Zane Smith is racing like a Super Late Model veteran in his rookie season. The 16-year-old Californian has been up front leading laps and collecting wins when he can and collecting solid top-five or top-ten finishes when his car isn’t quite up to snuff. The mix of aggression and consistency has led to the New Smyrna World Series title and the current PASS South Super Late Model Series point lead.
But Saturday night at Motor Mile Speedway, Smith added a new wrinkle to his playbook. Like most crafty veterans find ways to do, Smith took advantage of others’ mistakes and scooted away with the CARS Super Late Model Tour victory in a race that he never looked destined to finish any better than 5th in.
The win marks Smith’s first victory on the CARS circuit and now vaults the youngster into that series’ championship discussion with four races left to go.
“I want to do burnouts really bad in these Super Late Models,” laughed Smith moments after concluding a jubilant Victory Lane ceremony. “But they won’t let me! That’s definitely the next thing I want to do in racing. So I just dirt tracked the cool down lap.”
The dominant car of the evening had been that of William Byron’s. Byron, who won in his Super Late Model debut with the series a few races back at Hickory, had taken the lead just before lap 50 and had been setting sail most of the evening until a restart with about 25 laps to go.
Kyle Grissom got a fine restart and began to inch ahead of Byron. Then fast qualifier Trevor Noles took the lead battle three-wide. Byron managed to retain the lead after five laps of hard racing, but the contact he incurred trying to keep up front turned out to be the deciding factor on the evening.
Smith, though, still wasn’t quite in the picture at this point, riding most of the evening in the 5th or 6th positions. It was the next restart after Byron incurred damage that would put Smith in a fortuitous spot. Grissom jumped the restart in the eyes of series officials, beating Byron to the line by almost a carlength. Just as the yellow was being displayed to rein the field back in, third place Noles slid up the track trying to clear Harrison Burton and ultimately both cars crashed hard into the wall. With Grissom being sent to the rear of the field for the jump, Smith suddenly found himself in second place.
Smith would get past Byron easily on the next restart and set sail, holding off Byron’s last lap charge by two carlengths for the win. Lucas Ransone, Clay Jones, and Joey Mucciacciaro rounded out the top-five.
“The 9 [Byron] got away, so we just rode,” said Smith. “They were checking out so, instead of wearing our stuff down just to catch us, I wanted to save. And that worked out for us at the end. We were pretty tight the whole race, so I moved up the track to put a little more banking into the car. And that worked out for us too, because that last restart we started on the outside. We were just really good up top.”
“That last run [after the final restart], my team was telling me I was pulling him little by little. But” – Smith added with a chuckle – “one lap he was four [carlengths] back, then he was three, then he was two. But then I could get two carlengths back on him on a lap and he’d have to try to close the gap again. The last lap, I knew he was about three carlengths back, so I just hit my marks.”
Byron, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East points leader, admitted to feeling a little dejected after falling to second in the waning laps. The culprit of his drop was evident as he stood by his #9 Liberty University machine, which had its right front fender pushed in a few inches.
“Those restarts were definitely tough,” said Byron. “I kind of thought the series officials would call them a little bit closer. But the biggest thing is that the 2nd place car would kind of use us up all evening. I would keep the car as low as I could to stay off of them, but they could either move down on us or use the third or fourth grooves to get a run. That damage just killed us those last ten laps. But that’s fine, that’s part of racing. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. I’m happy to be here. This is my second race with LFR Chassis and we’ve finished 1st and 2nd.”
The forgotten driver in that last ten lap dash would be Grissom. In a year that saw him break through for his first Southern Super Series victory, Grissom has come close to winning a CARS race as well only to see things break wrong late. After issues with getting series officials to clear his restarts at Tri-County in June, Grissom isn’t pleased after the dispute carried over to Motor Mile.
“There wasn’t anything wrong with the restart,” commented Grissom. “They just got a thing with me after Tri-County. Wasn’t anything wrong there either. Just two guys [he and Steve Wallace] trying to put on a good race. It’s tough. It’s hard to swallow that they would let a foot decide a race between who wins and who doesn’t.”
The CARS Racing Tour will return to action on August 1st at Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, NC.
| 1||77||Zane Smith||125|
| 2||9||William Byron||125|
| 3||00||Lucas Ransone||125|
| 4||67||Clay Jones||125|
| 5||45||Joey Mucciacciaro||125|
| 6||16||Lucas Jones||125|
| 7||25||Stephen Leicht||125|
| 8||31||Kyle Grissom||125|
| 9||56||Gus Dean||125|
| 10||57||Cole Timm||124|
| 11||54||Matt Craig||124|
| 12||14D||Chris Davidson||124|
| 13||24||Richard Gould||122|
| 14||75||Clay Rogers||119|
| 15||17||Quin Houff||118|
| 16||2N||Trevor Noles||116|
| 17||12||Harrison Burton||116|
| 18||98G||Todd Gilliland||116|
| 19||42||Chad Finley||104|
| 20||51N||Stephen Nasse||92|
| 21||5W||Spencer Wauters||91|
| 22||2||Joey Coulter||41|
| 23||66||Steve Wallace||30|
| 24||99||J.J. Haley||30|
| 25||7||Tyler Church||23|
| 26||12C||Garrett Campbell||15|
— Story & Photos by Tim Quievryn // Speed51.com Southeast Editor // @thethirdturn