July 1, 2022
Memories of a Motorsports Mega-Mogul … AND MORE!
Over the past 50+ years he was, arguably, the most powerful individual in NASCAR … not named France. His name was Smith – Bruton Smith. Bruton Smith died last week, of natural causes, at 95.
As with seemingly every prominent sports figure who Charon rows across the River Styx these days … yours truly had a tangential connection. I doubt Lennie Rosenbluth ever “knew” Bruton Smith but I kinda sorta did
During The late 90s into the early 00s I did VIP photography for Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports who owned / operated the NASCAR venues in Charlotte, Atlanta, Texas, Bristol and Las Vegas. They probably added a few more tracks since I moved on.
Anyone with the power and influence and success of Bruton Smith is going to be “controversial” either deservedly so or via jealousy from less powerful competitors. That is a fair assessment.
His purchase and subsequent closing of regional racetracks in North Wilkesboro and Rockingham will always be part of his legacy.
He did so to secure NASCAR race dates for his larger more profitable venues listed above. Regardless … many longtime NASCAR fans will never get over “that”. My dealings with Bruton Smith didn’t get into all that.
In addition to his own business acumen … Bruton Smith’s hiring and trusting “Humpy” Wheeler as his point man may have been his greatest asset. NO ONE knew “stock car racing promotion / marketing” like “Humpy” Wheeler. NO ONE!
ANECDOTE #1: Bruton & BobLee … & Wayne Newton …
It was either the second or third year that Bruton’s Texas track was opened. They just completed the lavish Speedway Club facility … a VIP entertainment venue at the track. Wayne Newton and his orchestra were flown in from Las Vegas for the Grand Opening to replicate his long standing Vegas show for Bruton’s 500 or so special guests. I was on-hand to commemorate the goings-on.
Newton does his 90 minute act ending, as he has for 30+ years, with his signature Danke Schoen. After multiple encores he retires to his dressing room … accompanied by Bruton, his date for the evening … and yours truly.
“Wayne” is in post-show wind down. Bruton not knowing what one says to Wayne Newton in such a circumstance goes with “I was worried you weren’t going to sing Danke Schoen.” ????
Wayne turns to ME with a “WTF” look. I whisper “He owns this place.” Newton nods in understanding and “an incident” is averted.
ANECDOTE #2: Bruton, BobLee … and AJ slugs Arie
Also at Texas a year later … TMS is hosting its first Indy Car race. AJ Foyt’s race team wins. The traditional Victory Circle “Hat Dance” Ceremony is taking place.
Veteran Indy Car driver Arie Luyendik storms into Victory Circle accusing Foyt of some nefariousness. Foyt charges Luyendik and catches him full on the jaw with a right cross. Luyendik goes down … the assembled media mob is stunned.
My finely-tuned instincts for OMG moments kicks in and I snap a series of digital pics of AJ slugging Arie. I race from Victory Circle up to the suite where my staff is processing pics from the event.
“STOP THE PRESSES … I need 2 8x10s of this ASAP … and plaque’em.”
Ten minutes later I am knocking on the door of Bruton’s VVIP Suite. One of Bruton’s security gorillas challenges me.
“Give this to Mr Smith … Right Now!” as I hand him a plaqued 8×10 of AJ’s fist connecting with Arie’s jaw and Arie’s knees buckling. I had caught the exact moment.
No one in Bruton’s suite had a clue what had happened in Victory Circle just minutes before … and here was a plaqued picture of it.
I see the guard interrupt Bruton who is chatting up a group of “swells”. He hands him the plaque and points over to me in the doorway. I shrug and grin.
Bruton comes over with a “WTH is this?” look on his face.
“This just took place in Victory Circle, Mr Smith. Just a few minutes ago.”
I’m not sure if he was mystified by the incident or that he was holding a picture of it. He mumbled a confused “Thank you” and carried the plaque over to his guests bragging what a truly amazing operation he had assembled at Texas MotorSpeedway.
