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'He was a pioneer of our sport,' Richard Petty, NASCAR community reacts to Bruton Smith's death

In 1959, Bruton Smith partnered with fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Curtis Turner to create Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Editor's Note: Video features fans celebrating 75th year of North Wilkesboro Speedway. 

Bruton Smith, the founder of the company that owns nearly a dozen NASCAR tracks, died on Wednesday of natural causes. Smith was 95.

Smith promoted NASCAR races in the 1950s after serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

In 1959, Smith partnered with fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Curtis Turner to create Charlotte Motor Speedway. The track opened in 1960 and hosted the World 600, the league's longest race. Today, Charlotte Motor Speedway hosts the Coca-Cola 600 and the Bank of America Roval 400 on the track's road course configuration.

Smith then founded Speedway Motorsports Incorporated (SMI) in 1994 as he expanded his portfolio of tracks he owned.

“Race fans are, and always will be, the lifeblood of NASCAR. Few knew this truth better than Bruton Smith. Bruton built his race tracks employing a simple philosophy: give race fans memories they will cherish for a lifetime. In doing so, Bruton helped grow NASCAR’s popularity as the preeminent spectator sport. His vision and legacy inspired many, and his fan-first mentality remains today through his son Marcus. On behalf of the France family and all of NASCAR, I offer my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Bruton Smith, a giant of our sport,” Jim France, NASCAR Chairman and CEO said.

NASCAR tweeted, "The NASCAR family mourns the loss of Hall of Famer and visionary track operator, Bruton Smith. "

Richard Petty released a statement:

“With heavy hearts, we join the NASCAR community in mourning the passing of Bruton Smith. I remember first meeting Bruton in the 50’s at a dirt race where dad was racing and Bruton was the promoter at the time. Since then, Bruton became so much more than a track owner and promoter. He was a pioneer of our sport and instrumental in building it to what it is today. His vision and passion to make the sport better was seen and felt across many decades and generations of fans. From racetracks to Speedway Children’s Charities, Bruton touched the lives of so many and impacted the lives of everyone he met. Our hearts are with the Smith family during this difficult time.”

Dale Jr. tweeted the following:

"Bruton’s contribution to stock car racing is hard to measure. His ambitious vision created growth and opportunities that I am forever thankful for. My heart is with the Smith family."

Charlotte Motor Speedway tweeted:

"Legendary Businessman, Philanthropist and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bruton Smith Passes Away."

    

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