It has been a good season on the Pro All Stars Super Late Model North tour for Gary Smith of Bangor.
Racing full time in the series for the first time since 2004, the 54-year-old Smith is seventh in points but is within 19 points of fourth place.
A fourth-place finish would be his best ever as he has been fifth in the only two years he has run every race, 2001 and 2004.
“I’m really happy. It has been a good year,” said Smith, who has four top-10 finishes in nine races and feels he has a legitimate shot to wind up in the top five in points.
“The four tracks remaining have been good tracks for me. I really like all of them,” said Smith, who has a particular fondness for Caribou’s Spud Speedway where the tour will hold its first-ever race Aug. 21.
“Spud is one of my favorite places,” said Smith, an Orono native.
The reason Smith hasn’t run the full series every year is the expense.
“But, this season, we decided to go for it,” said Smith, who has worked for his father-in-law, Bud Spencer, for 33 years at Bud and Ray’s Auto Body in Bangor.
Bud and Ray’s has also been his primary sponsor, but they’ve added a few more this season to help him get over the hump and race full time.
In explaining why he has raced just part time on the tour since 2004, he said it’s hard to justify spending $1,000-$1,500 to enter a race, buy tires and travel and wind up taking home only $400 because he didn’t have a good finish.
His highest finish this season has been a fourth at Unity Raceway. He recently led some laps at Lee USA Speedway (N.H.) only to finish sixth.
“I was just about to pass Mike Rowe when the caution came out on lap 105. We pitted and the car wasn’t the same after that. And Mike Rowe went on to win the race,” said Smith, who is still looking for his first win on the tour and felt he had a good enough car until the late pit stop to take the checkered flag at Lee.
“Gary blew by me like I was standing still,” said points leader Johnny Clark of Hallowell. “He had a great car. It was pretty nice to see.”
Clark said it is a joy racing against Smith.
“You won’t find a nicer guy on and off the track,” said Clark. “You could race door-to-door with him and you’d never touch.”
Smith, who has been racing on a regular basis since 1984, said his success or failure in long races boils down to his ability to communicate essential information to his crew.
“If I give them the right feedback about the car and what it needs, we do well. They’ll fix anything,” said Smith. “But sometimes I’ll give them bad feedback and we don’t run as well.”
Smith loves racing and enjoys the challenge of the PASS tour.
“I really like it. It’s tough. There are a lot of good competitors. We’ve got some young guys out there who are very talented,” said Smith, who has raced on the tour ever since its inception in 2001 but was a part-time racer in seven of the 10 seasons.
Smith, his son, Jesse, and Frank Pulver work on the Chevy Impala throughout the week and they are preparing it for the Aug. 14 race at Seekonk Speedway (Mass.).
Following the race at Spud Speedway, the series will continue Sept. 12 at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough and conclude Sept. 17 at White Mountain Motorsports Park (N.H.).
He intends to set his sights on top-five finishes and trying to earn his best ever points finish.
He admits he isn’t one of the tour’s best-funded programs and doesn’t have any paid, full-time help like the top teams do, but he is still competitive and has a goal of winning a race.
“I’d love to win one before I retire,” he said.
Smith noted that if he finishes in the top 15 in points and runs the final four races, he will be eligible to run in the lucrative 300-lap Super Late Model race at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway next April.
The winner is guaranteed a payday of at least $75,000.
Clark, Ben Rowe in close battle
Clark has been a model of consistency on the tour as he sets his sights on a fifth points title and third in a row.
But despite the fact he has six top-three finishes and three wins in nine races and hasn’t finished lower than seventh, Turner’s Ben Rowe is just 10 points behind him.
“I should have a 60-point lead, but Ben and I have both been so consistent that I can’t get away from him,” said Clark. “It will come down to the last race.”