We lost a lot of racing people this week. Although I never knew him personally, Speedy Bill Smith was a big part of my racing education. Bill passed away on May 30th at the age of 84.
When I first got interested in motorsports, I was living in Lincoln, Nebraska. Not only did I not know anything about NASCAR prior to writing my book, I actually didn’t know much about cars. One of the best resources I had was catalogs – and Speedway Motors, a huge shop filled with race gear, race parts and racers. Bill Smith was the owner and set the tone for the shop. He also founded the Museum of American Speed, a non-profit enterprise with more than 135,000 square feet of cars, engines, parts and (my favorite) toys.
Smith was involved in many different types of racing and most of the obituaries focus on his being in numerous racing hall of fames, having been owner for drivers like Tiny Lund, Bob Burdick and Lloyd Beckman, having won the Knoxville Nationals as an owner.
The thing I like best about racing, however, is the people involved. Smith was a great member of the Lincoln Community. He was a distinguished alumni of Lincoln High School and Nebraska Wesleyan University, and not only was he in the Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame, he was in the Nebraska Business Hall of Fame. He was married to his wife, Joyce (who predeceased him), for 61 years.
Speedway Motors was always a place I could walk in and ask a question, no matter how ignorant, and I always got a respectful, clear and helpful answer. The folks there love racing and racers. They didn’t mind if I came in and looked at suspension parts for an hour. I bought my first firesuit there.
A “Celebration of Life” will be held on June 14th at the Museum of American Speed, 599 Oak Creek Drive, Lincoln NE. The museum is always looking for donations, as well as volunteers to help research the provenance of various artifacts, so if you’d like to recognize Bill’s contributions to motorsports, either would be a great way.