Former Charlotte Motor Speedway president remembers Bruton Smith
During his long life and career, Bruton Smith made many friends and one of them was Humpy Wheeler.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The Charlotte community is saying goodbye to NASCAR mogul Bruton Smith. He died last week at the age of 95.
During his long life and career, he made many friends and one of them was Humpy Wheeler.
They made a powerful pair who were instrumental in shaping the racing culture here in Charlotte.
Wheeler reached out to Smith in his final days.
“I just knew that it wasn’t gonna be long because, you know, well, he was 95 years old, and he lived a long, hard life,” he said. I wasn’t shocked because I’ve been watching him fight his heart problem for quite a while now.”
Bruton Smith and Humpy Wheeler started out as friendly competitors on the local dirt track circuit.
Wheeler promoted the sport at places like Gastonia’s Robinwood Speedway and a company known as Bruton Smith enterprises took out sizable ads in local newspapers starting in the 1950′s showcasing events at local venues.
The expansive mega-complex on highway 29 known as Charlotte Motor Speedway cemented its roots decades ago, after Smith took over the racing operation, he reached out to his old friend.
Wheeler recalls Smith saying “Why don’t you come run that Speedway?
I’ve got control of it now. And I said you do?
It was an offer Wheeler couldn’t refuse.
Humpy Wheeler who became the Speedway’s president and general manager remembers an early challenge from his former boss to bring in a well-known personality who could help fill the seats at the World 600.
They got actress Elizabeth Taylor. Her visit made front-page news. It added to Smith’s credibility and perhaps speedway’s line of credit.
Wheeler said, “He called me one day and he says, Hey, I got great news. He says I got what’s now Bank of America. He said I got them to loan us money.”
Making money for Smith enhanced the Speedway MotorSports brand to now include 11 tracks from Dover, Delaware in the Northeast to Sonoma, California out west, while taking his talents to Wall Street.
His other enterprise, Sonic Automotive with dozens of car dealerships also made it to the New York Exchange, but back at the track, something else was brewing.
Wheeler says he started what led to a very public parting of the ways back in 2008, but reconciliation came in recent years.
Wheeler said, “I’m the one that started it. And uh, so we went quite a bit of time and finally got back together. And when we did, it was like nothing had ever happened.”
Humpy Wheeler is reflective regarding the loss of his friend and praises Smith’s vision of growing the track come to life, and expanding the sport.
“He came from the farm. Didn’t go to Davidson. Didn’t go to Duke. Didn’t go to North Carolina or South Carolina. But he made it anyway. And he did it on his own gumption.”
Smith’s funeral service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday at the Central Church of God.
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