The Frontstretch: Time For Concord To Stop Pulling Bruton Smith's Chain by Mike Neff -- Monday October 8, 2007

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Time For Concord To Stop Pulling Bruton Smith's Chain

Full Throttle · Mike Neff · Monday October 8, 2007


Bruton Smith is pissed off – and there aren't many business leaders anywhere in the world who would blame him for it. Smith, of course, is the main man at corporate powerhouse Speedway Motorsports Incorporated; he owns race tracks from coast-to-coast, and has always held a philosophy of not being afraid to spend money in order to make money. Having long been known in the motorsports arena as someone who spares no expense to put on a good show for the fans, Smith also makes sure to upgrade his facilities on a regular basis, fine-tuning things to make his competitors happy as well.

But Smith’s latest money-making, racing-generated idea has hit a definitive roadblock at one of the most valuable tracks he owns – Lowe’s Motor Speedway. This past week, the Concord City Council voted to change the zoning for that complex to at least temporarily stop the construction of a proposed drag strip for an expansion that Smith had already broken ground on. The decision was based on the complaints of some 20 residents of a subdivision that is within a mile of the proposed new drag strip; their complaints about the noise took precedence with a council determined to make a statement against Mr. Smith.

In the process, they appear on the verge of making a tragic, crippling mistake for their city.

Having forced the hand of SMI, it hasn’t taken long for one of racing’s most powerful figures to show up with pocket aces. An angry Smith has defiantly vowed to spend $350 million to build another track in the Charlotte area, shuttering the existing track that has been open since 1960 due to the council’s decision. His organization has identified two properties already, as well as been contacted by two others – including a community that has pledged $300 million in tax breaks for a new track.

It’s not surprising at all to see this decision get Smith all fired up. First off, this is a man who’s been part of this fine facility since Day One. Smith first built the Lowe’s (then Charlotte) Motor Speedway with Curtis Turner in 1959, but left the organization within two years because it had fallen into bankruptcy. The track survived, but it took over a decade for Smith to work himself back into a position of control; after building up his automotive group, he finally had the resources to get back into racing and, by 1975, had acquired enough of a stake in Charlotte to once again be a majority owner. It’s clearly a facility that’s near and dear to his heart, and it’s a heart that’s had no problem giving back to the North Carolina community that surrounds him. Indeed, Smith has been a model corporate citizen, pouring tons of money not only into his facility but into the community in general. Something that has always been intriguing about Lowe’s, for example, is that when there is road construction anywhere near the track, it always seems to be done before race week arrives. Other projects can drag on for years, but anything that can impact the traffic around the track will be completed before the fans start pouring in for the festivities. It’s those little things people may not realize that SMI has had a hand in getting taken care of; of course, Smith has also done other things for the surrounding area, like planting trees and spearheading charitable ventures countywide.

Most importantly, on top of his continuing efforts to improve his facilities and make the race experience truly enjoyable for the fans, Smith has never asked for anything from the community in terms of economic “breaks” or “deals.” Smith has always paid his taxes to the community, and has never asked for a tax break or any kind of preferential treatment that so many other sports owners and organizations seem to always ask for and receive. In fact, not only does Smith pay his fair share, he even volunteers to assist when the project can benefit him as well. When the Hall of Fame discussion was taking place and Charlotte was trying to woo NASCAR to bring it to their town, Smith became a key player in the whole process. Not only were his facilities and resources utilized to help in the process of entertaining the decisionmakers, but Smith also pledged $500 million towards a monorail project to run from the Hall of Fame, to Lowe’s Speedway, to local shopping. Certainly, it would benefit Smith to have a monorail with a terminal at his track, but the fact that he offered up $500 million, unsolicited, speaks volumes about the man and what he is willing to do for his community.

Mind you, I understand Smith isn't always the good guy. I know he purchased half of North Wilkesboro Speedway and was instrumental in taking racing away from that facility that had such a long, storied history in the sport. Since that time, there have been several groups that have tried to convince Smith to either bring racing back, or sell the track in order for someone else to accomplish that feat. Smith has continued to decline, and has asked for a very high price for a facility that he has allowed to fall into disrepair. Certainly, that’s proven the man doesn't get into anything to lose money – but that doesn’t mean he’s in business to tear communities apart, especially one that he has tried to support in every which way possible over the years.

