The performance automotive community has lost a pioneering racer, hot rodder and entrepreneur. “Speedy” Bill Smith, founder and owner of Speedway Motors, the official Speed Shop of Goodguys, died May 30 at his home in Lincoln, Nebraska just weeks before his 85th birthday. He is survived by four sons, their wives, ten grandchildren, and an extended family of Speedway Motors employees and thousands of loyal customers.
A Lincoln, Nebraska native, Smith got hooked on cars early in life and began buying, fixing, and selling Model Ts for profit as a teen. Soon he was racing – first motorcycles, then cars – while attending classes at Nebraska Wesleyan University. After earning a degree in education, Smith followed his automotive passion and opened Speedway Motors in 1952, aided by a $300 loan from his wife Joyce.
A combination of passion, tenacity and innovation allowed Smith to grow a small 20×20 storefront into a flourishing mail-order business and manufacturing empire. During its 62 years in business, Speedway Motors has grown to become one of the largest manufacturers, distributors and retailers in the performance aftermarket. Working side-by-side with his beloved wife and all four sons, Smith built what is recognized as America’s Oldest Speed Shop.
Smith’s countless contributions to rodding and racing have been recognized by dozens of organizations, with Hall of Fame and Lifetime Achievement honors coming from the likes of SEMA, Goodguys Rod & Custom Association, USAC and many others. He actively supported organizations and sanctioning bodies that shared his mission to make rodding and racing safe, fun and affordable.
A desire to preserve racing history led “Speedy” Bill, his wife Joyce and their sons to establish the Museum of American Speed in 1992. This world-class collection of racing engines, cars and automotive artifacts has allowed the Smith family to give back to the automotive community and share their profound love of racing and rodding with future generations.
Bill and Joyce were fixtures at Goodguys events for many years. The Speedway Motors show rig remains a constant presence on the midway at our events nationwide. In 2004, Speedway Motors became the Official Speed Shop of the Goodguys Rod & Custom Association, partnering together to give away one of Speedway’s all steel ’32 roadster kits. The relationship between Goodguys founder Gary Meadors and Bill Smith went back many years. “I’m both shocked and sad that he is gone,” Meadors said. “I have always had a great deal of respect for him and our friendship over the years has always meant a lot to me. I was tickled when they became the Official Speed Shop of Goodguys. I just spoke to him Thursday. We talked about the Indy 500 and the World of Outlaws circuit. He told me how during the Indy 500 he got calls from Johnny Rutherford, Unser and other Indy legends from the suites back there at the Brickyard. I told him that Marilyn and I would be driving from Dallas to Des Moines in July our ‘40 Ford coupe and planned to make a stop in Lincoln for a visit. He said he thought that would be great. I will miss him big time.”
Just a few weeks before his passing, Bill gave what would be his last interview, and it just happened to be with the Goodguys Gazette. A feature on Bill and his life, including quotes from that interview will appear in the August Goodguys Goodtimes Gazette.