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Remembering Bruton Smith: Waltrip, Petty, and Wheeler share stories of life with a ‘true visionary’

Performance Racing Network’s Doug Rice leads fascinating conversations for radio special
His influence on everything from racing to business to charity giving have created a lasting legacy, and many of those who knew him best are talking about him.
Published: Jun. 23, 2022 at 4:41 PM EDT
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CONCORD, N.C. (WBTV) - Remembering Bruton Smith. He was the owner of Speedway Motorsports, Sonic Automotive, and would have had a resume that would have been several yards long. His influence on everything from racing to business to charity giving has created a lasting legacy, and today many of those who knew him best are talking about him.

Thanks to Doug Rice and the Performance Racing Network, (PRN), WBTV was able to hear some unique insights from well-known figures like former Charlotte Motor Speedway president Humpy Wheeler, former NASCAR driver Kyle Petty, and NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip.

“It’s a sad day, but it’s kind of a glorious day as well because we know where he is,” Waltrip said. “He’s probably putting together a race right now if I know him because there’s a lot of great drivers in Heaven.”

‘Lifeblood of NASCAR’: Charlotte Motor Speedway founder Bruton Smith dies at 95

“Heroes have heroes,” Waltrip added, “and I don’t have a lot of heroes in my life, but Bruton Smith was by far and away one of the biggest supporters of mine, he helped me so much in so many ways, so many times.”

On Thursday, Waltrip spoke with Rice for an upcoming radio show on PRN that will chronicle Smith’s life and legacy.

“95 years, and all of the things that man put on his resume, that’s a very good run for anyone,” Rice said.

Waltrip recalled a story dealing with the condominiums at the track and how Smith urged Waltrip to buy one when they were first built.

“I said, are y’all crazy? There’s nobody gonna buy a condo, nobody is going to buy those things at a racetrack? That’s ridiculous. They want suite tickets and they want grandstand tickets, they don’t want to live at a racetrack. Boy, Bruton, he called me all of a sudden and he said ‘Son I want you to know you made a big mistake. Those condos are going to be worth a lot of money one of these days.’ And again the visionary that he was, he was right, I was wrong.”

Kyle Petty, who won the Coke 600 in 1987, says Smith is one of a handful of true visionaries and a good friend. He said the careers of his famous grandfather Lee Petty, father Richard Petty, and his own racing experiences are all closely intertwined with Smith.

“Bruton was there before everything started to happen and he was there all the way up until the very end he was still a major player in this sport,” Petty said, adding that he believes Smith’s legacy will be about how he always tried to improve the fan experience. “That’s the heart of it and I think Bruton has continued that all the way to the guy that sits in row 3, seat B in section 96, and watches the race, he (Smith) wants that guy to feel like that when he walked away, he got his money’s worth.

H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler was the longtime president of Charlotte Motor Speedway. He and Smith had a falling out a number of years ago, and for a decade the two didn’t talk, until Wheeler decided it was time to reconcile. He went to Smith’s home.

“He and I kind of had a little rift and that lasted about ten years,” Wheeler said. “We didn’t even speak to each other. These are two people who spoke everyday for all those years. So, finally, I decided, I told myself, I said look, you need to, both of you need to bury the hatchet here. So one day I just went to his house and went in, we sat down and in one minute we were talking like we were in Sears Point driving down Highway 101 to San Francisco. It’s like nothing had ever changed. I started going by and visiting him. He wasn’t in good shape. I’m sure glad that worked out well there and that we got together toward the end.”

The PRN special featuring the full-length interviews and Rice’s commentary will air soon. You can find the full schedule here: https://www.goprn.com/shows/fast_talk/

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