05/21 2013

Bruton Smith: 70% chance I’ll move race out of Charlotte

Bruton Smith: 70% chance I’ll move race out of Charlotte

By Chris Dyches

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -NASCAR mogul Bruton Smith says there is a strong possibility that he will move the Bank of America 500 out of Charlotte.

The Bank of America 500 is one of two annual races held at Smith’s Charlotte Motor Speedway, along with May’s Coca-Cola 600. The BoA 500 is held in October.

“I know you’re not gonna cut this one out, but I’ve been having some strong conversations about one of these events being moved,” Smith told WBTV’s Paul Cameron in an exclusive interview. “And Las Vegas is a great place – it’s the entertainment capital of the world – and they want another event.”

In addition to owning the Charlotte Motor Speedway, the North Carolina native owns eight NASCAR tracks, including the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which host eleven NASCAR Sprint Cup events.

The only Sprint Cup race that is currently held on the LVMS is the Kobalt Tools 400, which is held in early March.

Smith says he’s flown out to Vegas several times to talk about moving a Sprint Cup race to his track there.

“They’ve made me offers to move one,” Smith said.

“But you can’t just move the race though, doesn’t NASCAR have to move it?” Cameron asked.

“I know they would approve this,” Smith responded. “And say the October race… Las Vegas.  You’re gonna get a lot of phone calls about this – I’m gonna predict that.”

Smith says the idea of moving to Vegas is not just a fishing expedition.

“I’ve made two trips out to Vegas and it costs money to go out there. I know all the powers out there,” he told WBTV. “I have a lot of friends in Las Vegas – I have businesses out there, I have six businesses in Las Vegas.”

The Charlotte Motor Speedway is based in Concord, North Carolina. Smith has been involved in legal fights with Cabarrus County for years over money he is owed.

In fact, in 2009 Smith filed a lawsuit against the city and county seeking millions of dollars worth of infrastructure improvements near the Concord track. Smith claimed officials breached a contract by not following through on the infrastructure improvements. The improvements were part of the agreement reached to keep CMS in Concord after a bitter dispute flared up over the construction of the zMax Dragway.

“Some of your dear friends over at Cabarrus County are gonna say ‘Is he? Is he? Is he?’ Well… he may,” Smith said. “Someone once said ‘follow the money.’ Well, if we do this, we will be following the money because, here again, there’s a lot of money in Las Vegas. And if it gets to be strong enough, I imagine we might do something like that.”

Smith says he initially kept the track there after a $80 million deal was presented to him, $60 million from Cabarrus County and another $20 million from the state.  He says the county still hasn’t come through with their end of the deal.

“I certainly hope that he will reconsider and let the races continue here in Cabarrus County,” said Concord City Councilwoman Ella Mae Small.

“It’s not a threat, per se,” Smith told WBTV. “I think some people know about this, because they say sometimes there’s no secrets.”

When asked if he thought he could make more money at a race in Las Vegas versus having a race in Charlotte, Smith’s answer was simple.

“Yes, yes, yes. Oh yes,” he said. “Plus, we’re discussing a ten-year contract for a lot of money every year.”

According to Smith, money plays a huge factor in his possible move. He says a lot of the hotel/casinos in Vegas would love to have the race there, because race fans would fill up the hotels.

“You’ve got 150,000 rooms out there, more than any city in the world,” he said. “And they want to fill up those hotels, and we do fill’em up.  That’s good.”

Smith played a major role in getting NASCAR to move the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards from New York to Las Vegas five years ago.

When it comes to a timeline on the potential move, Smith says this isn’t a spur of the moment idea.

“Oh, now there you’re pinning me down. I don’t know how soon, that’s just, it’s something that’s been in the stages now for at least a year.”

So what’s it going to take to move the race from Charlotte to Vegas?

“When the game is over, it’ll be money, money, money. Money will move it,” Smith said. “I’d say [the chances] are about 70/30.”

When asked about the tradition of the fall race and the economic impact it has on Charlotte, Smith says the idea isn’t about hurting Charlotte.

“We don’t like to hurt Charlotte in any way, shape or form. We might have something smaller in its place, even though we move the Cup out there, there might be something else here.”