1984 O. Bruton Smith started Speedway Children's Charities (SCC) in Charlotte, North Carolina. The singular fund raising event was a ball held yearly prior to the Coca-Cola 600. Mr. Smith soon recognized the need to increase fund raising events as a growing number of grant requests for funds were received. In 1990, M/General Thomas M. Sadler, USAF (ret), was appointed Executive Director of Speedway Children's Charities to help facilitate the growth and in 2003 SCC was named a Proud Charity of NASCAR.
SCC has grown over the years from one chapter holding only one event a year to a nationally recognized charity with chapters located at each Speedway Motorsports Facility - Atlanta, Bristol, Las Vegas, Lowe's, Texas Motor Speedways, and Infineon Raceway - in addition to two volunteer chapters, one in the Washington DC area and one in Tampa, FL. A National Board of Directors oversees the Charities and local board of trustees governs the chapters.
Speedway Children's Charities hosts a wide range of events and promotions geared around race weeks at Speedways and supported by teams of volunteers. Currently the staff to volunteer ratio is 1 staff member to 122 volunteers. Grant requests are accepted from non-profit organizations providing direct services to children. These requests are submitted to the closet chapter's Board of Trustees at the end of each year for evaluation. Each Board's objective is to assist as many children in need as possible. Since its inception, Speedway Children's Charities has awarded millions of dollars with more than 14 million dollars in the last 10 years alone nationally. In 2004, the Charities raised over 2.8 million dollars and awarded grants to in excess of 411 non-profit children's groups, representing an impact to more than 300,000 children in need.
Mr. Smith's philosophy throughout Speedway Children's Charities (SCC) growth has remained the same. For a charity to truly be successful it must operate with a small overhead, using volunteers and corporate partners for materials and sponsorships whenever possible.
By those associated with Speedway Children's Charities remembering we're a charity and not a social extension or promotional vehicle for people or organizations, we make a strong impact on our communities. Speedway Children's Charities continues the philosophy of low cost / high net returns on all events or programs. This assures that as much money as possible goes to the children's groups.
SCC is provided administrative, accounting and office space underwritten by Speedway Motorsports Inc., Sonic Automotive, Inc. and other sponsors who offset a great deal of normal operational expenses. Additionally, the national Board of Directors consists of prominent individuals throughout the Racing and Automotive Industry. Team Owners, TV, and Radio Broadcasters, Speedway Track Presidents, Sports Marketing and Business Executives nationwide lend their support and expertise to Speedway Children's Charities.
"Remember it's a charity - get it for nothing or at the lowest cost possible." - Mr. O. Bruton Smith, Founder/ Chairman of SCC
"The ratio of Income and Expenses must always be a top priority with Speedway Children's Charities. Our reputation to the public and corporate donors depends on it!" - M/Gen. Thomas M. Sadler, USAF (ret) Executive Director, SCC
Sunday, June 05, 2005
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
Bruton Smith makes motorsports his playground
By JEFF WOLF
Bruton Smith is a salesman.
His wit, charm and business acumen have put him at the forefront of his fields, whether it comes to selling cars, race tickets or his point of view.
Smith is one of the most powerful forces in American motorsports and auto industry.
He is also founder and chairman of Sonic Automotive, a publicly held corporation that owns about 200 new car dealerships in the country, including three in Las Vegas.
He's also founder and chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., another publicly held corporation that owns Las Vegas Motor Speedway and five others that host 10 NASCAR Nextel Cup races.
Smith is a majority stockholder of each.
Since purchasing the Las Vegas speedway in 1998, the self-made billionaire has invested nearly $50 million in improvements to the facility that Las Vegans Richie Clyne, and investors Ralph Engelstad and Bill Bennett, opened in 1996.
And since Smith has taken over, he's added arguably the country's best drag racing facility and rebuilt the three-eighths-mile asphalt track. By next year's Cup race in March, Smith will have added about 30,000 seats during a three-year span.
"I'll probably spend $40 (million) to $45 million on Vegas this year," he said last week, a few minutes before the start of a NASCAR race at his track near Charlotte, N.C.
Before the 2007 Cup race in Las Vegas, he expects more than 150,000 spectators to see a completely rebuilt infield that will move pit road several hundred feet closer to the grandstand. A new media center and team garages will be erected, new spectator areas created and more space will be available for infield parking -- and partying.
He expects those projects will cost around $50 million, and he might rebuild the 1.5-mile track to improve the qualify of racing.
