Commentary

Smith not the only one pleased with purchase of New Hampshire track

Bruton Smith was aglow after announcing he had acquired New Hampshire International Speedway. He wasn't the only one, as Las Vegas track president Chris Powell, standing only 30 feet away, reveled in the possibilities, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: November 2, 2007, 8:06 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- When Bruton Smith went on stage Friday to discuss his purchase of New Hampshire International Speedway, an interested VIP was standing about 30 feet to his right.

Chris Powell, the man who runs Las Vegas Motor Speedway, was trying to conceal his obvious joy. This deal means a second Cup date may be coming for Powell.

Smith said he wasn't tap-dancing around the Las Vegas question, so we'll just call it his Carolina shuffle.

The Speedway Motorsports Inc. mogul put on quite a show at Texas Motor Speedway, proudly admitting it took a check of $340 million to NHIS owner Bob Bahre to seal the deal.

And Smith didn't waste any time in making one change, renaming the 1-mile oval New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Hats and a logo sign were on display.

It was pure Bruton, joking with reporters and gloating in the success of his new purchase.

But Smith managed to talk around the big question everyone in the room wanted to know. Will he move one of New Hampshire's two Cup dates to Las Vegas Motor Speedway?

"Right now I have no plans to move anything," Smith said. "We're just a week into this. All the plans aren't in place. I don't plan to make any changes at this time."

Plans change. The key phrases above are "right now" and "at this time."

And why was Powell at TMS?

"Chris loves racing," Smith said. "He likes me and he loves [TMS president] Eddie Gossage."

Right on cue, Gossage put his arm around Powell and smiled. The room was dripping with innuendo.

Powell said he was encouraged by Bruton's comments, even though Bruton said nothing about moving a race to Vegas.

"From what I heard, Bruton left the door open," Powell said. "There's more of an opening now than we've ever had, so I'm trying to be opportunistic.

"That is not to say anything negative about New Hampshire Motor Speedway. But Bruton has made a big investment in our speedway. Now I have to lobby the city fathers and to show Bruton how much Las Vegas loves racing and wants a fall NASCAR event."

Immediately after Smith's news conference, NASCAR moved to calm the storm. Chairman Brian France released a statement saying no Cup dates would move in 2008.

Nothing was said about 2009. Smith was coy with every Las Vegas question. The same was true on speculation he would move New Hampshire's fall race, the first Chase race, to Texas Motor Speedway.

Gossage wants an earlier fall date to get off the weekend that opens deer hunting season.

Smith apparently is not a hunter: "You're talking about people killing innocent animals."

He was smirking, of course. As for New Hampshire, Smith said nothing in the deal with Bahre requires him to keep a Cup race in New Hampshire.

So the path is clear to move a race to Las Vegas, right Bruton?

"Actually, I plan to talk to NASCAR in a couple of weeks and see if I can get us another [Las Vegas] date," he said. "I think we've earned it."

Bruton Smith

Actually, I plan to talk to NASCAR in a couple of weeks and see if I can get us another [Las Vegas] date. I think we've earned it

-- Bruton Smith

Good luck with that. NASCAR officials have no intention of awarding Las Vegas a second Cup race. Smith knows he'll have to do that within the SMI family of seven tracks and 13 Cup dates.

He wouldn't guarantee New Hampshire two dates, but he wanted to assure New England fans that he will do everything he can to improve the facility.

"That's what we do," he said. "We buy things and make them better. We are going to do great things there."

Smith probably will add seats around the 1-mile oval, which now holds 90,000 spectators. He pointed out that 18 million people live within 200 miles of the Loudon, N.H., track.

But it doesn't take a psychic to predict those added seats will be for one event in 2009. The future for NHMS is a better facility with one fewer event.

One has to wonder if the track would face the same fate had one of the other suitors won out in the negotiations.

Smith said four other parties were trying to buy the speedway: George Gillett, the majority owner of Gillett Evernham Motorsports; Jerry Carroll, owner of Kentucky Speedway; John Henry, Boston Red Sox owner and co-owner of Roush Fenway Racing; and a member of the Penske family.

"Bob was offered more," Smith said. "It has taken about two years to do this. I had a lot of competition on it, but I think our friendship helped me get it."

The deal included Smith buying out Bahre's 50 percent interest in North Wilkesboro Speedway. Smith and Bahre bought the old North Carolina short track in 1996.

Bahre took one Cup date to New Hampshire and Smith took the other one to Texas. North Wilkesboro has sat idle ever since, and Smith doesn't want it.

"I asked Bob if he would take it as a Christmas gift," Smith said. "He said, 'Go to hell.'"

Smith said a new facility in the Charlotte area remains on his Christmas wish list. He insists the $340 million he spent for the New Hampshire track doesn't affect his pursuit of a new facility in Charlotte.

Must be nice. Forbes magazine lists Smith's worth at $1.5 billion. Clearly, Smith isn't afraid to spend it.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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