18-Year-Old Rookie Jesse Smith 5th at Iowa; To Make Superspeedway Debut at Kansas KANSAS CITY KS (4-22-08) -- Wildwood, Missouri's Jesse Smith is an ARCA RE/MAX Series rookie in the truest sense. He's barely 18, fresh out of high school and...
18-Year-Old Rookie Jesse Smith 5th at Iowa; To Make Superspeedway Debut at Kansas
KANSAS CITY KS (4-22-08) -- Wildwood, Missouri's Jesse Smith is an ARCA RE/MAX Series rookie in the truest sense. He's barely 18, fresh out of high school and looks like he's too shy to go on a prom date, let alone climb into an 800-horsepower, 3400 lb stock car.
Yet despite his relatively short time on earth, he's remarkably accomplished in the world of motorsports.
He may be brand new to the ARCA RE/MAX Series, but given all we know at this point, he also just may be the next Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart or, pick the driver.
He also finished fifth in only his second career start last Saturday at Iowa Speedway after leading three laps.
"We're super happy with our run," said Smith. "Considering all the competition in this series and it being our first run of the year, we're very excited.
"We actually lost our brakes 50 laps into the race and the car was tight. But I moved up a groove and I found that the car rolled through the corners better and it didn't push as much through the center, and I could get on it sooner. That, and the crew made it better with each stop."
So now it's on to Kansas Speedway this weekend where Smith will make his superspeedway debut this Friday, April 25th when the Kansas Lottery $150 Grand rolls off on the 1.5-mile track.
"I can't wait to go to Kansas," said the Lafayette High School straight-A graduate. "We tested really well there. We were fastest by a pretty good margin, and I only got 15 laps on the track. Even though it was the first time I had ever been on an intermediate track, I felt really comfortable. And, we were a little tight, so I know we can improve."
Like many up and coming racers, Smith started his career at a very young age. But unlike most, Smith won championships in everything he sat in -- from quarter midgets to Bandoleros to Legends Cars. Even more impressive, Smith gained national attention when he went where no boy had gone before. At the ripe old age of 16, Smith won the 2006 ASA Late Model touring series championship in the northern division -- not easily done, even for the most experienced veterans.
So with more credentials than many accumulate over the course of a career, Smith has found a temporary home in the ARCA RE/MAX Series, which he hopes to utilize to get to the next level. Given his track record so far, moving up through the ranks is certainly doable. And maybe most importantly, Smith has something many only dream of these days -- a sponsor. And not just any sponsor; Smith has the support of Hormel Foods, which has sponsored the young Missourian dating back to his quarter midget days. Hormel will be promoting one of its main brands on Smith's car -- Lloyd's Barbeque with the Spam brand listed as an associate.
So with title sponsorship, a really fast car and the confidence to get the job done, Smith's trek continues in Kansas where he'll be racing for the Jones Group Dodge team based out of Amherstburg, Ontario. Veteran crew chief Bobby Blount, who himself has more late model championship than he can count on two hands, will be turning wrenches for Smith in 2008.
"Bobby and I are really clicking well. Our communication is great; he helps me a ton. He's a smart guy; he sets the car up right. He's spot-on with all his adjustments. He's listening to my feedback and I'm definitely listening to his."
Smith is planning on an eight to ten race schedule in 2008 in the no. 30 Jones Group entry with the real possibility hood of running the full ARCA RE/MAX Series schedule in 2009.
"Right now, this year, we're looking at running Iowa, Kansas, Rockingham, both Kentucky's, Pocono, Michigan, Nashville, Chicagoland, and maybe Talladega. Our goal is to run the full ARCA schedule next year. The Jones Group just acquired six Evernham Motorsports cars, so I've got great equipment to work with. The car we ran at Iowa and were fastest with in the test at Kansas is one of the cars that Kasey Kahne used last year. It's really good stuff.
"This year, for me, is all about learning -- getting used to these heavier stock cars on superspeedways. I actually found that Kansas was easier than running the short tracks. You're not using as much brake; you're not turning as much and the track is so much smoother than most of the tracks I'm used to running."
And of course to win at this level, one must first think he or she can. Smith, despite having never raced on the bigger tracks, definitely thinks he can.
"I feel like I'm in the very best equipment out there. I've got one of the best and most knowledgeable crew chiefs in the garage. Yah, everything is new to me over here but I honestly think I can win. Bobby (Blount) said he'd be disappointed if we didn't win one or two. And I'd be surprised if we didn't -- at least run the top-five at most places. I know that's big talk, but considering everything I have to work with, and the support I have from my sponsor Hormel Foods and the great crew I have, I think it's possible."
The possibilities for Smith start at Kansas Speedway where practice is scheduled from 8:30 am to 10:50 am local time Friday morning, April 25th followed by SIM Factory Pole Qualifying at 12:40 pm. The eighth annual Kansas Lottery $150 Grand is slated to roll off at 4:00 pm. The race will air on SPEED TV Saturday night, April 26th at 8:30 pm Eastern.