Marcus Smith is an independent voice in NASCAR’s tow-the-corporate-line world. Smith is CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI) [fig.1], which is home to many of the biggest events in stock car racing, with Charlotte Motor Speedway serving as the central command post among SMI’s other 10 circuits. He is also the son of SMI founder (and NASCAR’s longtime controversial partner), Bruton Smith, who died in June at the age of 95.
This story originally appeared in Volume 13 of Road & Track.
Road & Rail: There’s a street race coming to Chicago. A season opener at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with an Ice Cube performance between the heats. A Next Gen car built in collaboration with an Italian company that makes Indy cars. My Arkansas-bred father would be in serious trouble. Does this new energy with new fans risk disappointing the loyal fans?
Marc Smith: There is certainly heightened excitement around NASCAR. When you look at today’s motorsports and the landscape of NASCAR and F1, I see really interesting parallel paths they’ve walked. Both decided they had to figure out how to get the cost out of the cars to save the teams from themselves. Both launched new race cars this year. And both of them try to do different things, race in different places. The fans are fully engaged. The drivers are challenged to give their very best with the new Cup cars. And for our company, where we host these events and host the fans and sponsors and our TV partners, it’s a great time to be in NASCAR.
R&T: Is a NASCAR race – or a big race – without musical acts and food trucks a recipe for failure? Is that the new norm?
MRS: This year we had Blake Shelton at the NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway and brought in the Steve Miller Band and Flo Rida for the Coca-Cola 600. We have other music acts and Ferris wheels and big barbecues and beer festivals. A car race can be more than just a race; they’re great festivals of fun and food and friends and speed and music, if that’s what you make of it. When we got out of COVID, where all that ended, the fans told us loud and clear that they want that festival feeling back. More of our budget is going to music and food and anything that makes a race weekend a festival, and the fans are reacting very positively.
R&T: Are NASCAR fans who have learned the sport of ovals adapting well to the proliferation of road racing?
MRS: In the mid-1980s, IndyCar was the largest form of motorsport in America. NASCAR was something that people really only knew in the Southeast, and it was a very different sports environment. We had a lot of short ovals. We had big ovals at Talladega and Daytona and Charlotte. We bought Atlanta Motor Speedway and rebuilt it, built Texas Motor Speedway and then other oval tracks followed. Right now we have the coolest balance of variety in tracks we’ve ever had. You know, in the 1990s, early 2000s, NASCAR fans weren’t keen on road racing, but now they love it. We have a balance of really engaging, challenging and competitive tracks, and they work. For me as a fan and for me as a promoter, I think it’s the best time to be involved in the sport.