From high in the grandstands at Bristol Motor Speedway, you can see a message in bold letters on top of one of the tents that covers the NASCAR inspection line.
The message reads, “Bruton Smith, Class of 2016, NASCAR Hall of Fame, Congratulations Mr. Chairman.”
But more than congratulations were in order for the chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., the corporate entity that owns a portfolio of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race tracks, including Bristol Motor Speedway, site of tonight's IRWIN Tools Night Race (on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. ET).
Smith, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in January, returned to the track this weekend for the first time since undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. According to Smith and his son, SMI CEO and President Marcus Smith, the prognosis is excellent.
“The doctors said I probably needed a bit of a rest and I got that,” Bruton Smith told reporters on Friday at Bristol. “And I probably needed it. You see, I could depend on Marcus. SMI—they can easily do with my absence. He knows what he’s doing. He’s doing a great job and I’m proud of him.
“I hate to miss any of our races. I really do. It’s kind of heartbreaking, really. I like to be there to see what’s going on.”
Marcus Smith said the family opted to go public with his father’s condition to head off speculation.
“We talked about this for the last few days actually, about having a conversation, because health and personal matters are personal,” Marcus Smith said. “The family, we’re private about personal matters. A lot of people have asked me about, ‘Where’s Bruton? How’s he feeling?’
“I’m really excited about this weekend, because Bristol was a goal. For us. For my dad. The time was such that it was a good goal to try to hit to be healthy and strong. Back around the All-Star Race in May, my dad had not been feeling 100 percent and a little bit prior.
“Coming back, people might think that because he lost weight that something was wrong. I thought it was better to tell the good part of the story.”
The good part is the current diagnosis.
“The really good news is, through the process, treatment and ups and downs and having Bristol as a goal to be healthy by, we’re back here, and the last word from the doctor was things have been really good,” Marcus Smith said.
“He’s progressed beyond expectations they all had, and we’re very thankful about that, of course, and they have given a really good prognosis on his health. In short, he’s responded really well to treatment and even beyond the expectations from the doctors.”