Model Officer Becomes A Model Maker


March 08, 1992|By Stanley C. Dillon

How would you like to take early retirement, be able to pursue your hobby full time and make money doing it?

Meet Steve Smith of Eldersburg.

After more than 20 years on the Baltimore County Police Department, Smith took advantage of an early retirement program and turned in his uniform to make model race cars.

"I saw people liked what I did, the demand for the cars have been increasing and I began to believe that I could make a living from it," said Smith.

"I discussed the move with my family. The police department was good, but I had enough. There was too much turmoil, too much hassle to make it enjoyable anymore. Besides, I felt that I could make a decent living doing something I enjoy."

Smith has to enjoy what he is doing. Last year he painted and lettered more than 600 model sprint cars that he sold at one speedway alone. To keep up with demand, he painted the cars from sunrise until he left for work at each afternoon, then painted into the next morning after he returned home from work.

Since his retirement in January, Smith hasn't slowed down. He still works from sunrise to midnight, only taking time out for dinner as he tries to keep upwith demand. Smith has not done any advertising; all of his businesshas come from word of mouth.

Smith has been a race fan all his life. His father, George Smith, raced stock cars in the 1950s at the old Condon Speedway in Carroll County and at Westport Stadium in Baltimore.

"I was born in February and my parents took me to the races in May," said Smith. "And I have been going ever since."

When his job permitted, Smith traveled to most major dirt tracks in the northeast, following drivers such as Gary Stuhler of Westminster and CharlieSchaffer of Hampstead.

About eight years ago, Smith and Denny Hoshall began building 1/10th scale versions of late model stock cars. Hoshall makes the cars from metal and wood and Smith and paints and letters them to match a local driver.

The two began giving their cars to local speedways to present to track champions. It didn't take long before other car owners and drivers began to ask Smith to build models of their cars.

Three years ago, Smith began painting 1/24th scale sprint cars. He purchased the cars from K mart and repainted andlettered them in colors of local drivers.

Because of the demand, Smith now buys the cars direct from the manufacturer. He sends cars to dealers in North Dakota and Illinois.

Some model dealers send Smith color photos of local drivers and Smith will return a painted car.

Smith sells the late model cars for $40 and the sprint cars for $15. He's made models for Carroll County late model drivers like Stuhler and Schaffer and sprint car drivers like Jeff Shepard and Jesse Wentz.

The painting came naturally to the 45-year-old. When he was a teen-ager, Smith would paint plastic models of old Ford Coupes. Hisfour-year tour of duty in the Air Force as a draftsman helped developed his skills.

Smith's son Matthew, a senior at South Carroll High, shares his father's interest in auto racing. They attend races together and Matt takes pictures of the cars his father will paint.

Last summer, Matt traveled the NASCAR Winston Cup Circuit with a friend, selling racing apparel, collectibles and souvenirs.

Smith is looking forward to the summer. He will be able to attend the races he wants without worrying about the shift work of a police officer.

Steve Smith won't have any trouble finding something to do in retirement.

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