Smith’s ‘North Cuba’ remark out of line

Bruton Smith is a brilliant businessman but not too smart about geography and ethnic sensitivity.

“If you’re going to do a championship, you’ve got to do it at the proper place, and I don’t think North Cuba is the proper place,” Smith said Saturday at Kentucky Speedway.

The head of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns Las Vegas Motor Speedway, was taking a shot at NASCAR holding its Sprint Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Smith wants it moved to Las Vegas.

The northern-most part of Cuba is about 90 miles from the southern-most part of the contiguous United States, so referring to South Florida as North Cuba only makes sense if it was a subtle slight at the large Hispanic population in and around Miami.

Were that to be Smith’s logic, then his comment was a feeble attempt at being politically correct. The 83-year-old North Carolina native usually shoots from the hip, but his innuendo took aim on one of his big toes if not the whole foot.

Smith tried to sidestep the comment by saying he meant to say “north of Cuba,” but this wasn’t the first time he slighted the region with that reference.

Smith can speak his mind, but he should consider the feelings of others. For instance, men such us Felix Sabates, a minority owner of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. His minority status is because of his small part-ownership, not because he was born in Cuba and escaped the island nation with his family more than 50 years ago when Fidel Castro took over.

In an open letter to the Charlotte Observer, Sabates wrote: “I love both countries and when I see irresponsible comments such as the ones made by my good friend of over 40 years, Bruton Smith (AKA Money Bags), it saddens me. He knows better than to take a swipe at a whole country …

“He must be mad because he will never get the last race of the Chase.”

Sabates probably is right about that. The Homestead-Miami track is owned by International Speedway Corp., whose stock is controlled by NASCAR’s France family. Smith is more likely to lunch with Castro than to wrestle the finale from NASCAR/ISC.

What if the roles were reversed? What if Smith owned the Florida track and the last race of the season, and NASCAR/ISC owned the Las Vegas track and wanted the finale moved there?

Would Smith’s reaction be to ridicule Southern Nevada’s large Hispanic population by calling our region “North Mexico?”

That’s a problem with bigotry. It has no problem crossing state lines.

■ POSSIBLE VICTORY — Smith could gain some solace in his war with NASCAR/ISC. He wants the last race of the 2011 season in the IndyCar Series to move from Homestead-Miami to Las Vegas and be held Oct. 16, the day after the annual NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.

A source within the series said this week that when the schedule is released today it will indicate the last race will be Oct. 16, but will not cite where. IndyCar chief executive Randy Bernard told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Homestead is not among the venues selected to host a race next year.

Chris Powell, president of LVMS, and Bernard have been negotiating a deal that would put the finale and banquet in Las Vegas, but Bernard told the Review-Journal on Tuesday that major sponsorship has not been secured and without it the race would be held elsewhere.

If the season ends in Las Vegas, it is doubtful the banquet will feature Cuban cuisine. If Smith has his say.

Jeff Wolf’s motor sports column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247. Visit Wolf’s motor sports blog at lvrj.com/blogs/heavypedal/ throughout the week.

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