News & Media


Smith excited about '11, but has ideas of his own

February 02, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

Track owner thinks focus on points is wrong idea; it needs to be on prize money

When it comes to the issues facing NASCAR, Bruton Smith has more than a few opinions. That's nothing new for the chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. He's been an ally and antagonist of the France family almost from the start.

And he rarely, if ever, is far from the spotlight. Smith was on hand at Charlotte Motor Speedway during last week's media tour and while officials showed off the construction site where the track's new high-definition video board will be located, Smith sat watching from inside his car.

"Let's take half of the point fund money, take 75 percent of that, I don't care, but put it on the purse so there's a big difference between first and second place. As a race fan, I'm going to get very interested if there's a $400,000 difference between first and second. "

--BRUTON SMITH

When the announcement was over, the 83-year-old Smith climbed from his car and proceeded to pontificate on a number of topics, including the economy, race purses and pole qualifying.

"Number one, the recession's over," Smith said. "I said that about eight months ago, and you looked at me kind of strange when I said that. Unemployment is not, but it takes a while for that. Yeah, 2011 is going to be great. In fact, we can tell that on ticket sales. It's getting better and better and better."

When it comes to reviving a sport that has seen significant declines in overall attendance and television ratings, Smith isn't shy about voicing his displeasure with the way drivers are paid to perform. It's a topic he's harped on in the past, but with NASCAR changing the point system in an effort to reward wins, Smith said they're going about it the wrong way.

He's of the opinion that paying more money to the winner is the best solution.

"Let's look at these purses," Smith said. "Let's take half of the point fund money, take 75 percent of that, I don't care, but put it on the purse so there's a big difference between first and second place. As a race fan, I'm going to get very interested if there's a $400,000 difference between first and second. You know there's going to be a fight to the finish on that one. These race fans deserve that.

"All of a sudden, the points take second fiddle to that, then. That's what I'd like to see. Then I don't have to care about the points."

Fans attending a race care more about who wins that day than who is leading the points, according to Smith. And he said the sport has lost its perspective on what's most important to the people buying tickets.

"Think about race fans for a moment," Smith said. "Those race fans, they don't care [about the standings]. That's unimportant. Look at golf for a second, there's a tremendous difference between the payouts for first and second. You don't ever pay attention to who finishes second. And that's how it's got to be in this sport."

Smith used his track's Sprint All-Star Challenge as an example. It's a non-points paying race, and yet drivers take incredible and improbable chances at the end of that race because there's $1 million on the line for the winner.

"I've been in this racing business since I was knee-high to a duck," Smith said. "I've always liked a fight to the finish. It's like the All-Star race. Look at that. A million dollars to win, $200,000 for second. Now there, you know you've got a battle. That's the reason why the All-Star race is so big."

Several tracks have indicated plans to move Cup qualifying to Saturdays in an effort to tighten the schedule and generate more ticket sales on weekends. But Smith is perfectly happy with keeping qualifying on a separate day.

"We have sponsors for pole day, that's important for us," Smith said. "These speedways, they eat a lot of money. Every day, we get up and they eat. So you work real hard to make money in this business, and pole day is another place where we work real hard to show a profit. So let's try it at Daytona first -- qualify on Saturday -- and see."

Smith was alluding to Daytona's traditional Thursday twin qualifying races. Interestingly enough, Smith instituted qualifying races before the inaugural World 600 in 1960. Tracks that have announced intentions to switch to Saturday qualifying this season include Phoenix, Martinsville, Talladega, Dover, Pocono, Auto Club, Indianapolis, Watkins Glen, Atlanta, Chicagoland and Homestead-Miami.