Stemming from a long-time friendship, Smith partnered with Ellis entering the 2021 season.
“Me and Buddy have always been friends for the past 10 or 12 years,” Smith told Speed51. “I saw him at the [North-South] Shootout last year in the stands. We call each other every two or three months, he’s always pretty busy but we’ve stayed friends.
When I didn’t have a ride, I called him and we talked, and didn’t think much about it. We called each other two or three times. About two weeks before Caraway, I went to his shop in Mooresville and got his trailer and car. The car had been sitting in the trailer since Myrtle Beach in 2015. It had been sitting there for six or seven years, hadn’t been run.
There was plenty of work to be done to get the car ready in time for the SMART Modified Tour season opener at Caraway Speedway on March 14. There was so much work, in fact, that Smith questioned if it would get done in time.
Even as he took the track at Caraway, he didn’t expect he would leave the race with a podium finish.
“Really and truthfully, when I got to working on it, I thought it would be too much work to make it to Caraway. We started working on it, changed the rear-end housing and a bunch of stuff on it. We were going to use Caraway as a test and finished third after starting 19th.”
Smith followed the third-place run at Caraway with a sixth-place finish at Florence Motor Speedway. Now, he heads north to Virginia and South Boston Speedway.
“This new team, we’ve started out pretty decent with a third and a sixth place finish. We’re just trying to get better each week.
“Then we went to Florence. It’s been a week-to-week deal. We’re going to try to get through these first three races and see where we stack up.”
Smith has seen a lot during his Modified racing career in the south. He was a winner on the original SMART Modified Tour in 2003 at Summerville Speedway, as well as on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour. In 2019, Smith won the Southern Modified Racing Series championship by eight points over Jeremy Gerstner, with back-to-back race wins to close out the championship season.
John Smith won the Southern Modified Racing Series championship in 2019. He was also a race winner with the original SMART Modified Tour, as well as the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.
Surprisingly, one thing he hasn’t seen is South Boston Speedway since its 2017 repave. He has two top-five finishes and four top-10 showings at the 0.4-mile facility in Tour-type Modifieds, but none have come on the track’s freshest coat of asphalt.
“I hadn’t been there in a while, especially since they repaved it. I don’t really know what to expect,” he confessed. “I think the last time I was there in a Tour race, I finished fourth driving for Grady Jeffreys in the 15 car.”
A tumultuous 2015 showing where Smith finished 17th eluded Smith’s memory, but his point stands. The Mt. Airy, North Carolina driver will be making his first trip to South Boston in six years.
He hopes this weekend’s return will offer a trip to victory lane, something he hasn’t done at South Boston.
I’ve had a lot of good runs there. I’ve never been able to win, I’d like to win.
With the new pavement comes a different approach to the race. Smith believes tire conservation will not be as crucial as it has been for the first two rounds of the SMART Modified Tour in 2021, lending itself to a faster race pace.
“It’s got new pavement, it’s going to have a lot more grip than Florence or Caraway. I don’t know about tire wear, how it will be. I think it will be better there, and a fast pace.
I think you’ll be able to go all-out since you can change one tire. Some Caraway races, you can conserve and at Florence you’ve got to conserve. I don’t think you’ll be able to conserve at South Boston.
Race fans unable to attend the SMART Modified Tour event at South Boston Speedway will be able to watch live on Speed51.TV. Click here to become a subscriber today and watch Saturday’s race.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo