In 1959 Curtis Turner and O. Bruton Smith set out to seperately construct a large speedway in the Charlotte area. After a lengthy battle, the two agreed to join together to build what is today Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
Turner was forced out of the company in 1961 and Smith in 1962. For the next 9 years Turner worked to regain interest in the track. His death in a 1970 plane crash ended his fight for the speedway. However, by 1975 Smith regained control of the track he and Turner built.
From that, Smith created an empire that includes eight tracks and multiple other entities. He not only controls Speedway Motorsports Inc., but operates the Sonic Automotive Group, one of the largest auto dealer conglomerates in the country.
So what am I getting at with this?
Lowe’s Motor Speedway, the facility that is supposed to be the crown jewel of SMI, has been bypassed for renovations in lieu of buying other facilities, or building other facilities, or improving other facilities for years. In other words, it has taken a back seat to the interests of other tracks. Now I recognize Lowe’s is far from the most outdated track on the schedule (have you ever been to Pocono?), but when will its time come?
Let’s take Las Vegas Motor Speedway as an example. The track built in 1996 was open just ten years before SMI reconfigured it with progressive banking and added the ‘Neon Garage’ to the infield. As TC has talked about in previous posts, the Neon Garage, and the similar fan walk at Daytona allow fans an up close and personal look at the goings on of the garage area on a race weekend. Other things included, Las Vegas is outwardly a nicer facility, with one fewer Cup date.
Along that same line is the zMax Dragway which Smith built following a protracted battle with the City of Concord late last year. The facility, which he likes to call the ‘Bellagio of drag strips,” was built in a little less than eight months (ground breaking to opening day; considerably shorter if you just figure construction time). Estimated costs for the project totaled about $60 million.
The fact of the matter is, Smith and SMI have neglected their gem. Last year the company added new seats to the track. Do you know where they got those seats? The recently imploded Charlotte Coliseum. The seats were probably 10 years old. Of course they have made improvements to the track surface through the years, but that is not something fans can directly experience. Why not improve the infield? Make access to the garage easier and provide the amenities available at Las Vegas. The concourse areas could certainly use improvement and the bathrooms are not the nicest I have seen.
I know part of the deal with the City of Concord, that kept the speedway there, involved Smith making improvements to the track. However with the economy in the shape it is in, and given his present frustration with the city over the 40 year timeline for payout, I would imagine it will be some time before any changes come to the track.
I love the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Despite the occasional bad race, it is one of my favorite tracks. I love the history, and I love that it is close to home. It has one of the most storied pasts of any track in NASCAR today and along with Daytona, Talladega, and Bristol, Charlotte is perhaps one of the most recognizable facilities on the circuit. SMI has an obligation to make their crown jewel shine once again. In short, they need to give Lowe’s the respect it deserves.