Speedway Motors is sad to announce the passing of its founder, hot rodder and pioneering racer “Speedy” Bill Smith. Smith passed away at his home, May 30, just a few weeks short of his 85th birthday.
Born in Lincoln, NE, Smith’s obsession with cars came early in life and he started buying and renovating Motel T Fords for profit while in his teens, when raced both cars and motorcycles while attending Nebraska Wesleyan University, where he graduated with a degree in education.
However, his passion for cars won out and he opened Speedway Motors in 1952, with the help of a $300 loan from his wife, Joyce. Together, they worked hard for the next 62 years building the company from a 20x20 storefront into a flourishing mail-order business into one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of parts for racing’s performance aftermarket.
“My customer base was pretty limited in those days,” Smith said in 2012 when the company celebrated its 60th anniversary. “It was tough going at first, but I was determined to pursue my passion for performance.”
In addition, Smith devoted himself in numerous motorsports, from NASCAR stock cars to modifieds and sprints as well as drag racing and land speed racing, fielded hundreds of racecars through the decades including Tiny Lund, Johnny Beauchamp, Bob Burdick and Lloyd Beckman (with whom he won the Nebraska Modified Racing Association championship 1960, 1961 and 1971 as well as the IMCA Five State title in 1961). He later, won the Big Car Racing Association’s championship with Jan Opperman in 1969, before claiming a 2nd BCRA title in 1975, and the Hulman Classic in 1976. He also won the Knoxville Nationals as a car owner with driver Doug Wolfgang in 1978, among many other events.
Smith’s innumerable contributions to the hot-rodding and racing world have been recognized by dozens of organizations, with Hall of Fame and Lifetime Achievement honors bestowed by SEMA, NSRA, Goodguys, IMCA and USAC, not to mention the establishment of the Museum of American Speed in 1992. Created by the Smith family, themselves, the Museum houses a “world-class collection of racing engines, cars and automotive artifacts meant to share their profound love of racing and rodding with future generations.”
Speedy Smith is survived by four sons, their wives, 10 grandchildren, and an extended family of Speedway Motors employees and devoted customers. Anyone who would like to share thoughts, memories and condolences are invited to send them via email to forBill@SpeedwayMotors.com.