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'Mr. France and Mr. Smith Play Chess..... At Your Expense'
Summer 1997

The France Family founded NASCAR back in the late 1940's. William France Sr. saw the sport through its modest dirt track beginnings and onto the superspeedway of Daytona International Speedway. When he retired, his son took over control of NASCAR Inc. Bill Jr. saw the sport through the 60's, 70's, 80's, and continues to manage the thriving organization today. The France Family was always able to run the sport the way they saw fit; usually with an iron hand and a "buck stops here" attitude.

As the sport grew in the late 1980's, Bruton Smith, a businessman who had a long history of involvement in motorsports, began to have an influence on the sport. Figuring he couldn't compete directly with the France family, Smith bought his way into NASCAR. He bought the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina, Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, Atlanta Motor Speedway outside of Atlanta, Georgia, and had plans to construct a state of the art track in Ft. Worth, Texas.

As Bruton was buying these tracks, Bill France sat idle in Daytona Beach. He watched the situation but when asked about Bruton's power in the sport, would only comment that 'he is a positive influence in the growth of NASCAR Racing in the United States." When NASCAR's popularity exploded in the early 1990's, Smith bought half of the famed North Wilkesboro short track in the North Carolina hills with Bob Bahre, the owner of the new New Hampshire Speedway. During the 1996 season, Smith and Bahre announced that North Wilkesboro would not bid for a Winston Cup race in 1997. The two races that were held at the track each year would be split between New Hampshire and Smith's new jewel, the Texas Motor Speedway.

For the sponsors, Smith has been a godsend. He built a corporate racing utopia in Texas to attract the Dallas market. In the first race at the track, 20 cars crashed on the first lap. An omen perhaps? Smith also announced plans to re-shape Atlanta Motor Speedway to make the front straightaway into a D-shaped design like Charlotte and Texas. The D-shaped design of a race track is done for one purpose and one purpose only; to make more money. It is NOT for better racing on the track or more excitement heading to the finish line. By increasing the area of the start-finish line area, the track can charge premium prices for a greater amount of seats.

Smith recently purchased the Sears Point road course in Napa Valley in California and Pheonix Raceway in Arizona. He has hinted that he wants 'The Winston' all-star race moved to his track in Texas from Charlotte in order to showcase his new jewel.

What does this mean for the average NASCAR fan? For one thing, the tracks will be state of the art. However, someone has to 'pay the band' and inevitably it will be the average ticket buying fan in the form of higher ticket prices. Many have forecasted a split that would result in two seperate stock car series; NASCAR and Bruton's series at his tracks. The main point that this all boils down to is this... can NASCAR avert a split and whose series will the top stars of racing go to? It's a question that has to be answered sooner rather than later.


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