Bruton Smith, a pioneer-turned-titan in both auto retailing and motorsports, leveraged small roles selling cars and promoting dirt-track races as a youth to create two moneymaking business giants.
Smith, founder of Sonic Automotive Inc., NASCAR Hall of Famer, racetrack owner and philanthropist, died Wednesday, June 22, at 95.
Smith launched Sonic, of Charlotte, N.C., as a public company in November 1997 with 20 dealerships. It is the seventh-largest U.S. auto retailer today, with 111 dealerships after completing the mega acquisition of RFJ Auto Partners Holdings Inc. in 2021. Sonic also owns and operates the EchoPark standalone brand of used-vehicle-only stores.
Smith, a giant in racing circles who helped turn stock car racing into a multibillion-dollar business, also started Speedway Motorsports Inc., the first motorsports company to go public in 1995. (It went private in 2019.) In 1992, he became the first track owner to erect and shine lights on the course for night races.