D. William "Speedy" Bill Smith has been called a racing pioneer, a hot rodder, and an entrepreneur. But to those who knew him best, he was just a hard worker, with a dream.
"He was so passionate about cars. He loved his business, he loved his family, he loved his employees. And he had the joy of working his entire career at his hobby," says his son, Clay.
Smith, a Lincoln native, always had a fascination for cars. With a $300 loan from his wife, he opened Speedway Motors in 1952. What would one day become one of the largest racing parts hubs in the world, started as a humble store front on O street. Former employees reflect fondly on Speedway's early racing days..
"We were lucky to put 25 cent a gallon fuel in some of the tanks getting back. Sleeping on a park bench. It's just awesome, it's an American dream," says Marty Bassett, who worked with Smith.
Speedway has always been a family business. Smith's sons, who now run it, say they learned firsthand the value of a little elbow grease.
"We learned early on that if you wanted something you had to work hard for it," says Clay.
Friends of Smith say he was a straight shooter.
"Tough on the outside, but so caring inside that it was unbelievable. I'll miss him," says longtime pal Douglas Swanson.
Smith was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall Of Fame in 2000. Despite Speedway's huge success, he stayed committed to the heartland.
"Doing it from Lincoln, Nebraska, where the only way you can ship parts is with a continental or railway bus, you know, that was really a challenge. But he loved Lincoln and he loved all of the folks here. This is where his roots were," says son Carson Smith.
Co–workers say up until he died, Smith was involved in the day-to-day at Speedway, even insisting on making notes on the catalog before it went to the printer. According to his family, when it came to the things he loved, he was a bit of a perfectionist.