It is an anniversary for Gary Smith.
Exactly one week ago, the Bangor native won his first ever Pro All-Stars Series Super Late Model North race in his 104th start on the tour.
He finally broke free from defending three-time points champion Johnny Clark of Hallowell with two laps remaining to take the checkered flag at the Bastille 200 at Lee USA Speedway (N.H.).
“I can die happy now. I’ve got my win,” chuckled Smith. “I said I wasn’t going to quit until I won one.”
He credited much of the win to his son and crew chief Jesse Smith.
“The car was really tight coming off the corner in the heat race,” explained the 55-year-old Smith. “It wouldn’t turn. We were getting discouraged. I gave Jesse some input after the heat race and he decided to change a spring right before the feature.
“I didn’t think it would be enough but it was. Jesse made the right call. It was perfect. It made all the difference in the world,” said Smith, who drives a Chevy Impala from Jeff Taylor’s Distance Racing Products in Fairfield.
Smith said he wanted to be able to “pass on the bottom groove. Everybody was moving up to run in the top groove like they do at (Hermon’s Speedway 95). I knew the bottom was where we needed to be. That’s where we ran there last year and we ran pretty well.”
He figures he raced Clark side-by-side for 25 laps before finally pulling away on lap 199.
“It was awesome. What made it nice was not only was it my first PASS win, it was also a really, really good race. Everybody said afterwards what a really good race it was.”
Clark, who wound up third, said he was pleased to see Smith pick up his first win.
“Nobody else has paid their dues like Gary has,” said Clark. “It’s a family-run deal and they’re classy people. Nobody has anything bad to say about Gary.”
Clark also pointed out that Smith pitted with 50 laps to go which was “30-to-40 laps after we did and that was the right pit strategy. The rest of us pitted too early. That made such a difference for him. My tires were spent at the end.”
Smith said the feeling that swept over him when he took the checkered flag was “surreal.
“After all these years and all these different tours. Through everything that has evolved. You’ve got some new names and others who have retired. And I’ve just kept plugging away,” said Smith who had also never won in the North East Pro Stock Association (NEPSA) tour that preceded PASS. “It tickled the daylights out of me.
“I can’t explain how much it meant to me,” he added. “It also meant a lot to Jesse and to Frank Pulver, who has been part of my race team since 1987.”
He also reminisced about races he almost won.
“I’d be so close. I’d have a good car and then something would break,” said Smith. “I wondered how many times I would have to go through this (before winning). You pay your dues and pay your dues. …”
He said he has had phone calls from friends all across the country congratulating him.
“Last Wednesday, all I did was answer phones,” he quipped. “It was pretty neat.”
He pocketed $4,000 for his win and said another thing that makes it special is that he doesn’t have the money or resources some of the other PASS racers have.
“It’s quite an accomplishment for us,” he said.
Next on the agenda, according to Smith, is to get a second win.
“I want to make sure it was no fluke,” said Smith who feels “really confident” that they can run well the rest of the season and maybe claim that second win.
He will race again on Saturday night at Oxford Plains Speedway as the PASS SLM North tour will hold a 150-lap feature the night before the TD Bank Oxford 250.
That will be the second PASS SLM race of the week as there will be a PASS National Championship series feature, combining the PASS North and South series racers, at Thompson International Speedway on Thursday night in Thompson, Conn.
But Smith will swap roles with Jesse, who will run in the John Phippen Late Model 100 at Speedway 95 on Thursday night at 7.
“John was a good friend of mine,” said Gary, who will act as the crew chief although he says his son actually “crews himself.”
Town Hill’s Phippen was a popular driver who died of a heart attack at Speedway 95 last Sept. 11.
Second Thursday night set at 95
Speedway 95 co-owners Del Merritt and Alice Baker decided to switch to Thursday night races for their Saturday night regulars to avoid competing against the NASCAR weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this past weekend and the TD Bank Oxford 250 this coming weekend.
Merritt said he was “real pleased” with the car counts and turnouts for last Thursday’s race card.
“We had 19 street stocks for our 50-lap feature,” said Merritt referring to the Ikey Dorr Memorial race which was won by Harrington’s Andrew McLaughlin.
Merritt said the decision to race on Thursdays these two weeks resulted from necessity.
“If something isn’t working, you’ve got to try something different,” he said. “It was worth a shot.”
He said he expects to continue Thursday night racing on those weeks next year as well.
Merritt said he is looking forward to Thursday’s John Phippen 100.
“I think we’ll get 20-22 cars for it,” said Merritt, who will also run features in the other division.