   "You've got to have what people want.
   "They've got a lot of things to do out there in California…and maybe racing isn't one of the things they want.
   "Ever been down to Muscle Beach? I work out there all the time when I'm out there."
   Smith says NASCAR should consider the race fans themselves when setting starting times for Cup events. Late afternoon starts, for TV, he says, are "a huge mistake.
   "You saw the mistake made in Daytona – they never should have started that race at 3:40. They should have started no later than 2; if they'd done that, they could have run the whole race. That is important.
   "You've got to think of the race fans…and TV second.
   "We have to do everything we can to accommodate these race fans."
   Earlier this season Smith complained about drivers not doing enough to help promote these events.
   "When they realize where we are today – and some do understand that, and at Las Vegas we had one driver who signed 1,000 autographs. What if we had 20 or 30 drivers doing that?"

But, hey, Carl, isn't it time for another victory backflip? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Kentucky Speedway, however, remains a thorn in Smith's side. He's bought the track, but unless the former owners drop their lawsuit, NASCAR says it has no plans to let that track have a Cup race, even if Smith wants to move a race date to that south-Cincinati track.
   While some in the sport question the entire Kentucky Speedway situation – its location, with no fan infrastructure to speak of, for one – Smith vigorously insists he has big plans for that track.
   "We plan to have a Cup race at Kentucky next year…and I think Brian France (the NASCAR CEO) is just listening to his over-paid attorneys, and we'll get everything out of the way, to where they're happy and we're happy," Smith says.
   If Smith can make that lawsuit go away, doesn't NASCAR then owe him a favor? Maybe like another Cup date?
   "Oh, no, they don't owe me anything," Smith says. "I'm just here for the good of the sport, so I do NASCAR a lot of favors.
   "And that's what I'm trying to impress on NASCAR – to ask 'Is it good for the sport?'
   "My policy, whenever we're considering something, is to ask 'Is it good for the sport?"

    But one thing Smith is clear on – he wants nothing to do with Formula One czar Bernie Ecclestone. The possibility of a U.S.-based F1 team in Charlotte has brought that issue back to the fore.
   If Ecclestone called Smith and asked for help in putting on a U.S. Grand Prix, Smith says he'd have a simple answer: "No.
   "It simply won't draw people in this country. Remember Phoenix – they had a Formula One race. Then they had an ostrich deal, and the ostriches brought in more people than the Formula One race.
   "I would not know how to promote a Formula One race. I think you have to live in another country, where you've never seen a race…..
   "Whenever I see Formula One on TV I change the channel.  
   "I remember when Henry Ford II brought Formula One to Detroit. I was up there for all three of those….and watching grass grow was more exciting.
   "I will never, never, never, never run a Formula One race."




Bootie Barker, crew chief for Michael Waltrip: Is Bootie the key to Waltrip's resurgence? (Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com