Long: Bruton Smith’s induction to NASCAR Hall of Fame helped by member of France family



CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Their battles were legendary. The ferocity was intense and their resolve absolute. At times, Bill France Jr., NASCAR’s leader, and Bruton Smith, the boisterous billionaire speedway operator, created more action off the track than was on it.

Yet, it was a member of the France family who played perhaps the greatest role in getting the 88-year-old Smith selected to the 2016 Hall of Fame Class.

When voters began to discuss candidates Wednesday afternoon, NASCAR Chairman Brian France – the son of Bill France Jr. – stood and offered his support for the man who had quarreled against his dad for decades.

“He deserves to be in,’’ Brian France told NBC Sports on why he pledged his support for Smith. “He’s made a huge impact, obviously. I’ve worked really well with him.’’

France’s words swayed many of the 49 voters in the room (seven were not present). A year ago, Smith was on less than 30 percent of the ballots. Wednesday, he was on 68 percent of the ballots – more than any other candidate.

“I think (Brian France) showing his support was good,’’ said Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett, a voter. “I think some people might have been surprised with his support. Bruton and Brian have always gotten along well.’’

Brian France is more of a conciliator, looking to find ways to work together. His father was stubborn – but he also had to be in helping build the sport when he took over in 1972.

By that time Smith had already built Charlotte Motor Speedway (opened in 1960), lost it to bankruptcy and was in the process of buying back majority stake in the track. Smith would regain control of day-to-day operations of Charlotte Motor Speedway by 1975.

Bill France Jr. and Smith would contend with each other for more than 30 years.

During that time, Smith’s empire grew to where Speedway Motorsports Inc., operates eight tracks that host Sprint Cup races. Smith’s company helped push the fan experience forward with its promotions and amenities at tracks from Texas-sized TV screens to condos and better seats.

“He has made major, major contributions to the sport,’’ said Jarrett, who voted for Smith. “He’s an innovator. He was, I think, a big challenge to NASCAR and the France family along the way, and I think that was one of the best things that could happen to the sport because he made them better, made them do things better. It was good that they had that rivalry going on.’’

The rivalry fueled headlines whether it was talk of Smith considering the notion of starting his own stock-car series on his tracks to claiming that NASCAR never gave his Texas Motor Speedway a date it had promised.

Often it didn’t matter what the subject was, Smith and Bill France Jr. would be on opposite sides.

“The hatchets were flying so much 20 years ago,’’ said Humpy Wheeler, longtime general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway and a Hall of Fame voter. “You were wondering when am I going to get one in the skull?’’

Ramsey Poston, a consultant for NASCAR in 2001 before joining the series from 2004-2012, saw first-hand how the relationship between the sport’s titans played.

“They both had visions for the sport,’’ Poston said. “Sometimes they clashed. Sometimes they clashed in a big way. Sometimes it got personal, I think.’’

When Brian France took over in Sept. 2003, a calm developed between NASCAR and Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Inc.

“This was important for the sport overall,’’ Poston said. “There were a lot of petty battles. Brian’s ability to have an effective relationship with Bruton was important for the progress of the sport overall. The sport didn’t need that battle to continue. It may have been provocative for the media and the rumor mill at times, but for the sport to move forward, mending those fences was very important.’’

It also helped Smith gain entrance into the Hall of Fame.


Charlotte Cup race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — All-day rain Sunday forced the postponement of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race to Monday.

The postponement means that Charlotte Motor Speedway is scheduled to host 900 miles of stock car racing Monday. A 300-mile Xfinity Series race, originally scheduled Saturday and first postponed to noon Monday, has been rescheduled for 11 a.m. ET Monday (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The Cup race is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. (Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Sunday’s Cup race was scheduled to start at 6:21 p.m. ET, but light rain was still falling at that time in the speedway area near Charlotte. Rain intensified a few minutes later and, despite an evening forecast that showed slight improvement, officials decided at 6:30 p.m. to postpone the race.