The City of Concord, however, seems to be in a classic state of not seeing the forest from the trees. Smith pours millions of tax dollars into the community on an annual basis, not to mention the amount of revenue that comes into the area because of his race track. However, Concord is looking at chasing away all of that revenue over the complaints of a handful of residents who have moved into a subdivision that was just recently established within a mile of the race track. Obviously, the race track was there long before the residents, and the fact that it is probably the biggest revenue generator for the city makes it ridiculous that the City Council would even seriously consider this complaint. Economically, the town has already lost Phillip Morris, the giant tobacco company which is shutting down their plant in Concord and will be completely out of the facility early next year. Pillowtex has already shuttered their facilities in Concord, as well, leaving the importance of the race track looming large when it comes to future development in this area. With that in mind, it seems amazing that the town would even consider losing another huge property from their tax rolls.

The city could and should take a cost-cutting lesson from their neighbor Charlotte, who lost the NBA's Hornets to New Orleans several years ago. After that team moved away, the city had to spend millions of dollars to build a new arena in order to woo the NBA into giving them another franchise, not to mention give some very large tax breaks to entice the owner to consider locating the team in Charlotte. With the current state of NASCAR and the fact that their schedule is full – especially in the Southeast region – the possibility of getting someone else to take over a shuttered Lowe’s Speedway and generate anything near the revenue that SMI does at the track is a pipe dream.

So for Concord, it’s time to stop playing around. Mr. Smith is a billionaire, and has enough of an ego that he will not think twice about taking his game to someone else's neighborhood. This city would be very wise to quickly put this issue to bed, tell the residents to mind their own business and realize why their homes were so cheap, and make sure that SMI stays put for years to come.

And they better hurry…before it’s too late.

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10/09/2007 05:57 AM

I disagree. Billionaire’s don’t need to bully cities into doing what they want. Let him go somewhere else. I admire the Concord City Council for standing up to him. Just because he has money doesn’t mean he can do what he wants. The town will survive without him.

10/09/2007 06:57 AM

How sad that a great facility like Lowe’s could be shut down because of a bunch of idiots who bought homes near the racetrack and then have the nerve to complain about the noise! This are probably the same people who buy houses next to a major airport and then complain to the city because of the noise from the airplanes taking off and landing.

These people need to remember who was there first. Lowe’s did not just pop up last weekend. The track has been there for years and these people were able to know about it when they bought the homes.

I don’t blame Bruton for what he is doing. As you said, he has helped this community with all of the money poured in and has not asked for a tax break at all. He needs to go to a community that appreciates him and his company.

10/09/2007 08:09 AM

Wouldn’t it be funny if Bruton Smith took his race elsewhere to,say, Rockingham? Oh, the irony! And the look on Brian France’s face would be priceless!!!

M. B. Voelker
10/09/2007 09:22 AM

I’ve seen it all my life — people move in under an airport approach route and complain about the low-flying airplanes, people move in next to a crop farm and complain about tractors in the fields at 5 am. People move in next to a dairy farm or a chicken farm and complain about the smell. People moved in next to a steel mill (back when Pittsburgh still had steel mills), and complained about shift whistles and nighttime traffic from a 24/7 operation.

The track was there first. The land was zoned for racing when they bought their homes. How DARE Bruton actually put the land to the use it was zoned for and upset the newbies’ peace?

If you didn’t want to hear the noise you should have bought houses somewhere else.

Doc Riley
10/09/2007 09:27 AM

For a number of years Mr. Smith kept others who wanted to build a dragstrip out of the market with the same type of “ordinance” or “they ain’t gonna let you build a dragstrip around here” ploy. Now he wants to build his own strip and have the zoning changed. I’m all for drag racing and this seems to be another Smith PR campaign to get something from the local government…just ask the Texas boys what they had to put up with when it came to building the track. Love drag racing…would also like to see the VOLS play football at Bristol…remember that?
Since the founding of the Charlotte track there has been a number of clashes between Bruton and the area government, even after Smith left the Charlotte track and came back to give it life, there were discussions about the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Mark Rubley
10/09/2007 09:42 AM

Now that would be funny if he had to move his race to The Rock. Too bad he doesn’t own The Rock anymore.

I think it’s “Can’t see the forest for the trees” not “from” them But that’s okay, we knew what you meant.

