LAS VEGAS – It looked like love at first sight for Bruton Smith. Not so much for California Speedway president Gillian Zucker. Smith, the eccentric 80-year-old billionaire whose company owns Las Vegas Motor Speedway, was holding court with the media on Friday and bad-mouthing Zucker’s track in the process. Smith began what he termed as “negotiations” with Zucker in front of about 20 media members. With his arm around the 37-year-old Zucker, he whispered softly in her ear, stroked her left cheek with his knuckles and brushed her hair back, occasionally rubbing her shoulder. “Are you in a negotiating mood?” Smith asked gently. A reporter had suggested to Smith moments earlier that perhaps International Speedway Corp., which employs Zucker, would sell one of its two NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race dates to Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Inc. Currently, SMI’s Las Vegas track only has one Cup race per year. Smith has made it known he wants two. Zucker happened to walk into the room around that time and was told of Smith’s remarks. Having never met the owner of the Fontana track’s biggest competitor, she waded into the horde of media and introduced herself to Smith. The next 10 minutes were bizarrely funny and a little uncomfortable, but certainly memorable. “He said something about your interest in selling,” said Smith, with his arm around Zucker. “Absolutely not,” answered Zucker, her arm around Smith’s waist. “Why would we be selling something that’s growing?” Las Vegas has already sold more tickets for today’s second-tier Busch Series race at the track than California Speedway sold for its Nextel Cup race last month. An estimated 70,000 fans attended the Auto Club 500 at Fontana; the Vegas track has announced a sellout crowd of 160,000 for Sunday. Those numbers have caused many in the national motorsports press to question if California Speedway is deserving of two race dates. Zucker was a good sport, laughing with Smith and trying to navigate her way through the promoter’s quick wit and jabs. Before Zucker entered the room – and the fray – Smith was asked about California Speedway’s lackluster attendance. “I need to know more about this track. Where is it located?” Smith said seriously. Told that it was in Fontana, he claimed to not know where that was, either. “Fontana? I know where L.A. is. I’ve never been (to Fontana), I don’t know anything about it.” Later, Smith said sarcastically that since his track had already sold out, he’d be willing to “send one or two fans over” to California Speedway. The tracks theoretically compete for fans since the events are just two weeks apart, and back-to-back on the racing schedule. “Maybe you want to sell it,” Smith said, taking a strand of Zucker’s hair and pushing it back behind her ear. “Would you talk to the owners, would you consider it?” “No, we’re very pleased,” Zucker said. “What if you wake up tomorrow morning and you’re not pleased?” Smith pried. Later, he told Zucker he’d triple her current pay to step away from the speedway, then offered to throw in a $50,000 shopping spree at Neiman-Marcus. “I’ve got the most awesome job and the most awesome opportunity,” she replied. “You couldn’t buy me out of it.” Eventually, the show began to fizzle and Smith said he’d plan on hearing from Zucker on Tuesday. “I won’t be calling,” she said. “& I think that you’re wonderful for the sport. You’re interesting and fun.” Moments later, Zucker said it was a strange encounter. “I walked into it,” she said. “I could have stayed back. I’m not afraid of a challenge. “He’s a showman. He’s the ultimate promoter and obviously could use an opportunity like that to have some fun.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!