A week removed from winning the ARCA Menards Series East Southern National 200 at Southern National Speedway (N.C.), 17-year-old Sammy Smith is headed back home to the Midwest for the ARCA Midwest Tour Father’s Day 100 at the Milwaukee Mile with success already under his belt.
Five races into his first ARCA East season, Smith leads the points standings with three wins, five Top 5s and a 1.8 average finish already earned.
Smith, a Johnston, Iowa, native, has been around racing since he was a young kid. His dad has managed several drivers in the racing industry, which pointed Smith toward racing in 2012 when he began racing go-karts.
“He got me into it when I was 8,” Smith said. “I started go-karts then moved up to Legends cars at age 12 [in 2016]. I got a bunch of wins and came close to winning a national championship but I blew up in the final race and lost it with two to go. That was a tough one.”
Smith earned 31 career wins and 109 Top 5 finishes in his three years of legends car racing before moving up to Pro Late Model Stocks with Nelson Motorsports in 2019.
The following year, in 2020, Smith raced Super Late Models for his hero, Kyle Busch, who he developed a working relationship with.
“It was definitely an awesome experience,” Smith remarked. “If I ever needed anything, I would go talk to him about it, if I ever needed advice or coaching. He was there to help me. It was definitely a tough year. We didn’t get the best results we wanted but it was a great learning experience and I learned a lot.”
Now, in 2021, Smith races for Coy Gibbs in ARCA East and for Donnie Wilson Racing in Super Late Models.
However, in March, Harrold Annett, one of Smith’s racing heroes and the father of NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Michael Annett, passed away. Harrold developed a close relationship with Smith and his family and was someone who Smith looked up to as a kid.
“He meant a lot to me,” Smith stated. “My dad grew up with Harrold and he was like a grandpa to me. I felt like Harrold was a hero. He taught me everything I needed to know in go-karts. He and my dad would go with me to the go-kart tracks every weekend. I was young so I enjoyed it but the passion to go win wasn’t as big as it is now.”
As Smith has progressed through the ARCA East season, his passion is driven by his newfound familiarity with the tracks and his team.
“I feel like going into each of those races, I’ve had track time, it was just all about adapting to the new car and the new team. Mark and all the guys got me up to speed very quick,” Smith said. “Seeing Ty [Gibbs]’s success, I knew I had to get the job done, but I knew it was a matter of time.”
Gibbs has won five of the seven ARCA Menards Series races this season and led 70% of the laps run in similar equipment to Smith’s. As the ARCA East championship runner-up, Gibbs has been a resource for Smith during his first ARCA East season.
“Me and Ty are pretty good friends and I lean on him quite a bit,” Smith said. “He’s really, really good. If I need anything or to talk to him, he’ll be there to talk and give me the best advice he can about what he thinks. Going into these last four races will be tough racing against him. I’ll have to try to prepare myself better than I ever have. Going into those races I’ll have to have my game and go beat him.”
Smith has also been challenged by on-track circumstances. At Nashville Fairgrounds, Smith went a lap down after serving a Lap 3 drive-through penalty for jumping the initial start. Smith earned his lap back under green and took the lead on Lap 98 after the first caution fell on Lap 75. Smith led the final 103 laps and won.
At Dover, Smith went two laps down after a right-front tire blew but recovered to finish fourth.
“Those are the days that make you feel better,” Smith stated. “To go out and win a championship, you have to maximize the circumstances you’re in and make the best out of it.”
Dover was also one of Smith’s first starts at a high speed, aero-dependent track.
“Dover was different with the air,” Smith stated. “It was probably the most I’ve learned, since working with the whole air thing was tough.”
Currently, Smith is unable to run tracks 1.25 miles or higher until he turns 18 in June 2022. Until then, Smith is hopeful to be in a similar position as he is in now.
“I really love running Super Late Models with the whole Donnie Wilson team, they’re super fun cars to drive,” Smith noted. “The competition, the Supers are probably the best racing I.Q., learning you can get from running at a young age. I enjoy doing those and doing the ARCA cars. Hopefully, we can get some more wins in each.”
Sammy Smith will compete in the ARCA Midwest Tour Father’s Day 100 at Milwaukee Mile (2 p.m. ET; TV: SPEED51).
Sammy Smith Racing