Humpy Wheeler: Bruton Smith ‘was the Ritz Carlton and I was Holiday Inn’

Gregg Ellman/MCT
·1 min read

Readers: Bruton Smith, the visionary and combative executive who helped shape NASCAR into the sport it is today, died on June 22, 2022. Smith was the billionaire founder and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc.. and founder of Sonic Automotive Group. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2016. Former Speedway Motorsports president, H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, wrote this piece to honor his former boss and friend.

The city of Charlotte and I lost a good friend when Bruton Smith passed at age 95.

Many enjoyed his swashbuckling take on all comers’ ways. Many liked his farm boy to billionaire story devoid of a Duke, Carolina or Davidson. He was a man who would rather be watching stock cars roar around the Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, S.C. — known as “The Place Your Momma Warned You About” — than playing golf at Pinehurst.

In the 60 years I have known Bruton, I found no man smarter, although I never knew Einstein. Nor a man who worked longer hours and insisted his vacations were taken in plush hotel rooms with White House-type phone systems.

His negotiation powers were like Rocky Marciano’s fights. He would wear his opponent down for 12 rounds and then go for the knock-out in the last three.

While working with him for 35 years, we argued all the time. He was the Ritz Carlton and I was Holiday Inn, but the combination worked and he knew he needed a mixture of thinking around him. He liked to debate serious company issues if you stood your ground.

There were few like him. So I say to those smart folk out who might doubt themselves: So you missed the Ivy League, got the copper instead of the silver spoon, lost your business early, and even went bankrupt, remind yourself of Bruton.

H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler is the former president of Speedway Motorsports, Inc.