The goal for any racer going into a new series is to run well and to score the best finishes possible. But sometimes, there can be other goals, particularly for a young driver. Gaining more seat time and showing steady improvement can also be a part of the plan.
The 2021 version of the Schaeffer’s Oil Southern Nationals provided Eatonton, Georgia competitor Garrett Smith with all of those opportunities and the 17-year-old who made his Super Late Model debut at the end of the 2020 season succeeded on all fronts.
During that 2020 season, Smith demonstrated that he can run up front in Late Models by winning in the 602 and 604 Late Model divisions at home state tracks such as Boyd’s Speedway and Cochran Motor Speedway. And in his maiden voyage in the more powerful Super Late Model machines, the young hot shoe was impressive as he set the overall fast time in qualifying for the Drydene Xtreme DIRTcar Series event held at Lavonia(GA) Speedway back in December then went on to lead 20 laps in the feature before ending the day with a top-10 finish.
At the start of the Southern Nationals the Rocket Chassis driver set out with the goal of competing against tough competition and gaining experience on new tracks.
“Hopefully just to be able to run with all these experienced guys and somewhat do good in points,” Smith explained of his pre-series plans to InsideDirtRacing.com. “We’re fifth in points right now(prior to 411) so I’m pretty happy with that. It’s my first full year in a Super Late Model so racing with all these experienced guys it’s pretty tough.”
Smith ultimately finished 6th in the Southern Nationals standings with a best result of 4th in the feature held at West Georgia Raceway on July 22nd. Top-10 feature efforts also came at Tri-County Race Track in Brasstown, NC(7th) and Boyd’s Speedway in Ringgold, GA(6th).
The goal of steadily progressing throughout the 9-race stretch was perhaps most clearly achieved on the final night at the Tazewell Speedway. After having never been to the super high-banked track located in upper east Tennessee, Smith set the overall fast time in qualifying then went on to finish second in the first heat race of the night behind Ross Bailes.
“I feel like we’re doing pretty good right now,” Smith declared. “You can always do better. I’m always pushing myself and my dad is always pushing me to do better.”
One adjustment teams have to make when competing on the Southern Nationals is the amount of time spent on the road and in the hauler. This year, the series traversed across three states while racing on nine different tracks over the course of 15 days. And that’s with two races completely lost to rainouts and one reset as a non-points race at the end of the campaign.
“It’s actually been fun,” Smith insisted. “I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time back when I first started. I don’t know, it’s just really fun. I’ve never got the chance to do this before. The longest I’ve ever raced for is probably a three-day weekend. It seems like we’ve been racing for a whole year straight now.”
And the young driver has enjoyed the challenge of racing at new venues.
“I had only been to four of these tracks on this tour so most of these are new to me,” he pointed out. “I enjoyed Beckley, but unfortunately, we didn’t get to run the full feature because on lap 1 we broke a right front shock. I also enjoyed Tri-County, that was really fun.”
Scott Smith, a former racer himself, is leading his son’s journey into the sport. Now, the high school senior at Gatewood Academy is involved in other things, but racing is is primary calling.
“I started in oval go-karts on dirt when I was 12-years-old,” the second generation racer recalled. “My dad got me into that because he used to race on asphalt. He raced Super Late Models for about 25 years. I used to play baseball but I got tired of playing baseball so much. I wanted to do something else so we got go-karts. I’m still playing baseball on the side for the high school but racing is more like my full-time job.”
If the goal for Garrett Smith was to gain seat time and show improvement during the Southern Nationals, then mission accomplished.
“Every time I get in the car I feel like I get better. We’ve been pretty consistent. We’ve had a fourth and a sixth and a seventh so we’re getting closer. I just need to be able to qualify a little better because we make up all the time during the feature.”
Also, NASCAR and pavement racing fans can check out InsideCircleTrack.