Smith exemplifies the philosophy that if you're not getting better, you're getting worse.
He recalls a conversation he had about 12 years ago with Bill France, son of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., who was the association's chairman at the time.
"I said, 'Bill, NASCAR is no better than its facilities. We really need to do something about this.' He said they had been all right up until then, but I didn't think they had," Smith said a week ago before a NASCAR race while in a track suite near Charlotte where he adjusted the volume on televisions for his guests, who feasted on Cornish game hens and shrimp.
"We needed to bring more and more women into our sport," Smith told France, saying only about 10 percent of spectators were women more than a decade ago.
"We had to make it nicer -- to have grass, to have flowers, to have nicer restrooms -- to attract the ladies. If the ladies come, the men would follow. Now we're up to almost 50 percent women."
It wasn't the first time he disagreed with the patriarch of the family that owns NASCAR and controls International Speedway Corp., which owns 12 tracks that host 19 of the 36 Cup championship races.
Eventually, France's tracks began to improve amenities, but their aesthetic qualities still fall behind those at Smith's tracks.
"Over the years, Bruton Smith has done as much as any single track owner/operator to move this sport forward; improvements for fans, media, competitors," said Jim Hunter, NASCAR vice president of corporate communications and former president of the ISC-owned track in Darlington, S.C.
Smith's journey in life has gone from dungarees to cashmere, a success story that started on the North Carolina farm where he was born in 1927 to being on the most recent Forbes magazine list of wealthiest Americans. He's ranked 215th with personal wealth of $1.6 billion.
"The overwhelming first impression (of Smith) is one of personality with energy more than any other thing," said Geoff Smith, an attorney and president of Roush Racing, the biggest and one of the most successful teams in NASCAR.
"He's a man who has been on the move with something to prove, and he's been proving it his whole life."
Bruton Smith's drive has helped power NASCAR to its rocketlike growth during the past two decades, and has been a boon for the speedway in Southern Nevada.
"I enjoy all the racing we do, but the automobile business has always been my first love," he tells a reporter visiting his dealership in an older part of Charlotte. "I love the automobile business. I just love it."
He rarely uses his beautiful office at his Charlotte speedway, which he began building in 1959. He also has one on the second floor of his Town & Country Ford dealership that isn't as opulent as you'd expect for a billionaire. He prefers a small one on the ground floor that's closer to his salesmen at the dealership, which he bought in 1978.
That Ford dealership is where he spends most of his work time, about six hours a day. He knows most employees and typically says "hi" or waves to them.
One employee nearly burns a hole in the carpet spinning to an about-face when Smith shouts his name. You can sense his relief when Smith just wanted to say hello.
It was close to lunch and time for Smith to swing into the "Pit Stop Cafe," a little diner in the dealership where a large photo of Wayne Newton is displayed on a wall above one of President George W. Bush waving the green flag to start a race at Texas Motor Speedway, another of Smith's tracks.
Smith takes a seat at the counter and grabs a French fry from a mechanic's plate. "You did have one too many, didn't you?" Smith asks. "Have another," the worker replies.
Smith orders a grilled ham and cheese on white bread, and while he applies a few dashes of hot sauce, he responds to a comment about the Newton photo with a story.
"I donated $20,000 in the name of Wayne Newton because of my good friend Oscar," Smith said of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman. "It was at a charity event in Vegas a few years ago and Oscar knew I had just bought a couple Cadillac dealerships there. I thought I'd get off easier if I just wrote that check to the charity. Oscar's a good man."
Whether it's a mechanic with grease and grime embedded in his cuticles, any of his companies' 14,000 employees or a politician, Smith's personality often matches his cherubic face.
Calling Smith a mover and shaker is like saying Goodman is a little outgoing. And like the Las Vegas mayor, Smith knows how to attract media attention.
On a quiet afternoon five days before the Cup race at his track in Concord, N.C., about 12 miles from the heart of Charlotte, Smith held a news conference to say he is willing to commit $50 million of his personal money toward the creation of a monorail to run from a proposed NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte to his track with a few stops along the way.
Media flocked to hear about his latest vision. Many left shaking their heads in wonderment or disbelief, but most reported about his pledge. One reporter, scoffing at the concept a couple of days later, said, "That's just Bruton being Bruton."
He didn't know who would build it, what it would cost or how the rest of the money would be raised.
He didn't even know the name of the man in charge of Charlotte's ongoing light-rail project.