Monday’s forecast calls for a 34% chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race and a 30% chance at the start of the Cup race.

William Byron will start the race from the pole after qualifying was washed out Saturday night.

RFK Racing gains sponsorship from submarine recruiting group


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR racing and submarines? Yes.

RFK Racing announced Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it has entered a partnership with BlueForge Alliance, which is involved in securing workers for the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) program. BuildSubmarines.com will be a primary sponsor for RFK drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher in 10 Cup Series races this year and in 18 races per season beginning in 2024.

The sponsorship will showcase the careers related to the submarine-building program across the nation.

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“I’m proud to support a cause of such vital significance to our country with this new partnership,” Keselowski said. “The synergies between a NASCAR team and our military’s needs to stay on track fast are countless. We hope to inspire the workforce of the next generation across the country when they see RFK race and hear our message.”

The sponsorship will support the mission to recruit, hire, train, develop and retain the SIB workforce that will build the Navy’s next generation of submarines, the team said.

“We are excited and grateful to be teaming with RFK Racing to drive awareness of the thousands of steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs available across the nation. Innovation, working with purpose and service to others are hallmarks of both of our organizations,” said Kiley Wren, BlueForge chief executive. “Together, we aim to inspire NASCAR fans and all Americans to pursue career opportunities that will support our national defense.”

Kyle Larson visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway to survey the scene


Former NASCAR champion Kyle Larson, who is scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 as part of an Indy-Charlotte “double,” visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Sunday on Indianapolis 500 race day.

Larson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the Indy race-day landscape before he becomes immersed in the process next year.

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Larson later returned to Charlotte, where was scheduled to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night. Next year, he’s scheduled to run both races.

“I love racing,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I love competing in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world. I wanted to be a part of it for a long time, and I finally feel like the timing is right. It’s pretty cool to have a dream come true.

“I wanted to come here and kind of experience it again and get to experience how crazy it is again before I’m in the middle of it next year. I kind of want as little surprise as possible next year.”

In the 2024 500, Larson will be one of four drivers with the Arrow McLaren team.

Earlier this month, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon attended an Indy 500 practice day.

Larson said Sunday he hasn’t tested an Indy car.

“I don’t know exactly when I’ll get in the car,” he said. “I’ve had no sim (simulator) time yet. I’ve kind of stayed back. I didn’t want to ask too many questions and take any focus on what they have going on for these couple of weeks. I’m sure that will pick up after today.

“I look forward to the challenge. No matter how this experience goes, I’m going to come out of it a better race car driver.”




Jimmie Johnson: Building a team and pointing toward Le Mans


CONCORD, N.C. — These are busy days in the life of former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is a co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the Cup Series team that has struggled through a difficult first half of the season while it also is preparing for a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

Johnson is driving a very limited schedule for Legacy as he seeks to not only satisfy his passion for racing but also to gain knowledge as he tries to lift Legacy to another level. As part of that endeavor, he’ll race in the Coca-Cola 600 in Legacy’s No. 84 car, making his third appearance of the season.

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And, perhaps the biggest immediate to-do item on Johnson’s list: He’ll race June 10-11 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race and another of the bucket list races the 47-year-old Johnson will check off his list.

“I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted — all of it,” Johnson said. “It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here — to learn from (Legacy co-owner) Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element.

“At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”

Johnson is scheduled to fly to Paris Monday or Tuesday to continue preparations for the Le Mans race. He, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet as part of Le Mans’ Garage 56 program, which is designed to offer a Le Mans starting spot for a team testing new technologies.

“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 — these are the marquee events.”

He said his biggest concerns approaching the 24-hour race are being overtaken by faster prototypes in corners and racing at night  while dealing with the very bright lights of cars approaching in his rear view mirrors.

At Legacy, Johnson has work to do. Erik Jones has a top finish of sixth (and one other top 10) this season, and Noah Gragson is still looking for his first top-10 run. He has a best finish of 12th – at Atlanta.

“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on — focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.

“With Noah, from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast, and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”