Posted: 06/23/2022 15:32:58
Modified: 06/23/2022 15:32:39
Bruton Smith, a larger-than-life figure who owned 11 speedways on the NASCAR Cup circuit, including the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, died Wednesday at the age of 95.
His death from natural causes was announced by Speedway Motorsports, Inc., the company founded by Smith 28 years ago, which raised the national profile of the sport through promotion, marketing and buying and modernizing of speedways across the country.
“It is certainly a sad day for our Speedway Motorsports family, but it also gives all of us an opportunity to reflect on the many contributions Bruton Smith has made both here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and to our entire community. sport,” said Loudon track general manager David McGrath.
The New Hampshire Motor Speedway had hosted two NASCAR Cup races a year, one in July and another in September. Smith caught some heat with New England racing fans five years ago when he moved one of two races from Loudon to Las Vegas.
Don Hawk, senior vice president of business affairs for Speedway Motorsports Inc., said at the time that the decision had more to do with the opportunities presented in Vegas, and not with declining attendance here.
“While I understand the disappointment of fans here at NHMS and surrounding areas, this was not a punitive decision but one based on many other considerations,” Hawk said via email in 2017, during a Cup race at Loudon.
“It was done for fans across the country because (Las Vegas Motor Speedway) is a huge market for attendance, for television, and NASCAR as a sport.”
Smith bought the speedway from Bob Bahre, whose khaki pants, white button-up shirt and mop of white hair became a Loudon track staple. Bahre first introduced big short-track racing at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine in the 1960s, and later did the same in New Hampshire.
Bahre purchased Bryar Motor Sports Park in Loudon, which featured a 1.6-mile road course for motorcycles, and rebuilt it into New England’s first and only superspeedway, defined at the time as a oval track at least one mile long.
The speedway opened in 1990 and NASCAR, the sanctioning body for stock car racing, began hosting its elite Cup Series tour at Loudon three years later.
Bahre added seats and changed the name to New Hampshire International Speedway when it hosted the Indy Car race, which includes a roster of drivers from outside the United States.
He sold the speedway to Smith in 2007 for $340 million. Bahre died in 2020 at the age of 93.
As of this week, Marcus Smith, one of Bruton’s two sons, remained president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports.
His father was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 2006, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame a year later, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2016.
(Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.)