At the start of the 2015 racing season, very few around the short track racing world knew the name Zane Smith. It appeared on the entry list for the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway (FL), but it was just one of many. He was just a kid from California who very often could be seen wearing a flat-billed hat.
Now almost one year later Smith is heading to CRA SpeedFest 2016 at Crisp Motorsports Park in Cordele, Georgia as the 2015 World Series Super Late Model champion at New Smyrna. He also finished second to Chase Elliott in the 48th annual Snowball Derby back in December, a finish that still haunts Smith.
“Any time I hear about that Snowball Derby, oh my God, I just about lose it,” Smith told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “Just knowing that I stopped in that smoke. That just kills me.”
Smith was running second to leader Christopher Bell when a thick plume of smoke enveloped the exit of turn four due to the burning car of John Hunter Nemechek on pit road. Smith slowed down, not knowing what was in the smoke or on the other side of it, and was passed by Elliott. That pass ended up being the winning move after Bell was disqualified in post-race technical inspection.
It’s a mistake that Smith said he will never make again. Instead he’s going to channer his inner Cole Trickle from Days of Thunder.
“I am driving right through it,” he said. “I have learned my lesson. I guess I just had to learn it at the biggest race of the year, but it is what it is.”
While Smith may still be having nightmares over the finish of the Snowball Derby, he said that race was huge for him as it made him more mentally prepared for what could be a break-out season in 2016.
“Pensacola just gave me more confidence,” said Smith. “It has me more confident knowing I ran up front with those guys.”
The 16-year-old driver said he plans on running only the biggest races of the year instead of chasing a championship in any series this year. Everything he’s doing is all in a plan to break-out even more than last year.
“We’re just running the big stuff,” he said. “When you win those big races you really get your name out there.”
The first big race Smith will run is SpeedFest this upcoming weekend, live on Speed51 TV. Smith had never been to the D-shaped oval of Crisp Motorsports Park before going down there with his Crooks Racing team this past weekend for a test session.
“It actually was probably one of the best tests I’ve ever had,” Smith said. “We’re basically a new team. We’ve got the same guys, but we’re all Port City this year. We tested the Port City car and it’s a night-and-day difference between that and the Hamke cars we were running. We took a little bit of time to figure it out but now that we did it’s on rails.”
Smith’s theme entering 2016 is confidence. He said the test session went so well that he’s confident he’ll be fighting for the win at the end of 200 laps.
“We looked up the times from last year on Race Monitor and Chase Elliott ran a 15.868 or something,” he said. “Our first time out there we ran a 15.80. We were only there for two hours but once we tried everything the car was just so good that we loaded up. We didn’t even make a mock run or anything like that.”
While the test on Sunday may have gone well, the ride back to Mooresville, North Carolina didn’t exactly go as planned. Smith said they blew out a tire on the truck heading home and got back extremely late, but fortunately everybody in the vehicle were okay.
“I remember I fell asleep and I woke up and we were still in Georgia,” Smith said. “I thought when we stopped that we were home but we were at some truck place and we blew a tire. So that sucked. We got back at 3:30 in the morning and I went to bed. But we’re here now and ready to go back for the race.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com