It started as a squabble with the local zoning board, but the frustrated desire of Bruton Smith, owner of Lowe’s Motor Speedway, to add a drag strip to the racing complex has now escalated into a plan to construct a new speedway elsewhere.
Though Lowe’s, which was formerly known as Charlotte Motor Speedway is often thought of as being in that city, it’s actually located in Concord, North Carolina, a smaller suburb (much like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is not in Indianapolis, but in Speedway, Indiana). Normally, that gives the speedway ownership a lot of clout with the local government. But, it didn’t work out that way when Speedway Motorsports, Inc., the corporate version of Bruton Smith that also owns the Texas, Bristol, Sonoma, Las Vegas, and Atlanta, NASCAR race tracks, sought permission to add a $60 million drag strip complex to Lowes. Local residents opposed it because they feared it would create excessive noise. The local zoning board sided with the residents.
That didn’t sit well with Smith, who promptly threatened to move. Local government leaders tried to back down, but the zoning decision hasn’t been reversed – at least yet.
Smith, however, claims that moving the racetrack isn’t a threat. Rather, it’s more a “master plan,” a move already being contemplated.
While Smith is a big wheel in NASCAR racing, he’s a man who’s power in racing has always been based on a reputation for double-dealing. His involvement with the Charlotte Motor Speedway certainly cemented that view of him. It dates back to the track’s conception by NASCAR legend Curtis Turner. Apart from being a larger-than-life driver in the formative years of NASCAR, Turner was a timber dealer and land speculator who, at one time or another, owned a third of North Carolina.
It was Turner who started construction on Charlotte Motor Speedway and who put together the initial financing. But, Bruton Smith had been pursuing an alternative track proposal and Turner brought Smith into Charlotte as a minority owner. When the track ran short of funds, Turner thought Smith was working with him to secure additional financing. In fact, though, Smith was working behind Turner’s back to force him out, taking over Turner’s share of the Speedway’s stock for pennies on the dollar.
More recently, Smith was the man behind an anti-trust lawsuit against NASCAR. Though nominally brought by a shareholder of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., the suit was instituted after NASCAR refused to extend to Smith a second race date for Texas Motor Speedway. NASCAR eventually settled, but Texas got its second race date.
Charlotte Motor Speedway opened in 1960, so it’s now nearly 50 years old. Smith claims that it ought to have $200 million in improvements – or, he could simply build a new facility for $350 million. He says he’s been offered no less than fifteen parcels of land near Charlotte on which to build it. No doubt, he’s also considered what the land under the current speedway would be worth if that land were to be developed in the burgeoning Charlotte metro area.
But, the zoning officials in Concord might want to remember one thing, something that Bruton Smith, above all people, should already know: a new Charlotte/Lowe’s Speedway would be just that, a new track. Unless NASCAR commits up front, there is no guarantee that NASCAR will award a Sprint Cup race, or any race, to a new racetrack. The odds are not good that Smith is that interested in inviting France family payback.