When the ARCA Menards Series visited the legendary high banks of Salem Speedway in April of 2018, a young man from Talking Rock, Georgia had just turned heads in his first career start weeks earlier at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville.
Chandler Smith (No. 20 Craftsman/828 Logistics Toyota) started from the pole and led 51 laps on his way to a fifth-place finish. Was Smith’s inaugural effort an outlier, or was he a force to be reckoned with in the making? Those questions were quickly answered after Smith again started from the General Tire Pole and led 117 of the race’s 200 laps around one of the toughest race tracks in the country. His tenth-place finish was not at all an indication of how he ran throughout the day as a cut tire on the final lap sent him into the wall while battling winner Christian Eckes for the win on the final lap.
He would go on to set a modern era record of starting from the pole in each of his first four series appearances, including additional poles at Toledo and Madison, the latter resulting in his first career series win.
“It meant a lot finally getting my first win at Madison,” Smith said. “We had been close at Salem, where we were fighting with Christian right up until the last lap. It really was a relief and after that I felt we were better as a team.”
Smith made only nine ARCA Menards Series appearances in 2018, all on paved short tracks. Still two years from turning 18, he’s prevented by rule from participating at tracks longer that one mile in length. Smith made the most of those nine appearances. He led a season-high 763 laps, including four races in which he led over 100 laps. In the fall race at Salem, Smith crushed the field by jumping into the lead on lap one and leading every lap but one on his way to his second win of the season. He wound up with six top-finishes and the tenth-place at Salem in the spring ended up being his lowest finish of the year.
“Overall my 2018 season was amazing,” he said. “You don’t really see many drivers and teams do that good in the first season together. Especially as a rookie. We had four poles, two wins and never finished outside the top ten. We he a great run at Pensacola to start our short track season. I’m looking forward to this year, and getting back to Salem.”
Smith, one of eight children, is a student at Pickens High School. He tried the traditional stick and ball sports as a young child but found his groove at the age of five when he started racing go-karts in nearby Chatsworth, Georgia and progressed on a steady pace to race full-sized super late models by the time he was 14. As a 14-year-old, he finished fifth in the famed Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway and the next year was third in the Winchester 400 at Winchester Speedway. It was performances like those that earned him a shot with Venturini Motorsports in the ARCA Menards Series.
Smith looks to repeat his dominant performance at Salem last fall but realizes there are only two things he can do better: win the pole in qualifying and lead every lap. He started second last September and the only lap he failed to lead was due to stopping in his pit stall under caution, which happened to be a few yards short of the start/finish line.
“We were so close in the spring to our first win, and then we came back and led every lap but one and won the race,” Smith said. “It’s hard to follow that up but we can. Our plan this time is to win the pole and lead every lap.”
Practice for the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers ARCA 200 is set for 11 am ET on Saturday, April 13 with General Tire Pole Qualifying scheduled for 3 pm ET that afternoon. The green flag on round three of the 2019 ARCA Menards Series season will drop shortly after 2 pm ET on Sunday, April 14. The race will be televised live on MAVTV and ARCA for Me members can access live timing & scoring, live chat, and live track updates at ARCARacing.com. New members can register for free at ARCARacing.com/login.
-ARCA Menards Series Press Release