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Bruton Smith Adds to his NASCAR Empire

15 December 1998

 "With six you get egg roll!" So said Bob Hope in the movie of the same
title. In motorsports these days it means you own six racing complexes which
is exactly what Bruton Smith and the first family of NASCAR racing, the
France family, may each own on the Winston Cup circuit. Smith, through his
publicly owned Speedway Motorsports, Inc., has added to his vast holdings by
outbidding the France-family led International Speedway Corporation (ISC).
The deal to purchase Las Vegas Motorspeedway was reportedly completed last
week for a figure around $300 million dollars. The deal has not been
confirmed publicly by either the buyer or seller but an announcement is
expected as early as Friday. If the addition of Las Vegas is completed it
would mean that Smith's holding company now owns Texas Motorspeedway,
Charlotte, Bristol, Atlanta and Sears Point which collectively host nine
Winston Cup races. 

  The France family, under the auspices of the International Speedway Corp.
(ISC), have ownership or controlling interest in Daytona, Talladega, Watkins
Glen, Darlington, Phoenix,  and Homestead. It should be noted that their
stake in Homestead (45% ownership) is a joint venture with another
motorsports titan Roger Penske. Collectively ISC also controls nine Winston
Cup dates with a tenth date on the way when the Kansas City facility comes
on line next year. 

  Between the two companies over half of the entire Winston Cupand Busch
schedule is covered. Which leads one to wonder about the persistent
back-room rumors that Bruton Smith will one day start his own stock-car
series. During the summer a highly placed official with Fox Network let it
slip that Smith had been approached about developing a stock racing series
in conjunction with Rupert Murdoch. The idea was to host Thursday and
Saturday night racing at his various tracks with purses that would boggle
the mind. How much of this idea was pure speculation remains to be seen. But
it is a widely known fact that Fox Sports Network would love to televise
NASCAR races in the US.

   The construction of new racing facilities in the United States continues
unabated. How much of an absorption rate is there? How much more money will
the race fan continue to dole out of their hard-earned paycheck to attend
these venues? Finally, how many more dates can possibly be squeezed onto the
current NASCAR schedule without splitting the series into the much-
speculated East and West Conference? The idea of splitting the series has
been around since the late eighties. In a interview with Benny Parsons in
1990 he brought up the prospect that NASCAR was evaluating the conference
possibility. With driver's already grumbling about the 33 points races for
1999 plus three non-points (Bud Pole, Winston and Japan) races that  leaves
16 week-ends left. The two week-ends that are rightfully race-free week-ends
on the NASCAR schedule (Easter and Mother's Day) means that only 14
week-ends are left. Take out 7 week-ends for testing and quickly you are
down to seven. That's asking a lot of a family that already gives up a lot
of time without Dad at home. This applies not just to the driver's but the
crew members as well. It is a test of endurance for a lot of people.

  If the price tag for Las Vegas ($300 million) is true then NASCAR racing
has truly reached the level of the NFL when it comes to perceived value and
exorbitant expenditures. The traditional NFL franchise idea of one owner,
one team does not apply in motorsports. However, Smith will not recoup his
huge investment one just one Winston Cup date. The Winston Cup date draws
attention to the facility on a national basis. From there it is up to the
track managers and marketing people to produce other revenue avenues.
Personal Seat Licenses, Luxury Boxes, Car Testing, Car Clubs National Meets
and other support level business has to be thrown into the equation to make
the numbers work. Smith, who has made a fortune by being bold and knowing
his financial numbers no doubt looks upon Las Vegas as his West Coast gold
mine. The Las Vegas area has become one of the top tourist destinations in
the world. Smith, with his top-kick promotor Humpy Wheeler, must be
salivating at the prospect of luring potential new customers to his newly
acquired racing palace.

So what will be the direction of NASCAR racing in the year 2000 and beyond?
No one except those in tightly guarded circles really knows. But this recent
purchase by Smith is no doubt a little insurance on both sides of the
equation. With six tracks, he could start his own league. From a practical
stand-point one could ask the question "Why rock the boat?" But whoever
accused Bruton Smith of being practical or for that matter predictable? Stay

David Treffer --  The Auto Channel