Vail legend, race driver and auto industry giant Bill Smith dies at 89
VAIL — Bill Smith loved to go fast, but took his time getting to heaven.
The Vail icon was a founding member of The Game Creek Club, Camp Robbers, successfully drove race cars, became the nation’s youngest Ford dealer and had fun at the speed of life. He was 89.
It was always time go
To be Bill Smith’s friend — and he had thousands — was to get a phone call before the sun was up on a powder day.
“With his enduring passion for life he set a great example of how to never grow old,” said Vail’s Karl Hochtl. “Bill was very social and could party every night and then ski every day. We could never figure out how he did that even well into his 80s.”
Smith spent more than 50 winters in Vail, after winters in Stowe, Vermont, and Kitzbuehel, Austria, where he was the third American to win the Austrian Golden Snow Star.
Hochtl first met Bill and Patsy Smith skiing with racing legend Roger Penske in the late 1960s, sparking friendships that would last more than five decades.
“We’ve gone skiing in Vail so many times, I can’t even count,” Penske said. “But it is more than that, it has always been more than that. He was always the glass-half-full type of person, always so positive.”
‘Willy Bud von Schmittenbach’
Bill Smith, occasionally known as “Willy Bud von Schmittenbach,” threw some legendary Christmas parties in his Crossroads condo. The Crossroads, young people, is where the Solaris is now.
“As often happens, longtime friends become family and we celebrated not only ski turns but the many turns of life together,” Hochtl said.
Bill and Patsy Smith celebrated Karl and Christy’s wedding, then the weddings of Hochtl’s sons.
There was the time the Smith and Hochtl clans pulled a huge Christmas tree out of the White River National Forest. The tree wouldn’t fit in the Crossroads elevator, so they had to haul it up five stories and over a balcony to get it inside.
When they boarded Vail’s gondola each morning, Smith introduced himself to fellow passengers, and then introduced Karl as his instructor of 46 years.
“And then he would claim hadn’t learned a thing! This might be true. He needed constant reminding to stand up and keep his hands in front,” Hochtl said.
There was the time he was on a bicycle trip with Bill Plante, of CBS News, and managed somehow to put on a dazzling fireworks display on the hotel grounds.
“His appetite for adventure was never sated — whether it was skiing, Formula One racing or traveling the world,” Plante told the Cooperstown Evening Sun.
Smith was also a man of style — never without a coat and tie at dinner.
“When I committed the gaffe of showing up at the final dinner of that trip without a tie, he offered me one — fashioned from a bicycle inner tube,” Plante said.
Driving to success
As a racing driver in the 1950s and ’60s, Smith won national Formula Junior races with Rev-Em Racing. He was a director of Team McLaren and Mayer Motor Racing, founder of McLaren Engines, president of McLaren North America, co-chairman of ASC-McLaren and founding member of Championship Automobile Racing Teams.
“No matter how successful Bill became, he was never too big to get down to the lowest level. He never had a bad word to say about anyone,” Penske said.
Born Oct. 22, 1927 in Utica, and raised in Richfield Springs and Cooperstown, Smith became an Eagle Scout and graduated from Richfield Springs High School. He earned his B.S. from Union College in 1945 through the Navy V-12 program. He additionally studied business at Syracuse University.
The family will be receiving those who wish to pay their respects at St. Bartholomew’s Church’s Monsignor Festa Parish Center, Norwich, New York, on Monday from 2 to 3:30 p.m. There will also be calling hours Tuesday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Fenimore House in Cooperstown, New York, followed by a celebration of his life at 7 p.m.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and email@example.com.