Bruton Smith Buys Kentucky Speedway – Is Dover In His Deck?

Adam AmickSenior Writer IMay 27, 2008

After spending the entire day last Sunday parked in front of the TV with three of the biggest events of the racing year, it’s time to settle down for a more docile weekend as we move into the month of June.

NASCAR’s Craftsman Truck and Sprint Cup Series will be on track at Dover, Delaware—affectionately known as the “Monster Mile”. 

The most interesting news about the track is that it will probably change ownership to part of Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Incorporated (SMI) family of tracks in the very near future. This after Smith announced the purchase of Kentucky Speedway from its ownership group last week.

Jerry Carroll was the head of this group and will stay on with SMI. Kentucky Speedway (soon to be Kentucky Motor Speedway) hosts the NASCAR Craftsman Truck and Nationwide Series, as well as Indycar and ARCA races, but has been denied a Sprint Cup event to date. A lawsuit was filed against NASCAR regarding this, and still remains in the courts. Its disposition does not involve the purchase of the track. 

Smith already has plans in the works to significantly expand the seating capacity of Kentucky – a track located in Sparta, roughly 40 miles from the cities of Cincinnati, Louisville, and Lexington. 

What does all this have to do with Dover? 

There are three tracks on the Sprint Cup calendar that are not owned by Smith’s SMI or International Speedway Corporation (ISC). ISC is owned by the France family—founders and owners of NASCAR. ISC’s portfolio includes such famed tracks as Daytona, Talladega, and Watkins Glen; and newer facilities such as Chicago and Kansas.

The independently-owned tracks include Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which has one Cup date and is not for sale, and Pocono Raceway, hosting two Cup dates and is “Not for sale, not now, not ever”, according to its current owners. 

There are many who question the continued NASCAR presence at Pocono, however. The track has a unique design and long history, but its rural location and lack of modern amenities, plus a sagging fan base for two races only six weeks apart on the calendar would seem to jeopardize its standing. 

That leaves Dover International Speedway, owned by Dover Motorsports—a publicly traded company similar to SMI and ISC. This company also owns Nashville Superspeedway, Gateway International Raceway (St. Louis), and Memphis Motorsports Park—three tracks with Nationwide, Truck, and/or Indycar races.

Dover, a high-banked concrete-surface one mile oval, hosts two Cup events annually, but has had attendance problems. Dover serves the Philadelphia and New Jersey markets, and could be sustained by a single race – resulting in a higher ticket demand. 

There’s more to the story than Dover, though. SMI purchased New Hampshire International Speedway (NHIS) from owner Bob Bahre in November, 2007, and that track hosts two Cup dates, including the lead-off event of the “Chase for the Sprint Cup”.  

History tells us that Smith can and probably will move one of the dates to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, also in the SMI family, to give the track two Cup races a year—one of those in the Chase. Recall that Smith and Bahre co-purchased the aging North Wilkesboro Motor Speedway and moved both its Cup dates; Smith to Texas Motor Speedway, and Bahre to NHIS. Smith later acquired Rockingham Speedway, and relocated one of its races to Texas. 

The possibility of swapping the second date from Texas (eighth of the 10 Chase races, and lacking the Spring TMS race gate numbers due to being on the same weekend as the opening of deer season) for New Hampshire’s date is realistic, and that later date would move to Vegas. 

Musical tracks making you dizzy? Let’s add more to the song and dance routine. 

Bruton Smith has expressed a desire to move the NASCAR Awards Banquet out of New York City and west to Sin City. The next logical step would be to have Vegas host the season finale, rather than Homestead/Miami, Florida (ISC Owned), and thus be followed by the banquet. These are events that have yet to play out, but may within the next several weeks, if Smith is going to affect the 2009 NASCAR schedule. 

So Smith has a date he can move “in hand”, so to speak. Whether that is to Vegas or Kentucky remains to be seen, but the purchase of Dover would expand his options, and a shrewd businessman like Smith likes to keep those options open. 

Watch for Bruton to pull the handle, and Dover to soon become “Dover Motor Speedway”, as the naming convention reads for SMI tracks (sans Infineon). Smith isn’t not going to get a second date at Vegas, a track he touts as the crown jewel of NASCAR.

With the investment in infrastructure and fan accommodations, including the “Neon Garage”, and the popularity of Vegas as a destination for celebrities and faithful racing fans alike, the cards are in Smith’s hand. 

And when it comes to betting, Bruton Smith is all aces.