Bruton the Billionaire Bully
Octogenarian Bruton Smith apparently spends a lot more money on attorneys than he does on traffic planning and customer service. Just Google “Bruton Smith” and “lawsuit” and you’ll find enough reading material to more than last the six hours or so that thousands of NASCAR fans sat in traffic along Interstate 71 in Northern Kentucky last Saturday, trying to get into the Kentucky Speedway that Smith now owns.
The track was built by a partnership consisting of former Turfway Park owner Jerry Carroll and Arlington Park chairman Richard Duchossois, who eventually sold it to Smith at a significant loss after NASCAR rebuffed their efforts to bring a Sprint Cup race to the facility. Smith, through his ownership of other NASCAR tracks, had the juice with NASCAR to get that piece done, and he expanded Kentucky Speedway’s seating from 60,000 to just over 100,000 – but not before forcing the state of Kentucky to cough up over $20 million in tax breaks to this billionaire bully.
Smith has sued cities, counties, even the federal government with varying degrees of success. He’s strong-armed governments to get tax credits to offset the cost of facilities that help him grow his personal empire. He’s a “take my ball and go home” kind of guy when he doesn’t get his way.
You can also Google “Bruton Smith” and “jerk” to find out what a boor he is. Last week, in advance of the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, Smith went out of his way to say his race will draw more fans the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, which he said pads its attendance figures. It was a backhanded swipe at Duchossois, the largest shareholder of Churchill Downs Inc., which now owns Arlington Park.
Duchossois would never allow the kind of mistreatment of the public that went on at Kentucky Speedway. Not only was traffic planning shoddy or nonexistent, Smith’s management team failed to ensure enough parking spots, didn’t hire enough shuttle buses and vans, buy enough bottled water and concessions, or even supply enough toilet paper. Helpless fans on Facebook are talking about turning the tables on Smith by filing a class-action lawsuit after spending large sums of money on tickets they could not use. Even Kentucky Senate President and wannabe governor David Williams is all huffy about it, calling for legislative hearings after he was one of the thousands stuck in traffic who couldn’t get in.
I’ll never forget the year Duchossois himself was out in the parking lot directing traffic as people were arriving for the Arlington Million. Not that a traffic plan wasn’t in place; Duchossois wasn’t happy with how it was working. And this came only a few weeks after the man had heart surgery.
Smith, on the other, hand, was blaming the state of Kentucky, the county where the racetrack is located, probably Duchossois himself, for his woeful customer service. And no doubt he’ll go bawling to state officials for new roads, freeway interchanges, and maybe a large supply of toilet paper – all at taxpayers’ expense.
If he doesn’t get it, he’ll probably sue.