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Motorsports: Bruton Smith, founder of Sonoma Raceway owner Speedway Motorsports, dies at 95

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NASCAR Obit Smith Auto Racing

New Hampshire Motor Speedway Chairman of the Board Bruton Smith speaks during a news conference at the track on July 15, 2011, in Loudon, N.H.

Bruton Smith, founder and executive chairman of Speedway Motorsports which owns Sonoma Raceway, died Wednesday. He was 95.

Smith had careers in motorsports, philanthropy and automotive retail. In addition to his position with Speedway Motorsports, he was founder and executive chairman of Sonic Automotive and Speedway Children’s Charities.

Smith built his first racetrack, Charlotte Motor Speedway, in 1959 and founded Speedway Motorsports in 1994, which currently operates 11 motorsports facilities across the country.

“I love the racing business. I want to contribute more and more,” Smith said in 2015. “You hear us preach about ‘fan friendly.’ I think that is a drive for me to just do more things. I enjoy the contributions I’ve been able to make to the sport.”

Smith was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2016.

Under Smith’s leadership, Speedway Children’s Charities, which has a chapter at each of his racetracks, has distributed more than $61 million to local organizations across the country that improve the quality of life for children in need.

As the news of Smith’s passing spread throughout the motorsports world late Wednesday, Jill Gregory, Executive Vice-President and General Manager of Sonoma Raceway, talked about Smith's legacy.

“While today is a sad day in the world of motorsports, it’s also a day to reflect on the incredible influence Bruton Smith had on the world of sports and entertainment," she said. "His focus on innovation set the gold standard for turning speedways into majestic sports facilities.

"His vision here in Sonoma was key in developing Sonoma Raceway into one of the most legendary and visited motorsports facilities in the world, and we continue to work hard every day to continue the legacy that he has established.”

NASCAR legend Richard Petty recalls meeting Smith in the 1950’s when his dad raced at a dirt track that Smith promoted. “He was a pioneer of our sport and instrumental in building it to what it is today. His vision and passion to make the sport better was seen and felt across many decades and generations of fans. From racetracks to Speedway Children’s Charities, Bruton touched the lives of so many and impacted the lives of everyone he met. Our hearts are with the Smith family during this difficult time.”

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