Local race car driver fulfilling childhood dream

Published 11:01 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sounds of roaring engines are common place in cities such as Daytona, Indianapolis and Charlotte, but not rural Pike County. However, one Spring Hill native is trying to change that.

Sam “Shanky” Smith fulfills a child hood dream every time he slides in the window of his Pro Late Model race car at South Alabama Speedway near Opp. Smith, a mobile home builder by day, competes multiple times a season against some of short track racing’s biggest stars.

“It was always a child hood dream to race Late Models,” Smith said. “I watched them for years, and wanted to be driving one. I finally got the chance, and have loved every second of it.”

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Smith got started in racing the same way many young driver’s do, by being a fixture at the track. He made the trip to south Coffee County nearly every weekend, and one night got the “chance of a lifetime.”

A local driver asked Smith to drive his car that night, and he gave the owner a solid finish in his first ever race.

“A guy named Kendall Allen had a car that they let other folks drive at times,” said Smith. “He had the courage to let me drive it one night, and I ran fourth. I had been going down there several years just watching, but that was the night that started it all.”

Smith climbed the ranks of the local classes at the track, becoming a track Roadrunner champion in 2002 and Street Stock champion in 2005. After deliberation with his family, Smith decided to make the jump to the ultra-fast Pro Late Model division.

Pro Late Models are near the top of the short track racing ladder. The purpose-built cars differ from Super Late Models in that they have what racers call a “crate motor,” meaning the engines are supplied by engine builders, and help smaller teams ensure a competitive playing field. The Super Late Models have “built motors” which are constructed by the team.

Smith competes against well-established teams on a shoe-string budget, and with the help of family and friends

“It has always been my dream to run Late Models, and my parents helped me get started,” Smith said. “We have made sacrifices along the way to make things work. It has been tough, but have made it work.”

Smith, a soon-to-be father, says that racing is a passion of his and will give him stories to tell his children and grandchildren for years to come.

“I already tell folks that I race, and sometimes are able to beat, guys like Chase Elliott, Mike Garvey and Bubba Pollard,” said Smith. “But my wife, Jena, and I are expecting our first child, a daughter, later this year, so it will be awesome to get to share my love of racing with her.”

Smith captured the Pro Late Model track title in 2010, and said that it is one his proudest racing accomplishments.

“We have had some good races, but to win that Pro title was really special,” said Smith. “I got a lot of help from my friends and family along the way, so it was a great way to thank them for their work.”

Smith will be back behind the wheel on April 13 at South Alabama Speedway in the Sidewinder 100.