As a young race car driver with his own challenges, Dylan Smith can relate to a guy like Wendell Scott, the driver who broke into the sport in the 1960s and became the first African-American to win a Sprint Cup-level NASCAR race.
Since his middle school years, Smith has been honoring Scott by donning the same number – 34 – on his own race cars. Scott will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2013.
Smith, a 20-year-old University City resident, had to take a two-year hiatus from racing because of a lack of financial support. Now a first-year Legends Car driver for Rev Racing, Smith is once again sporting the number 34 on his ride and trying to make his own mark in racing as an African-American.
A native of Randolph, Vt., Smith started racing go-karts when he was 4 years old. He raced karts for nine years before advancing to the Allison Legacy North Racing Series, a step below Late Models.
“My dad sat me down and we watched ‘Greased Lightning’ when I was 12,” said Smith, referring to the movie about Scott. “At 14, I started reading up on him and doing reports at school. The more I read, the more I wanted to be like him. I changed my number to 34.”
After a couple years in a Late Model, Smith’s family ran out of money to support his racing. He had already participated in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity combine twice but failed to qualify for placement with a NASCAR-endorsed team.
However, Rev Racing, which fields several Drive for Diversity teams, recognized Smith’s talent. The Concord-based team offered Smith a job as a mechanic, and he moved to Charlotte in the spring of 2011.
Working with teams that race in NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series and the NASCAR Whelan All-American series, Smith considers himself a “jack of all trades.” He helps with the cars’ fueling, seat belts, and tires, among other tasks.
In the meantime, Smith’s seat time was limited to mostly driving a simulator in the shop. Practicing six hours a day, six to seven days a week, he valued the experience.
For the third time last October, Smith participated in the Drive for Diversity combine, which invites 25 to 30 minority drivers who are tested in skills such as driving ability and media relations. Smith was passed over again but maintained his position with Rev Racing for the 2012 season.
Rev Racing’s offer to put Smith in a Legends Car this year “came out of nowhere” says Smith. He’s racing in the semi-pro division at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Summer Shootout Series.
“(Smith) performed extremely well at the NASCAR Drive for Diversity combine in 2010,” said Derik Crotts, general manager of Rev Racing. “So, when the opportunity presented itself for Rev Racing to participate in the Shootout Series, we felt he had earned the right to drive our car and honor the legacy of Wendell Scott.”
Smith had the opportunity to meet Scott’s daughter, Sybil Scott, at a recent race in Richmond, Va.
“I have her blessing to drive with the No. 34 here in Charlotte,” said Smith. “It means a lot to me, personally, for someone in their family to say they want me to race with that number on my car.”
In two races, Smith has finished 18th and 23rd, respectively. He is scheduled to compete in the annual Legends Big Money 100 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on July 2-3. The total purse is $100,000.
Long-term, Smith plans get back in a Late Model car by the end of the season and race at tracks in Hickory and in his home state of Vermont.