Speedway Motorsports Inc. President and CEO Bruton Smith seems to have adopted the “best defense is a good offense” philosophy last Friday while entertaining reporters at his Atlanta Motor Speedway. Smith, undoubtedly aware that the upcoming Sprint Cup race at the Hampton, Ga. 1.5-mile motorsports facility would be embarrassingly under-attended, instead took shots at southern Floridians, Homestead-Miami Speedway and the President of the United States.
Lamenting on chronic lackluster attendance at his Infineon Raceway at Sonoma, Calif., Smith suggested that traffic concerns were a major contributor to the road course being unable to improve ticket sales year-to-year. The longtime Republican Party supporter who has in the past voiced his opinion that taxpayer money should be used to build and maintain racetracks in much the same manner that it is in other major sports, said, “I think I’d have to talk to Obama and get him to bring a stimulus package, and also the Army Corps of Engineers to make that happen.”
The tongue-and-cheek remark was followed up by a question as to why Smith doesn’t invite the newly elected President of the United States to a race. It was reported that Smith stared blankly at Mike Mulhern, the reporter that asked the question – then after pretending to have not heard it, looked at the assembled reporters and silently mouthed, “Oh my God.”
When pressed on the subject of extending an invitation to the leader of the free world, the owner of eight tracks currently with a total of 11 Sprint Cup race dates answered, “Well, I don’t know how busy we’ll be these next four years, but we have a lot of people on the list, and I really don’t know whether he’s on the list or not.”
Judging from Bruton Smith’s terse response, it looks like a safe bet that there will be no invitation forthcoming for President Obama to enjoy a day at the races in the comfort of one of Smith’s luxury suites.
While holding court with reporters, Smith also promised that if Atlanta Motor Speedway were given back the season-finale race date that has been held at HMS since 2002, it would once again sell out the race facility as it had before – lobbying for a change in the schedule due to weather concerns. “Home and stead is now running that final race,” Smith said. “They don’t have the seating, they don’t have this, they don’t have parking. And the event should be held somewhere else. Here’s an idea: let’s maybe hold that final race in Las Vegas.”
Holy cow! Haven’t we all had a novel idea hit us even as we were speaking? However, it is doubtful that it had slipped the 82-year old’s mind that he is, in fact, vying for a second NASCAR Sprint Cup race date for his successful Las Vegas facility. Apparently, it’s a date that he prefers would be at the France family’s expense instead of one of his SMI tracks – they are owners of Homestead-Miami through International Speedway Corporation.
However, the unflappable elder statesman didn’t stop with what could have been argued as just objective and constructive criticism of the southern Florida race venue. Instead, he decided to elaborate.
“Why would you have the last race of the year in some Godforsaken area that is north of Cuba?” Smith said. “Why would you do that? I don’t understand that. Why don’t you pick a place that can accommodate the final race of the year with seats and parking and somewhere that appreciates it?”
Ouch! We have to presume that Smith is well aware that the whole of the United States is north of Cuba, and that his comments were directed more specifically at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the “Godforsaken area” of Homestead and Miami, Fla. It is also safe to presume that such comments would not go over well with those that they were directed at.
Well, the response did not take long. Curtis Gray, President of HMS, issued a written statement almost immediately following Smith’s comments stating, “Hey, it’s not a fluke that all of North America’s premier racing series [NASCAR, IndyCar and Grand-Am] have chosen Homestead-Miami Speedway and South Florida to host their 2009 championship finales.”
Additionally, Homestead’s Mayor, likewise taking exception to Bruton Smith’s derogatory description of the Homestead and Miami area and its track, had a quick response as well.
“It’s obvious that Mr. Smith has ulterior motives and that he has never been to Homestead because if he had, he would never make those comments,” Mayor Lynda Bell offered in a written statement. “Homestead is anything but Godforsaken. The Speedway is a top-notch, first-class facility that puts on a great event, and the City of Homestead proudly and very capably handles the thousands of visitors, traffic and everything that comes with this. I would like to personally invite Mr. Smith to come to Homestead.”
“I would also like to give Mr. Smith a little piece of advice: When you’re insulting someone’s city, at least pronounce the name properly – it’s HOMESTEAD, not Home and Stead.”
Bruton Smith may have actually gotten off light with his comments concerning the region. In today’s environment of ethnic sensitivities and political correctness, it probably isn’t advisable to trash an area with an aggregate Hispanic and Latino population of greater than 60% and refer to the mother country of many of them in the same breath.
All possible ethnic undertones aside, his comments were certainly not of the type that could possibly foster positive benefits for a sport intent on gaining popularity among the very group of folks that make up the majority of the population in what Smith termed a “Godforsaken area.” Clearly, the “Drive to Diversity” program has been lost on Bruton.
All and all, though… it was just another entertaining Bruton Smith interview. Keeping the racing public entertained, of course, is what he does. No reason to get upset – just Bruton promoting Bruton like always.
In the end, the Kobalt Tools 500 Sunday proved to be an interesting and competitive race throughout the field despite the dominance of Kurt Busch and his No. 2 Penske Dodge up front. NASCAR’s generally inflated estimated attendance for the 125,000-seat AMS was 96,000. However, objective estimates put the crowd numbers at less than 70,000 fans.
And in case you’re wondering… Homestead-Miami has sold out their season-ending race held in late November for five of its first six dates.
And that’s my view from turn 5.