0

Smith celebrating 50 years at Lowe's

CONCORD, N.C. - It took Bruton Smith more than a year to build his first race track, a frustrating project filled with financing issues, weather delays and too many setbacks to count.

When the gates finally opened at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the fledgling track operator worked 48 hours straight to prepare for the June 19, 1960, inaugural race. Smith desperately needed the event to reach the halfway point - the mark that made it an official race and ensured he wouldn't have to issue any refunds - and was eager to stage an exciting show.

At the critical 300-mile mark of the World 600, his job was done.

'Once we got past the halfway point, I went to sleep. I really did,' Smith said. 'I slept the rest of the race on a stool because I felt such relief. We couldn't afford to give the money back, and getting to that point had been such a drawn out effort to build this speedway. Trials and tribulations you would not believe.'

That was 50 years ago, when Smith simply wanted to introduce stock car racing to the public through an impressive 1.5-mile speedway.

He had no idea he had created a race that would grow into one of the crown jewels of the NASCAR schedule.

He'll celebrate the 50th anniversary of his first race today, one of the biggest days in motorsports. The Indianapolis 500 and Formula One's Monaco Grand Prix precede the race now known as the Coca-Cola 600 at the renamed Lowe's Motor Speedway.

It's the longest race on the schedule and after the grueling 600 miles in conditions that change dramatically from the daytime start to the nighttime finish four-plus hours later. The winner of tonight's race will claim the lion's share of the record $6.7 million purse and a 225-pound crystal and marble trophy that commemorates the 50 years of racing at LMS.

SideBar: NASCAR

· What: Coca-Cola 600

· When: 5 p.m. today

· Where Lowe's Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C.

· TV: Fox

· Front Row Lineup:

1. (39) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 188.475;

2. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 188.258