The 2023 season proved to be one in which Smoky Mountain Speedway took the opportunity to do a bit of regrouping. After a significant reconfiguration project that took the racing layout from a near half-mile down to to 3/8, rainouts robbed the track of some of its most promising dates. However, the facility’s marquee event proved to be an exciting show as Ricky Thornton Jr. sailed to a $50,000 victory in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series-sanctioned Mountain Moonshine Classic.
Aside from racing, the track played host to a Rodeo and a Tractor Pull in 2023.
For the upcoming season, Smoky Mountain has brought in highly respected racer Jed Emert to assist in the running of the facility and its race events. The driver who has himself won numerous features at the Maryville, Tennessee track will take on the important role of assisting track owner Roger Sellers as well as Casey Moses(Sellers’ daughter) in a variety of capacities.
“The official title is going to Operations Manager,” Emert explained in a telephone interview with InsideDirtRacing.com. “My goal and purpose for Smoky Mountain Speedway is to essentially be the operator of the race track. I’m going to be overseeing everything, making sure we are being efficient on the timeliness of shows, track prep, and stuff like that. I’m kind of going to be doing a little bit of everything and that includes promoting. As far as coming up with purses and formats, I’m going to do that.”
Some of the track’s key pieces will remain in place.
“We’re still going to have a race director, Ronnie Barns will be our race director, but to put it in other terms, I’ll be what Rick Brooks has been to 411, a leader of the group,” Emert added. “They’ve got a lot of great people down there, Casey and Roger do a great job, but honestly, they’re just spread so thin trying to do so much.”
Sellers was happy to land Emert for the job and believes he has found the right person to take the reins at the historic speedway.
“I wanted somebody to come in that was eager and who wanted to keep racing alive in this area and had the knowledge to be able to do that,” Sellers stated. “I feel like he’s the guy who can do it. I think he’ll be a big help to us. He’s in the trenches with the local guys but he’s going to be involved with all of our events. He’s putting together a pretty good schedule. We’ll still run Lucas and we’ve got a few more mixed in there that we’re going to run.”
Emert is also happy to be given the opportunity. His extensive history of promotion in the karting world will likely come in handy, to a degree, in his new post.
“This is kind of a dream come true, it’s something I’ve wanted to do forever,” Emert declared. “It’s a different world(from karting). Don’t get me wrong, there are easier things and harder things about both of them. In the go-kart world there’s really no fans, it’s just the families that come and you live 100% off the back gate. I see more and more where race tracks are trying to live off the back gate and I don’t think that’s good for our sport and I don’t want to see big car racing get to that point.”
The track’s proprietors will, of course, continue to be a part of managing the property.
“Roger and Casey are still going to be involved,” Emert pointed out. “The point of me being there is to take some of the pressure and the weight off of their shoulders. There may be some stuff that we overlook but the key is that it doesn’t become a habit. I’m a firm believer that it takes a village to make this work, and it does. The goal is to learn as we go and get better as we go. The goal for this year is to build.”
The idea of bringing Emert to Smoky Mountain in an administrative role dates back to some time ago.
“Jed came to me a couple of years ago and asked me about running a couple of weekly races, or local shows, and I told him that at some point in time we would do that,” Sellers recalled. “We talked several times over the last couple of years and he asked me again this year and I said that I thought it would be a good time. Honestly, it’s just so much work and it takes so much time. Casey is busy selling houses and homeschooling Conner(her son), and even though I’ve sold my business, I still have a lot of things going on. It’s just hard to have the time and it takes a lot of time.”
One immediate challenge Emert has taken on is that of choosing what classes to contest whether that be on a night with only the local racers in action or as those that accompany touring series shows.
“Our goal is to run four regular classes,” Emert explained. “To be honest with you, we haven’t settled on those four just yet. We’ve got a pretty good idea that we’re going to have four classes and then rotate a fifth one. We’re not going to run 30 races this year or even 15, we’re just going to try to have a good, solid building year. The goal is to provide consistency for the races so they know we’re racing these nights and this is what you’re getting paid.”
Finding the balance of best serving racers and fans is the top priority.
“It’s something I see in racing across the board,” Emert responded. “Local racing is specifically lacking right now. We lack a desire of people wanting to come and watch the races and looking forward to the races. If it’s not a special event, people don’t want to come. Everybody feels like every event has to be special and I want to try to rekindle what I remember as a kid. I remember as a kid being so excited to go to the race track and seeing my weekly heroes. Then when the bigger shows would come to town, I was even more excited.”
The newly hired Operations Manager hopes to help the track become an integral part of the community.
“I felt like the whole community was like that but now I feel like everybody thinks that if it’s just a weekly race so it’s not a big deal,” Emert said. “I want us to get back to getting the excitement back for weekly racing. I want our weekly fans to come out and support those guys on a big night or a regular night. Hopefully when we get a crowd that comes here for a Lucas show they get to see our stars.”
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