Last year nobody knew who Zane Smith was when he arrived at New Smyrna Speedway (FL) for the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing. Everyone knew who he was at the end of the week after he won the Super Late Model championship. That made him an instant favorite for the victory when he and his team decided to unload the Pro Late Model for Thursday night’s 100-lap show.
At the end of Thursday’s race, Smith showed that he was the favorite for good reason by out-battling Daniel Keene Jr. to take the win.
Smith and Keene swapped the lead a couple times throughout the 100-lap event, the longest all week for the Pro Late Models. Keene took the lead from Smith early in the race, but then Smith fought back a few laps later to take the lead back.
Near the midway point of the race, Keene came charging back to the take the lead once again from Smith, but Smith never let Keene out of his sights.
With about 10 laps remaining, Smith tried to make his move for the win on Keene. Smith dove to bottom of Keene’s white and black No. 5K machine, but a spin by a back-marker brought out the caution and negated Smith’s pass for the lead.
On the restart Smith got a great jump and drew even with Keene heading into turn one. The two drivers ran door-to-door for about two laps before Smith cleared Keene to take the lead and eventually the win, his first of Speedweeks.
“It’s unreal,” Smith said on the FansChoice.TV broadcast. “I did not think I was going to get him on that restart because the bottom is never good here. That was one hell of a race. I mean honestly that was probably the best race I’ve (ever been in).”
While to some it appeared as though Smith may have fired too early on the final restart, Keene bowed out in defeat to the 16-year-old Smith.
“He timed it pretty good,” said Keene. “He may have had a little bit of an advantage on firing first, but we went down into one and two equal. It wasn’t like he had us cleared. We were side-by-side for a couple laps there with eight to go. I’m going to give it to him. He beat us.”
Even after taking the victory, Smith said he was still unsure how he managed to get by the veteran Keene on the restart.
“I really don’t know,” said Smith. “We were even coming to the start/finish line. I didn’t use him up down here or anything. I just had good drive off and my spotter said clear and I was like ‘Oh, alright.’ So then I tried to save my stuff. Then the two behind me started battling and it was ours from then on.”
Smith was able to drive away from Keene over the final five laps as Keene became locked in a battle for second with former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Mike Skinner. However, Smith had no idea what his gap was to Keene in the final few laps.
“I was just looking forward to the white flag,” Smith said. “I was too nervous to look in the mirror.”
For an on-demand recap of Thursday night’s NASCAR Hometracks Race Central Live coverage, click here.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com/Bruce Nuttleman
PPG Pro Late Model 100
New Smyrna Speedway, New Smyrna Beach, Florida
|2||5K||Daniel Keene Jr.|
|11||36||Kevin Thomas Jr.|
|14||5||Michael Clancy Jr.|