For a young driver looking to cut their teeth in NASCAR, travel is usually a basic requirement. And with so much time spent on the road, it becomes a family affair as the whole clan will travel to and from each local short track during the race season.The family of Racing Radios Bandits driver Chandler Smith is no stranger to travel for sports. Smith’s father Mike spent many years as a basketball referee. Each athlete’s goal is to make it to the professional ranks, and Mike was able to do that himself, refereeing in the NBA for one season from 1995-96.
“I did Eastern Conference games for a year,” Smith recounted about his short time at the professional level. “It wasn’t a 20 year thing, but a year is a year. I saw a lot of good players . . . Granted it was toward the end of their careers, but Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, Dominique Wilkins. I saw several good players.”
Smith got used to the travel early in life, starting his referee career by doing local recreational games while in his late teens. He then moved on to high school games, doing those for around 20 years. Following his time at the high school level, CBA games were next on the docket before moving to the NBA. The travel sent him into many cities up and down the coast in the Eastern Conference, including Chicago, Boston and New York. It was ultimately the travel that made him choose to hang up the whistle, as constantly being on the road kept him away from home.
But now the Smith family is back on the road with son Chandler as he gets his budding racing career off the ground. In his second season of Thursday Thunder racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Talking Rock native has shown great growth and potential in his ability behind the wheel. After recording a season-best third place finish last season, Smith has claimed four victories to this point in the 2012 schedule. He also is the current points leader and could be headed towards an overall points championship.
“We found out when he was seven that you can be a one track wonder, but to be the best, you need to travel,” said Mike when talking about the traveling needs of racing. “We traveled all over and ran what they called the “USAC Next Generation National Tour.” He won the nationals in a couple of divisions in the same season, and ever since we have realized in order for him to excel, we’ve got to take him to different racks, run against different guys, and be competitive . . . We’ve been to Atlanta, Charlotte, Kentucky, Georgia tracks like Lanier and Cordele, Alabama, Texas and Florida. And we have plans to race in Virginia in the future.”
Chandler’s racing career began when he was four, when Dad purchased him a go-kart. It was evident early on that he had been gifted with a natural talent. The growth of Chandler was also a learning experience for Mike, who had no racing exposure other than watching it on television. Following a half-year of go-kart racing, Chandler moved to quarter midgets and remained in those until 2010, winning five national titles along the way.
Now nine and in his second year of Bandolero racing, the experience in this new car aims to help Chandler reach his ultimate goal of becoming a NASCAR driver.
“The Bandoleros are a little faster, a little more demanding,” said Smith. “They are much like a NASCAR machine, a roll cage on a full car. They are just a quarter the size of a NASCAR car.”
While the goal certainly is to reach the highest levels of racing, being a young kid also means enjoying the process and the actual experience of being behind the wheel.
“We try to focus on learning how to drive, having fun, enjoying what you are doing,” said Smith. “Nothing is guaranteed, no matter how good you are. There’s no promise you will make it
A family can take in an evening of racing action at Atlanta Motor Speedway for less than what it would cost to see a matinée movie. Tickets for the affordable, family-friendly racing series costs just $6 for adults, $2 for children ages six through 11 and is free for children ages five and younger. All grandstand seating is smoke-free in 2012. Gates open each night at 6:00 p.m. and feature races begin at 7:30 p.m. For more information, contact the Atlanta Motor Speedway Ticket Office at (770) 946-4211, (877) 9-AMS-TIX or visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.