Hometown: Talking Rock, GA
Current Level: NASCAR Trucks/ARCA/Super Late Models
Last Year’s Pick: 4th
Often times going into the NFL Draft, there is a consensus number-one pick, a clear-cut front-runner bearing no suspense when his name is called to start the evening. That was not the case with the 2019 Short Track Draft presented by PFC Brakes on Speed51.
Twenty-seven different drivers received first-place votes in this year’s draft, the largest such number in draft history and nearly doubling the typical number of competitors who are acknowledged by the expert panel with that distinction. Eighty panelists weighed in for this season’s Short Track Draft, all presenting different perspectives and insights on the debate over which driver is the top prospect in North America.
While nearly 30 drivers may have received number-one votes, the name that popped up most consistently at or near the top of ballots was Chandler Smith, receiving 14 first-place votes, 37 top-five votes and 50 top-10 votes.
For Smith, the honor of being the number-one pick in the Short Track Draft is especially rewarding as a marker of his progress in the short track ranks from a young, promising Pro Late Model racer to the top prospect in the country.
In 2016 as a “freshman,” Smith missed out on the top 51 and made the Short Track Draft ‘Best of the Rest’ list. Smith moved up to 29th in 2017 before leaping into the top five with a fourth-place ranking in 2018.
After four years, he will graduate from the Short Track Draft with its top honors.
“It’s pretty cool, especially since it’s been about three or four years I’ve been in that deal,” Smith told Speed51. “It’s definitely pretty cool to be first. There’s a lot of big names that have been number one in the Short Track Draft. It’s definitely a really cool thing to say I’ve been on that list.”
Smith’s win at CRA SpeedFest in 2018 dramatically improved his stock entering last year’s draft. However, his level of performance on the ARCA Menards Series increased his profile even further for this year’s draft.
In nine ARCA starts, Smith visited victory lane twice. Beyond those wins, Smith’s consistency shined bright, with six top-five finishes and no finishes worse than 10th at Salem Speedway (IN) – a race where he battled for the win with Christian Eckes before a flat tire sent him into the wall a lap shy of the finish.
Smith credits that consistency for earning the plaudits of draft analysts. And like a great locker room leader, he gives much of that credit to the team surrounding him.
“It all adds up to being consistent and performing good on the race track,” Smith stated. “Being able to have really good team chemistry with your whole team, getting good performances and good finishes throughout the season.
“Me and the team as a whole are always really consistent when we get to the race track,” he added. “We’re on our A-game, getting our stuff right and getting ready to for the race. It all comes down to how consistent we are as a team.”
Smith now joins a list of 16 drivers who have been number-one picks in the Short Track Draft, including the likes of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers Chase Elliott and Daniel Hemric, NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Christopher Bell and others.
Smith is too young at this time to compete at those levels full-time, but hopes that the status of being a number-one draft pick will open doors and become an important bullet point on his list of accomplishments.
“It’s definitely a good thing to have on your resume,” he commented. “It’s definitely going to help me move up the ladder, being able to say in 2019 you were the number-one short track driver in the nation. That’s a pretty big deal, especially when it comes to sponsors. It gives them a lot of publicity as well. From a sponsor standpoint, it’s definitely huge.”
Perhaps more importantly, it’s proof that Smith is getting closer and closer to fulfilling his childhood dreams. Many children grow up imagining themselves hitting the walk-off home run in the World Series or the game-winning buzzer beater in the NBA Finals. Smith wants to be a professional race car driver at the highest levels of the sport, and a number-one selection in the Short Track Draft shows many people believe he has what it takes to get there.
“It’s a dream come true, to be honest, to be where I am right now,” Smith said. “Racing with Kyle Busch Motorsports and Venturini Motorsports. This is my childhood dream right here, and it’s my reality as well, and I’m moving up with it as well. Not many kids can say they’ve fulfilled their dreams like I have, especially at such a young age, so I’m really blessed.”
Want to find out who Smith beat out to become the overall top pick in this year’s draft? The #2 pick will be announced Thursday evening at 8 p.m. ET. Picks 3-10 will be announced throughout the day on Friday.
The full 2019 Short Track Draft schedule can be viewed by clicking here.
Follow the hashtag #ShortTrackDraft on Twitter for more information surrounding the 2019 Short Track Draft presented by PFC Brakes.
-By Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51.com photo