Moving ahead, Smith can't help but look back

ON MOTOR SPORTS

November 09, 2003|By SANDRA McKEE

Millersville native Dave Smith is moving up in the world of Winston Cup racing, but he can't help looking over his shoulder.

Smith, 30, spent 3 1/2 years with Cup points leader Matt Kenseth and his DeWalt team before moving on to four-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon's team at the start of this season.

And then, in July, Smith, who had been working on gears and transmissions and filling the role of rear-tire changer, moved again, joining Robert Yates' No. 38 team of driver Elliott Sadler.

"Matt's about to win the championship, and Jeff won two of the last three races," said Smith. "You can't help but have a little regret. We've wrecked three races in a row, and it has been kind of a struggle.

"Ups and downs, pluses and minuses, you know. But I think they call that racing."

For Smith, this is the road of progress.

When he left Millersville in 1999, he didn't have a job as he headed for North Carolina to pursue his dream of working in the Winston Cup Series.

A stint with Bobby Hillin Racing opened the door to Kenseth's Jack Roush team, where he was a member of Kenseth's three-time-winning World Pit Crew Championship team.

Today, he is still changing tires - the front ones now - but he is also the car chief, one step removed from crew chief, the top position in the team hierarchy. He likes the job as it puts him "more in the loop."

His job is to participate in discussions with the crew chief and driver about chassis setups, gear ratios and tire pressures. Once the crew chief makes the final decision, it is Smith's job to make sure the plans are implemented.

"Dave is young and eager to learn," said crew chief Todd Parrott, who came on board after Smith was hired and chose to keep him.

"He has some good and winning experience - plus the youth to boot. He and Elliott are on the same page as far as their age. I hope [together] we can be a winning combination."

It has been a difficult season. The team, which had hoped to be a Top 10 competitor, has won two poles but is 23rd in points.

Still, camaraderie is developing. In Phoenix last weekend, the crew took the opportunity to bond - in a funny sort of way - with its 28-year-old driver, who is known for his sense of humor.

"Elliott doesn't like snakes," said Smith. "So, we put a rubber one in his car before qualifying. A lot of drivers, you couldn't do that to because some just like everything to go as planned."

What happened?

"He got in the car and saw it," said Smith. "He sort of flinched and locked up. I reached in and pulled it out. He went out and qualified 14th, which was pretty good."

Smith said he hopes to continue into next season with the Yates organization.

"The signs are that I will," he said. "But I'm willing to move around, depending on the opportunities. My goal is to be a crew chief one day."

Muldowney joins Hall

Shirley Muldowney, the first Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to win multiple championships, leads the list of inductees into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame's 2004 class. The 2004 IMHF induction ceremony, set for April 22 in Talladega, Ala., will include Muldowney, former CART champion Bobby Rahal, former NASCAR president Bill France Jr., Charles "Red" Farmer, who was named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers, and former hydroplane racer Bill Muncey.

The five bring the hall's total of members to 106.

"When I was 14 years old in Schenectady, N.Y., I could have never imagined this growing into what it has," Muldowney said. "I look back at this and the past 40 years seems like a cakewalk. I've had such a wonderful time. The more time I look back on it, I realize what a wonderful life I've had.

"I hope the young racers of today get to experience what I have and know what 30 years of racing is like. The wins are great, but the people you meet, places you go and friends you make along the way are what makes this so special."

Kenseth revealed

Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Al Levine had a note about Kenseth this week that might be the most interesting tidbit yet about the quiet, soon-to-be Winston Cup champion.

Wrote Levine: "Hot Wheels announced an extension of its contract with Roush Racing the other day to market its diecast cars. The Roush drivers were asked for their favorite childhood memory of playing with Hot Wheels."

"I ran them around a table," Kenseth said. "I'd get bored, and I'd spray them with Lysol and light them on fire.' "

Nuts and bolts

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