And I became known as “The Abraham Zapruder of Mototsports”.
ANECDOTE #3: Bruton, BobLee … and “my wife Nadia Comaneci”.
I described this one a few months ago … also in Texas. Bruton and Jerry Jones were at the Start/Finish Line pre-race discussing whatever such characters discuss … likely having something to do with women’s pulchritude. I am standing unobstrucively about 10′ away sensing “this has potential for something…”.
Olympic gymnast Bart Connor comes over, interrupts Bruton & Jerry to introduce himself … “I’m Bart Connor the Gymnast and my wife Nadia Comaneci”.
Neither Bruton nor Jerry had a clue … giving that Wayne Newton WTF look I had seen before.
I commandeered the moment … organized the foursome for a quick pic … assured Bart & Nadia I would get them a copy … and led them away. Bruton & Jerry still had no clue and went back to checking out the hotties in the grandstand.
Several years later after covering over 30 NASCAR events I had a “not one more Pringle” moment at the Fall race in Charlotte. I left mid-race and have never “done NASCAR” since. I don’t miss the noise and hubbub at all … but I’ll always have those memories ….
Frank Daniels Jr passes away … and OMG !!!
I spent Thursday floating the Roanoke River south of Lynchburg VA … put 32 smallmouth bass “in the boat” … beautiful river and a very fun day.
Driving home I get a call from Blondie …
“You’ll never believe what has happened … never in a million years….”
Hey it’s America 2022. 250 years of The Great Experiment is teetering over The Abyss … “you’ll never believe” doesn’t have the same impact it once had.
Had granddaughter “Miss Tip Toe” untied The Gordian Knot? Had granddaughter “Princess Strawberry” discovered the square root of Pi? Had grandson “Magoo” learned to tie his shoes? … my mind reeled …
“You’ll NEVER believe this… Frank Daniels Jr died and guess who is quoted in his official obituary …. !!!” …. crazy conservative zealot Mel Lewis.
Frank Daniels Jr of Raleigh’s Infamously dysfunctional News & Observer publishing dynasty was dead at 91. As owner/publisher of The N&O for the last half of the 20th century, “rabid left-wing zealot” Frank Jr’s death was certainly an Above-The-Fold story.
Sure enough … about midway through the lengthy obituary there it was …
When the family sold to McClatchy in 1995, those readers lamented losing such a constant foe.
“I am a rabid conservative zealot who begins each morning reading the rabid liberal zealotry of The N&O,” wrote Mel Lewis, reading of the sale at the time. “It will not be the same without a Daniels to cuss over my coffee. I questioned his politics but never questioned his commitment to our community.”
Without going too deep into the weeds … Mel Lewis and I go waaaaaay back. Very very way back.
I knew how fond he was of the word “zealot” so the quote was surely accurate.
Two thoughts jumped to mind. (1) “AgentPierce” is going to freak out. Last we heard “AP” was backpacking thru the Sierra Madres intent on finding the Lost Dutchman Mine. … and (2) there was no further identification provided for “Mel Lewis”.
Had he reached a level of regional universal recognition along with Jesse Helms, Jim Valvano and Clay Aiken? No additional “Who is this guy” was apparently necessary.
I contacted noted Anglican Theologian Dan Hindman in Richmond. Could this be an End Of Days prophecy fulfillment from Revelation By John? Sure enough …
… and it shall come to pass in The Final Days that Mel Lewis will be quoted in Frank Daniels Jr’s obituary …
With due respect to “rivers of blood” and “raining frogs”, it has always been this Mel Lewis / Frank Daniels Jr connection that has mystified Biblical scholars for centuries … now come to pass.
Uh oh …
Speaking of End of Days … with SoCal and UCLA joining The BigTen, the future of The ACC as we have ever known it is imperiled to say the least. Will it last another week … a month ???
Is adding East Carolina the one slim chance The ACC has to survive ???
Lots more on ALL THIS coming soon …
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