KNOXVILLE, IA - Sometimes in life you only get one chance. Stevie Smith, who followed his father into sprint car racing, is hoping that his best shot at winning the most coveted sprint car race didn't happen when he was a 27 year-old driver that...
KNOXVILLE, IA - Sometimes in life you only get one chance. Stevie Smith, who followed his father into sprint car racing, is hoping that his best shot at winning the most coveted sprint car race didn't happen when he was a 27 year-old driver that finished third at the Amoco Knoxville Nationals. It was 1993 when he passed sprint car legend, Steve Kinser, and looked poised to claim the sports biggest prize. How quickly things can change. While having the superior machine in the lead, a crash and subsequent rain shower took the youngster from Pennsylvania from being on top of the world to not knowing if he'd ever get a chance like that again.
"I guess at the time, I thought I have another shot at it," said Smith, who finished third in two of the first five Nationals he competed in. " We had a good car (Hamilton #77) when I first started racing. When I went to Knoxville for the first time, it was similar to some of the tracks that I raced at home in Pennsylvania, so I was pretty comfortable right away. The other thing that helped us that first year was that we had a week off before the event and we were really organized when we got there.
"In 1993, we seemed to have everything together. We were winning a lot of Outlaw races and were competitive every night. I guess things just weren't meant to be that night with the rain and everything. We just hit a good year the first year we where out there and a couple more not too far after that. Hopefully, our best is yet to come out there."
Taking a week off and getting organized was something he could do back in 1989, but like in 1993, Smith now competes on the grueling Outlaw tour where they race close to 100 nights a season. The difference today for Smith is that he also has the added pressure of being a car-owner along with the driving duties of the #19 sprint car.
"It's a lot of work to be a driver owner, but I have my hands in a lot more of the operation," said Smith, who built a team with his father Steve. "We can do things the way I want to. Of course having a good sponsor like Ingersoll Rand really makes this thing work. Otherwise, it would be really difficult to make this happen."
Smith is having a solid season with the Outlaws scoring four victories in the first 36 events. He sits fourth in the point standings thanks to 15 top five finishes and 28 inside the top ten. His last trip to victory lane came at Knoxville in the Ethanol Classic, which gave him added confidence about this year's Nationals.
"It had been quite a while since we won there," said Smith. " We're going to try apply what we learned there last time when we race there tonight. Hopefully, we'll be able to continue to find out more and more that will help us in a few weeks. It's just hard. There are a lot of good teams and the equipment seems to be so equal that you do the best you can and hope for the best.
There are plenty of mental distractions for the drivers at this stage of the Outlaw season. Last Saturday, the team's competed in the first "big money" race of the season the King's Royal. It's easy to lose focus on the races between the King's Royal, Silver Cup, Historical Big One and Amoco Knoxville Nationals.
"Everyone focuses on the big races, " said Smith. "It does get you pumped up when you are running for more money and prestige. You try to give it your best and use your best equipment, but you can't forget about the other races in between the big ones because they are just as important."
Tonight's race at Knoxville is a prime example. Most of the teams will be testing set-ups for the upcoming Amoco Knoxville Nationals (Aug. 9-12), but the competition is so close that every team has to be on their game every night to remain competitive.
"The competition is getting stronger and the cars are pretty equal so it's hard for anyone to dominate, " said Smith. "Since 1993, it seems like we can't get our ducks in a row when it comes time for the Nationals. We always run good there, but it seems like we start in the back and keep coming forward. I don't think there is such a thing as having too much success too soon, but with the way things have gone, it does seem that way."
Is this the year for Stevie Smith to join the elite that have won the Knoxville crown? If he can continue to run consistently up front and have some luck on his qualifying night, he might finally be able to put that August night in 1993 behind him.