There was something about car racing that always interested Jason Smith, even as a child.
He's not sure what drew him to the sport. It could have been the speed or the high level of competition. The 30-year-old Finksburg resident said it's likely a combination of the two along with other factors.
But Smith is entranced by the sport. He's done it in different forms and returns to dirt-track racing this spring.
Smith works full time as a service manager for an independent auto repair facility in Finksburg but devotes as much time as possible away from the job to his passion for racing.
That passion's been a part of his life for a long time. Smith's younger brother, Josh, a sports writer for the Frederick News-Post, remembers how his sibling would walk through the family's house in Westminster pretending to be a race car driver when they were boys.
Jason Smith became a driver at an early age. He began racing at the age of 18 in 1994 and has competed in different types of cars. He was influenced early on by his mother, Susan, a longtime special-education teacher at North Carroll High, whose family raced stock cars.
He often went to watch races as a child and was hooked.
"Growing up, my uncle and cousins were stock car racers and just being around the race cars was great," Smith said. "That, of course, always gave me the desire to be involved in it."
Racing was a part of family life when Jason Smith was a child. Later, when Jason started racing, it gave his brother Josh a good reason to go to the track.
"It was one of the most exciting things about my weekend in high school," Josh Smith said. "It was just a very exciting thing to do as a family, and I was one of his biggest fans."
Jason Smith's friends have helped him pursue his passion. He has had a racing team with friends for more than a decade. They help do the work on the cars that Smith races, keeping him on the track.
They're also a big reason why Smith has raced on a lot of the "short tracks" in the Mid-Atlantic region. Smith drives at tracks in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia on a regular basis and has built a solid reputation.
Friends helped Smith get his start in the Street Stock class at the Trailway Speedway in Hanover, Pa. They built a car that Smith drove in the last five races of the season. Smith finished in the top 20 in every race.
Smith continued to put together a strong resume of top-five finishes and honors and was named Rookie of the Year in his first season.
After that, Smith moved to the Pure Stock Division at the Hagerstown Speedway. That helped him get more experience in dirt-track racing, and Smith again piled up a number of top-five finishes.
Smith joined AJF Racing in 2001 and was part of a team that participated in the All-Star Truck Racing Series that year. AJF is a Finksburg company formed in 1997.
Smith fared well in the truck competition, which earned him a shot at driving in the NASCAR Late Model division. The costs of competing, however, were astronomical and his team didn't have enough sponsors, so they decided to return to dirt racing.
No profit motive
"You're not looking to turn a profit in racing," Smith said. "You don't race for the financial gain. The amount of outlay is much more than the payoff."
Smith said that when he raced in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series, it cost $75,000 to $100,000 per year to keep going. Much of that money comes from sponsors, and lining them up is a constant task.
Smith said he spends 25 to 30 hours a week on car racing.
"It's a different hobby, and it takes a lot of time and effort to get anything done," Josh Smith said. "I know it means a lot to him."
This season, when Jason Smith returns to dirt track racing, two of his sponsors will be Speedsign Custom Graphics and Wallace Engine Co., both in Baltimore County. In addition, Smith may co-host a racing talk show on radio; he's hoping the show will be on the air this spring or summer.
Smith will be returning to his racing roots when he goes back to dirt tracks, probably next month.
With top speeds over 100 mph, it is a different kind of racing - a kind that Smith loves.
"The challenge and the competition are probably what push me on to keep doing it," Smith said. "You don't really notice the speed as much after you are doing it for a while."