He probably hadn't thought much about the project's details.
He most likely only cared about putting the concept instantly on a front burner. All he knew was it seemed like a hot idea so he struck the match.
It became front-page news in the Charlotte Observer, the state's biggest newspaper. A story detailing his idea was transmitted nationally by The Associated Press.
Typical Bruton, as he's called by nearly everyone regardless of their status.
A few days after Smith's monorail conference, Tommy Tomlinson, a local news columnist for the Observer wrote:
"Crazy Rich Guys think up stuff like monorails. ...
"You get that sometimes from a Crazy Rich Guy.
"But sometimes you get a monorail. And a discussion that could lead to something great.
"That's the reason we need Crazy Rich Guys.
"Usually, under the money and the bluster, there's genius."
Crazy like a fox.
People laughed about his plan in 1959 to build a major race track outside of Charlotte, then called Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was his first track and remains his company's flagship. A few year's ago he sold the naming rights and it became Lowe's Motor Speedway, another first in major-league racing.
Some chuckled in 1984 when he said he was building track-side condominiums at the Charlotte track, but they quickly sold and others were added. He's done the same at his tracks in Fort Worth, Texas, and Atlanta, and says he might do the same at his Las Vegas track.
It seemed odd in 1992 when he and SMI president Humpy Wheeler, his longtime friend and associate, invested $1.7 million to help develop a revolutionary track lighting system that would use mirrors and indirect lighting to simulate daylight to allow for night races suitable for television. It's become the industry standard.
So when Smith says there's a need for a monorail, people listen.
"I think every day he has to prove that he can do something else tomorrow," said Geoff Smith, the Roush executive who joined the sport in 1990. "It's sort of a business restlessness that no achievement is enough when another achievement can be had tomorrow."
The man named Ollen Bruton Smith loves life almost as much as his family. Selling cars and race tickets rank among his top 10.
He also loves his jobs and says he intends to continue working until his last day on earth.
"Retiring is a bad thing. Six months later you're usually dead," he said.
He looks, acts and lives like a man much younger than his age.
"I was born on a farm where people are raised learning how to work," he said of growing up as one of eight children in Oakboro, N.C. "My parents taught me how to work, and I'm still grateful for that."
Stock car racing was a major source of affordable entertainment in the Southeast. Smith saw his first stock car race when he was 8.
"It was unbelievable," he recalls.
Nine years later he bought a race car and began competing and says he once beat legends Buck Baker and Joe Weatherly.
But his mother wanted him to quit.
"She started fighting dirty," he says. "She started praying I would stop. You can't fight your mom and God, so I stopped driving."
Good thing she didn't know he almost became a cowboy.
"I used to ride bulls on the farm when I was a kid," he said. "Roughest damn thing I've ever done."
He's come a long way since.
Now he's just bullish on automobiles, racing and Las Vegas.
Smith's first visit to Las Vegas was in 1968, when he stayed at the Frontier.
"It was almost new then. I just loved seeing all the bright lights, the shows. You know I'm in Vegas quite often."
He began promoting stock car races when he was 18 and hasn't stopped. A job at a Ford dealership led to an opportunity to operate a dealership and his success led Ford to help him buy one.
He began building his first speedway in 1959 with partner Curtis Turner, one of stock car racing's first stars. It wasn't easy building a $1.5 million track back then. Problems with cash forced him to watch a court-appointed trustee run the track -- with his unpaid help -- but within a couple of years he was able to regain control.
The Las Vegas speedway is his most recent acquisition.
The speedway opened in 1996 with 107,000 seats, and he still regrets not being able to build it.
"I offered (Ralph Engelstad) twice his money to buy that land," Smith said. "He wanted me as a partner in the speedway, but I'd have none of that."
It's believed this year's Cup weekend generated a net profit of between $25 million and $30 million for the track.
Southern Nevada racing fans and area businesses have benefitted from an economic impact of more than $1 billion since the speedway opened. The impact from this year's three-day NASCAR weekend alone was $167 million, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
"That's what we do," he said of his speed factory on 1,600 acres across from Nellis Air Force Base between Las Vegas Boulevard and Interstate 15.
"Las Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world," he said during the March NASCAR weekend.
"This is a fabulous city. The more times you come here, the more you'll learn this. This is a super city, and our sport needs to be here in a big way."
And he's doing everything he can to make it bigger every year.
Crazy rich guys like doing that.