FORT WORTH, Texas – Eleven years ago, Bruton Smith and Bob Bahre paid $14 million for North Wilkesboro Speedway. They weren't paying for the track, though. They were buying the two Cup races that came with it.
After closing the worn-out track, Smith took one race and moved it to Texas, while Bahre took the other for his track in New Hampshire.
Fast forward to Friday when Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., announced he's purchased New Hampshire International Speedway from Bahre. No surprise there: The news was expected.
But the price? Well, the price has gone up a bit, to $340 million.
"I want to thank Bob and Gary Bahre," Smith said in a new conference at Texas Motor Speedway. "I think that's the one time I've thanked anybody for taking $340 million of my hard-earned money."
Smith paid cash, by the way, though apparently he wasn't the highest bidder. That distinction went to Jerry Carroll, who reportedly offered $360 million. George Gillett, Roger Penske and the Roush-Fenway Racing group of John Henry and Jack Roush were in the running, too.
But with a track record of turning everything he touches into gold, Smith won out, setting off an immediate fury of speculation as to what he plans on doing with the two New Hampshire Cup dates. Will he keep them where they are (probably not) or shuffle one to his track in Las Vegas (probably)?
Smith wouldn't say Friday, tapping around the question like a Vegas showgirl.
"No, no, no, you were not watching the dance," the eccentric billionaire joked when pressed for the second time about his plans for the future. "I have no plans to move anything or do anything. We're just into this thing for one week, and all of our plans are certainly not in place."
He might not have any "plans," but he certainly has ideas.
Whatever they are, the price is staggering, even surprising Brian France, who, when told the $340 million figure, said to Smith, "Man, you set the bar a little higher, didn't ya?"
If we didn't already know it, we do now. The two – Smith and the France family's International Speedway Corporation – are literally in a track race. Between them, they now control 19 tracks (ISC 12, SMI 7) and 31 races on the 22-track, 36-race Nextel Cup schedule.
Of the three tracks SMI and ISC don't control, one is untouchable (Indianapolis Motor Speedway), another is controlled by a publicly traded corporation (Dover Motor Speedway), leaving the privately-owned Pocono Raceway (and its two race dates) as the easiest apple left to pick off the tree.
"Bruton calls me every year," Dr. Joseph Mattioli, owner of Pocono Raceway, said over the phone on Friday. "In the old days, I'd get pissed off. Now, I laugh about it. He knows where I'm coming from, and I know where he's coming from."
Smith didn't deny that he has his eye on acquiring more tracks. In fact, he said he is.
"I'm interested in any lucrative business that's for sale," Smith said. "We buy a lot a lot of companies. I've probably bought 300 or 400 companies in my time. If it's lucrative and it's for sale and we can negotiate – yes, I'm interested."
But Mattioli insists he isn't selling. Though conventional wisdom around the racing world contends he someday will, there's good reason to believe he won't.
Just ask him and he'll tell you, the track is his life.
"Has been for 40 years," he said.
It's his family's life, too. His kids live with their kids across the road from the track, right next to a $150 million resort development Mattioli is in the process of building.
If he were to sell the track, where would they go? What would they do?
"I'd be selling a part of my family," the 82-year-old Mattioli said. "You can't do that."
Maybe not, but at least now he knows the price. And with New Hampshire off the market, Pocono and its two race dates just became even more valuable.
- Bruton Smith
- Texas Motor Speedway