Smith, rest of crew work fast, to Kenseth's winning benefit

ON MOTOR SPORTS

Auto Racing

March 03, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Nearly everyone knows baseball pitchers can get in a zone. Basketball players, too. And hockey players and tennis players. But has anyone considered that a rear tire changer on a Winston Cup stock car can get in a game-day zone?

"It is like a zone," said Dave Smith, the 6-foot, 180-pound rear tire changer on Matt Kenseth's DeWalt Ford. "Even when we had a slow stop last weekend, we were ahead [of everyone else]. When it happens, you can see all five lug nuts clearly. When you run around the car, you can see more. It slows everything down. When it happens and you're done, you can remember everything."

That's how it was in Rockingham, N.C., last weekend, when Kenseth's pit crew was a major part in his winning the race. There were 10 pit stops, and five times his crew put him back on the track in first place -- once taking him from fifth to first. Seven of those 10 stops were under 15 seconds. Two of them were under 14 seconds.

"I think the best we've ever done is 13.45 or 13.50 [seconds]," said Smith, who, with his teammates, are the 2001 World Pit Crew Champions. "We had a 13.75 last week. That's really getting the job done."

Four tires, a couple of cans of gas, a windshield cleaning and a drink for the driver in 13.75 seconds. Try that at your local service station.

The crew hopes to have the same deft touch today in Las Vegas, where Kenseth is part of the Winston No Bull Five program, which means if he wins the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400, he and a designated fan will each win $1 million.

Smith is from Millersville. In October 1999, he married his wife, Amy, and a week later moved to North Carolina. He had no job but he was determined to follow his dream.

"My dad took me to a race at Dover [Del.] when I was in sixth grade," said Smith, 28. "I just fell in love with it. I bought a go-kart to race [as a teen] just to get my foot in the door. After graduating from Calvary Chapel Christian Academy, I went to work for Ken's Goodyear Service Center. I'd work there until 6 p.m. and then I'd go work on Steve Axtel's late model until midnight. He drove at Potomac Speedway.

"It was the three years I spent working on his car that helped me get my first job in a race shop."

The first job at Bobby Hillin Racing was a steppingstone to a position on the Jack Roush-owned Kenseth team in 2000. Smith has been with them ever since.

Now, he seems to have everything he ever wanted: his dream job, a 3-week-old son, Dylan Spencer, a Winston Cup victory, and today, the opportunity to find that zone again.

"I wanted this job so bad," he said. "From the first time I saw a race, I knew this is what I wanted to do."

Ciccarelli racing

Dion Ciccarelli, who has been competing in the ARCA Series, is now running in the Busch Series with College Park-based Glidden Motorsports.

The schedule included yesterday Sam's Town 300 in Las Vegas and will be followed by two races each in Richmond, Va., and Dover, and one in Homestead, Fla.

"I'm very excited with this opportunity," said Ciccarelli, who with team owner Marty Glidden is looking for a primary sponsor for the team. "We have a great bunch of guys [with] a lot of energy, knowledge and experience."

Glidden said he started his team just to advance Ciccarelli's career.

"We are committed to going to the announced six races with or without a primary sponsor," he said. "If we could find a primary sponsor, this team could be a whole lot more competitive."

Afternoon delight

The forecast is for rain today, and officials at Hagerstown Speedway hope that's right. The area needs rain. But if it's dry, promoter Frank Plessinger plans to hold the grand opening program for the speedway's 55th season.

A week ago, nearly 100 cars -- including a record 52 late models -- showed up for the preseason opener, and an equally big gathering is anticipated today.

On hand will be three-time defending late-model champ Roy Deese Jr. of Odenton, along with former track champions Rodney Franklin and Nathan Durboraw.

The program, featuring late models, late-model sportsman and pure stocks, is scheduled for 1:30 p.m., with gates opening two hours earlier. For more information -- including cancellations if necessary -- call 301-582-0640.

Schumacher's quest

The big question in Formula One this season is whether Michael Schumacher can tie the great Juan Manuel Fangio's record of five F-1 championships.

Schumacher, recognized around the world as a driver who can make a difference in results, even in the car- and technology-dominated F-1 series, may have to be the difference. He began yesterday by driving the 2001 Ferrari that took him to the title last season and will continue to drive it until the new model is race ready.

"We pushed very hard on the 2002 car," Schumacher said. "It might pay off later, but it didn't pay off initially. How much we suffer from that is the question mark nobody knows. I am very curious to find out myself."

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