Bruton Smith: 'I feel like a victim'
Just a few months ago, Bruton Smith was optimistic Kentucky Speedway would have Sprint Cup racing in 2010. Today, the chairman of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI), which bought the track in December, says he feels victimized as NASCAR finalizes the 2010 schedule for its top series with no Kentucky date in sight.
“I feel like a victim here, and I wasn’t even trying to be one” Smith told the Enquirer this week. “I bought this track with the full intention of having a Cup race in 2010, and I did not think it would be this difficult; I surely did not.”
Cup races feature NASCAR’s best drivers and are coveted by tracks. Kentucky has spent millions on infrastructure around the Speedway to help draw a Cup race, and tax incentives are pending that would help fund expansion should a Cup race come to Sparta.
But Smith is stuck in the middle of a four-year fight between NASCAR and the former Speedway owners from whom he purchased the track for $78.3 million.
The former owners filed an anti-trust lawsuit against NASCAR in 2005 after failing to secure a Cup date for several years. The case was dismissed from U.S. District Court in 2008 but remains on appeal in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
NASCAR says there will be no race in Kentucky until the lawsuit is dropped.
In January, Smith suggested he’d be able to work around the lawsuit and move a Cup race to Kentucky from one of SMI’s seven other tracks. But last week his tone changed. He told the Associated Press that the former owners had a “moral obligation” to drop this lawsuit, and suggested the group was no longer united.
The comments have thus far backfired and apparently served to strengthen the former owners’ resolve.
“Look, I’m definitely torn about this,” said Jerry Carroll, a former Speedway owner who consults for SMI, in an interview this week. “No one wants a Cup race in Kentucky more than the original five owners. That’s why we put so much damn money and sweat into that place for 10 years. But to give in to NASCAR for the one thousandth time and drop the lawsuit? Not going to happen.”
Carroll sympathizes with Smith’s frustration, but said he resents Smith’s comments.
“The way this is being portrayed is like we’re the villains, and that’s just wrong,” Carroll said. “We’re a third party. NASCAR is doing this to Bruton Smith. NASCAR is the bully not letting this happen. And I think right now Bruton is a frustrated individual because no one anticipated that NASCAR would say ‘No’ to him.”
Last year, NASCAR did not announce its Cup schedule until August, but was well under way in its Cup sanctioning process by mid-May. The earliest the former owners’ appeal could get on the docket at the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati is the period for oral arguments beginning June 8. But even then, a decision could be months away.
“I don’t have much time left right now,” Smith said, “if this is going to happen for 2010. But I can’t settle their lawsuit for them, and I can’t bring a Cup race there until they do settle it.”
Another former owner, Richard Duchossois, questions that. Duchossois is chairman of Duchossois Industries and a major shareholder of Churchill Downs.
“Bruton Smith is the only man in the country right now with the power to move a Cup race from one of his tracks to Kentucky Speedway,” Duchossois said. “NASCAR can’t have such a monopolistic approach that they can’t let one of their people move their Cup races.”
Smith said he tried that approach but NASCAR rebuffed him because SMI is named as a co-conspirator in the lawsuit.
“NASCAR’s lawyers weren’t happy at all that SMI was a co-conspirator,” Smith said. “So I couldn’t get anywhere going that route.”
NASCAR spokesperson Ramsey Poston told the Enquirer earlier this month that Smith’s request to move a Cup date to Kentucky Speedway would not be considered until the appeal is resolved.
“Furthermore, the window for realignment requests is rapidly closing,” Poston said. More at Cincinnati.com