Bruton Smith proud of "spectacular" new dragstrip

  • By Mike Cranston Associated Press
  • Wednesday, September 10, 2008 12:13pm
  • SportsSports

CONCORD, N.C. — For more than a decade, Bruton Smith resisted requests to build a dragstrip in the heart of NASCAR country. When the motorsports mogul finally said yes last year, nothing was going to stop him from making it the biggest and best in the country.

Not pesky permits and regulations, and certainly not time or money.

Overcoming disputes with neighbors and local officials, the $60 million zMax Dragway opens this week — less than seven months after ground was broken — to host the first event in the NHRA’s season-ending playoffs.

For a sport that sits in the shadows of more popular stock-car and open-wheel racing, drag racers may finally have their crown jewel.

“We built a spectacular dragstrip, the finest one anybody has ever built,” the 81-year-old Smith said this month. “And I don’t think anybody will build one any better than this in the next 20 years.”

Just down the street from Lowe’s Motor Speedway, it’s the only all-concrete, four-lane dragstrip in the country. The 30,000-seat facility has a half-mile asphalt runoff, followed by a 200-foot gravel pit and two safety nets. Large grandstands, one named for Funny Car wins leader John Force, sit on both sides with room to double seating the capacity. Two tunnels under the strip connect the stands to the pits. An elaborate 34,000-square-foot starting-line tower includes 16 luxury suites and roof seating.

And a sellout crowd is expected this weekend at the Carolinas Nationals to watch defending Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher go upward of 330 mph on the new, ultra-smooth surface.

“The retaining walls, the safety for the fans being moved back, the height of the fans, even being able to go in the back of (the stands) when it’s hot out, everything was designed for a day when any conditions are acceptable,” Schumacher said. “Bruton Smith made it beautiful, made it big and made it grand.”

But not without controversy. Smith, whose company, Speedway Motorsports, owns numerous tracks and dragstrips, ordered workers to start grading the land 20 miles north of Charlotte last fall, before seeking permits from the suburban city of Concord.

When area residents heard of the plan, they complained about the potential for noise. City and county officials balked, and an enraged Smith threatened not only to build the dragstrip elsewhere, but move Lowe’s Motor Speedway, too.

Local officials eventually caved. Not only did they let Smith build the dragstrip, they agreed to give him $80 million in incentives — and rename the street leading to the track and dragstrip “Bruton Smith Boulevard.”

But the feud isn’t over. Smith and local officials were haggling this week over when Smith will get his incentive money.

“We’re not happy until they sign the contract with everything we’ve agreed to,” Smith said.

The billionaire is happy about his new toy after being heavily involved in the design. Following the deaths of NHRA drivers Eric Medlen and Scott Kalitta in crashes in the past 17 months, Smith wanted a large runoff area. He was also determined to make the dragstrip’s quarter-mile racing surface all concrete instead of the traditional style of having cars start on concrete and shift to asphalt.

“These cars are so powerful, sometimes they lose it or almost lose it as a result of that,” Smith said. “Here they’ll have one surface and one surface only.”

Smith also wanted four lanes as opposed to the traditional two. In theory, there could be specific track preparation for Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock or Pro Stock Motorcycle. Also, if oil is spilled in one lane, they could shift the competition to other lanes. Cleanup delays are the main reason drag racing is televised on tape-delay instead of live.

This weekend, however, the NHRA will only use two lanes. There were concerns about crew chiefs having enough time to prepare for a lane shift and how to adjust the timing systems.

“We built for the future,” Smith said. “I’m glad we did. We will be using the four lanes.”

It’s perhaps fitting the brash Smith’s first event at the dragstrip features the cocky Schumacher trying to break Joe Amato’s record of 52 Top Fuel victories. Schumacher will also attempt to extend his record of six straight wins and 11 in a season.

“I understand why everyone doesn’t like me,” the five-time series champion said.

So does Smith, and it doesn’t concern him much. NHRA was intent to race in NASCAR’s home base, and no obstacle was going to prevent Smith from building what he calls “the Bellagio of dragstrips” in a reference to the tony Las Vegas hotel-casino.

“Based on my tour of the facility, I think he succeeded,” NHRA president Tom Compton said. “It has every amenity, every touch. It’s fantastic.”

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Sports

Shorewood and Cascade players all jump for a set piece during a boys soccer match on Monday, April 22, 2024, at Shoreline Stadium in Shoreline, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Shorewood shuts out Cascade 4-0 in boys soccer

Nikola Genadiev’s deliveries help tally another league win for the Stormrays.

X
Vote for The Herald’s Prep Athlete of the Week for April 15-21

The Athlete of the Week nominees for April 15-21. Voting closes at… Continue reading

X
Prep roundup for Monday, April 22

Prep roundup for Monday, April 22: (Note for coaches/scorekeepers: To report results… Continue reading

Mountlake Terrace’s Brynlee Dubiel reacts to her time after crossing the finish line in the girls 300-meter hurdles during the Eason Invitational at Snohomish High School on Saturday, April 20, 2024 in Snohomish, Washington. Dubiel placed fourth with a time of 46.85 seconds. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Big turnout for 34th annual Eason Invitational

Everett’s Ndayiraglje, Kings’s Beard and Glacier Peak’s sprinters were among the local standouts.

X
Silvertips swept out of playoffs by Portland

Everett’s season comes to an end with a 5-0 loss in Game 4; big changes are ahead in the offseason.

Seattle Kraken coach Dave Hakstol’s status remains in question after the team missed the playoffs. (Fred Greenslade/The Canadian Press via AP)
Kraken GM leaves open possibility of changes

Ron Francis was mum about coach Dave Hakstol’s status after Seattle missed the playoffs.

Everett freshman Anna Luscher hits a two-run single in the first inning of the Seagulls’ 13-7 victory over the Cascade Bruins on Friday at Lincoln Field. (Aaron Coe / The Herald)
Everett breaks out the bats to beat crosstown rival Cascade

The Seagulls pound out 17 hits in a 13-7 softball victory over the Bruins.

X
Prep roundup for Saturday, April 20

Prep roundup for Saturday, April 20: (Note for coaches/scorekeepers: To report results… Continue reading

X
Prep roundup for Friday, April 19

Prep roundup for Friday, April 19: (Note for coaches/scorekeepers: To report results… Continue reading

FILE - Seattle Seahawks NFL football offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb speaks to reporters during an introductory press conference, on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Renton. Seattle has seven picks entering this year’s draft, beginning with No. 16 overall in the first round. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear, File)
A new era arrives for Seahawks entering 2024 NFL draft

Even with John Schneider still in charge, the dynamic changes with Pete Carroll gone.

The Seattle Storm's new performance center is seen in Seattle on Thursday, April 18, 2024. (Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times via AP)
Storm become 2nd WNBA team to open own practice facility

Seattle debuted its new facility in the Interbay neighborhood Thursday.

Shorewood’s Netan Ghebreamlak prepares to take a shot as Edmonds-Woodway’s Kincaid Sund defends in the Warriors’ 2-1 victory Wednesday night at Shoreline Stadium. (Aaron Coe / The Herald)
E-W weathers Shorewood’s storm in battle of soccer unbeatens

Alex Plumis’ 72nd-minute goal completed the comeback as the Warriors topped the Stormrays.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.