CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The billionaire owner of Charlotte Motor Speedway is now downplaying his own threat to move the October NASCAR Sprint Cup race, the Bank of America 500, from Charlotte to Las Vegas.
After a flurry of criticism, Bruton Smith issued a written statement calling reports that the move was a done deal “false.”
“No final decision has been made regarding any race date move, and I have not discussed this with NASCAR,” Smith said in the prepared statement.
The road to the race track is named after him: Bruton Smith Boulevard. But Smith has previously threatened to move the entire track – and promised to invest tens of millions of dollars of his own money on a monorail connecting downtown Charlotte to the race track.
Why would he move the race? “It’s all about the money,” says race fan Everett Brooks of Disputanta, Virginia. “That’s what it’s all about buddy – money.”
Smith could conceivably get tax breaks or draw more fans to the seats in Las Vegas in October, but former Speedway President Humpy Wheeler says the trade-off could cost NASCAR in dollars and fans in the long run.
“The anchor to this sport is the southern race fan,” said Wheeler. “We’ve taken the south out of racing and the more we do the worse it’s gonna get.”
NASCAR has ripped up its southern roots before – dropping races in North Wilkesboro,
Rockingham and Darlington. “We have lost a lot of fans in the south,” said Wheeler.
Bruton Smith timed comments giving a 70% probability to moving the race to coincide with “Speed Week,” which bridges two major races at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
His written statement released Tuesday afternoon refers to $100 million in “investments” at the Charlotte Motor Speedway while openly comparing it to other local sports franchises that have leaned heavily on taxpayer support.
“We’ve done this without asking for a handout from the government, like we’ve seen from so many other sports facilities, teams or franchises,” the statement says.
“I think this is a masterful negotiating ploy to figure out – hey – ‘what can I get?’” said Erik Spanberg, Senior Staff Writer at the Charlotte Business Journal, who has closely followed the business of Charlotte professional sports.
And while Smith owns the tracks – in Charlotte and Las Vegas – he does not own the sport. So any move is subject to the approval of NASCAR itself. And Smith’s statement says he has yet to discuss it with the governing body.