Steve Cloyd
10/09/2007 10:30 AM

Are these idiots that build and buy houses near a race track, then bitch about the noise, the same type of people that buy a house next to a golf course and complain about golf balls hitting their house?

Glenn Heard
10/09/2007 10:44 AM

I agree with many of the above “posters” that agree with Smith. Being a longtime Nascar Fan and a retired drag racer (S/C altered) I am very much infavor of another dragstrip.

Kurt Smith
10/09/2007 11:08 AM

Mike, maybe you should buy one of the homes near the drag strip site from one of the people that are concerned about the noise. Buy it now before the property value drops and maybe you’ll see how these people feel.

Any politician who lets a wealthy businessman do whatever he wants at the expense of middle class people has no business being in public office.

Brian France Sucks
10/09/2007 11:43 AM

The people that are complaining are probably a bunch of dumb yuppies. This drag strip would exist as a part of the larger Lowe’s complex, along w/ the dirt track and the speedway, right? If anything the people that bought the homes should feel pretty stupid for moving right next to a motorsports venue if they are against the “noise”. Since the area was previously zoned for racing, Bruton has every right to be pissed. He has a sizable investment in the facility, and has been a major philanthropist in the comunity, so he’s not just some rich bully. The people bitching are just a bunch of morons who should’ve looked before they bought. This typifies what is wrong w/ America, and corrupt politicians/officials. They’ll be sorry when they’re voted out and the town is broke. Move the track to Mooresville; they’ll probably accept it w/ open arms.

10/09/2007 04:41 PM

Who does this local council think they are? Burton Smith has every right to allocate and use his resources including the track, land, and money how he wants to. The council is not there to define his business model. Personally, I wouldn’t mind him moving the race to a new location with a new track anyhow. The Charlotte track is outdated in its cookie cutter configuration. Not only that, it has to be the worst of the 1 1/2 mile tracks with its inconsistant banking and handling issues with its racing surface. The track may have been legendary 50 years ago but its time to move on! Build another track like Bristol or Daytona and you’ll finally have a track worthy of the All-star Challenge and the two other races each year. One thing for sure, these simple minded politicians need to sit down and shut up. Hey if the community wants to loose millions of dollars of revenues due to a handful of critical residents then let them! When they get their tax bills and find out they have less sales tax revenues to pay for their local infrastructure and the important things in the community that matter to them, then they will start crying!

Mike C
10/09/2007 04:54 PM

I think the issue might be the potential for noise at the dragstip every weekend instead of only a few times a year for the oval track . I would think that Smith would want to run the dragstrip every weekend , and the people who bought homes near the track were fine with occaisional racing . Now the situation could change into something completly diferent .

10/09/2007 05:51 PM

For me, the key is that the track was there first. The buyers knew it. That’s the facts. It doesn’t matter that Smith is very rich. That’s irrelevant to what the council has done.

I wouldn’t blame him for building another track. You think another community wouldn’t want that revenue?

I would even love to see Smith buy up all the property within a 5 mile radius of the track if he could. Move those idiots out of there.

10/09/2007 05:52 PM

Tracks like Virginia Motorsports Park run a variety of events and adhere to nighttime limits and no racing before noon on Sundays. When the city council voted to rezone land to block contruction in progress, they may have started a war with the one individual who can clean their clocks.

10/09/2007 08:26 PM

I’m certain that the city leaders will have HUNDREDS of business owners that make huge profits counter the 20 griping homeowners.

10/09/2007 09:38 PM

We live about a mile or so from IRP in Indy. Even when the dragsters are racing, it’s not insanely loud. We also live about 50 yards from the train tracks. It’s louder and they go by way more often than the racing goes. But, we knew about it when we moved here. I, for one, love the sound of the cars on the weekend.

10/10/2007 08:18 AM

Boy is this a hot issue. Good comments by everyone.

I read the other day that Bruton could build his new track in just 11 months. And that he would also salvage a lot of parts and pieces from the current track for use at the new track. How about this senario during the one year there would be no races at Charlotte:

World 600 run under contract at Kentucky Speedway.

Fall Race run under contract at Nashville Speedway.

All Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway.

This way Bruton could not only get even with the Concord people but could really piss off NASCAR who refuses to even consider Kentucky and Nashville good enough for a Cup date.


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