Brady Smith returns to Superior SpeedwaySolon Springs native finishes fourth in World of Outlaws Late Model Series feature
By: By Kevin Kovac, For The Telegram, Superior Telegram
The day that Brady Smith circled on his calendar months ago had finally arrived as the World of Outlaws Late Model Series made an inaugural stop in his backyard Thursday night, visiting his former hometrack, Superior Speedway, for the ‘Mid-States Hydraulics 50’ that is part of the circuit’s annual ‘Wild West Tour.’
But while the 33-year-old from Solon Springs, was certainly pleased to be running a $10,000-to-win dirt Late Model special at a track located just over 30 miles northwest of his doorstep, he entered the biggest event in the history of the three-eighths-mile oval sitting in a far different position that he had hoped.
Smith, who finished fourth in Thursday's feature, is mired in a season-long slump — struggles that recently forced him to stop following the WoO LMS schedule, short-circuiting his dreams of returning to Superior Speedway as a contender for the national tour’s $100,000 points championship.
“I hated to do it,” Smith said of his difficult decision to drop off the World of Outlaws trail before last month’s ‘Great Northern Tour’ through upstate New York, Canada and western Pennsylvania. “I thought about it for a long time. I tried to make things happen so I didn’t have to do it, but unfortunately it was a decision that was inevitable for us the way our season has been going.”
What’s so frustrating for Smith, of course, is that his 2010 campaign began with such promise. After turning heads during his first season as a WoO LMS regular in 2009 — he didn’t win an A-Main and finished eighth in the points standings, but he ranked sixth among tour drivers with 12 top-five finishes — he had great expectations for his sophomore year. He burst out of the starting gate with a third-place finish and victory in February’s season-opening events at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., to grab the points lead for the first time in his career, but he simply couldn’t maintain that level of performance.
Smith registered just one top-five finish (second place on May 13 at Delaware International Speedway) over the next 14 A-Mains and plummeted to eighth in the points race.
Facing a 214-point deficit to WoO LMS points leader (and defending champion) Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., by the end of May and struggling to keep his self-owned racing program afloat, Smith reluctantly called tour director Tim Christman before the ‘Great Northern Tour’ to relay the news that he would be pulling back on his travel schedule to regroup.
“All things were pointed in the right direction for us when the season started,” said Smith, who has three career WoO LMS victories, including back-to-back wins during the 2008 ‘Wild West Tour’ at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks, N.D., and Estevan (Sask.) Motor Speedway. “We worked hard over the winter and ran well at Volusia. We left there with the points lead – it couldn’t have worked out any better.
“Then … God, things just went to hell in a hand basket. We couldn’t seem to do anything right. We had fast race cars and were qualifying real well (three fast-time awards in the season’s first nine events), but then either we’d make the wrong decisions on tires or have something stupid happen, like a lapped car would spin out in front of me and I’d have to spin out of third place to avoid him.
“West Virginia (Motor Speedway over Memorial Day weekend) was almost the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he continued, recalling a hard crash during time trials that left his Team Zero by Bloomquist machine badly damaged and his body sore. “We didn’t just wreck, we destroyed a car. It was junk. That really set our program back – and then I had a crew guy leave on top of it, so I just lost half my workforce.”
The cool, calm Smith paused. He clenched his fists and let out an exasperated, “Ugh!” before commenting, “I’m not making excuses, but it was just a downward spiral. We were just totally going in the wrong direction, and before I hit rock bottom I had to do something different.”
Racing with the assistance of several valued sponsors but without the backing of a major company since his four-year run with AMSOIL ended following the 2008 season, Smith doesn’t have the wiggle room with his finances to weather lean stretches like he once did. His geographic location — he lives in northwestern Wisconsin, so it takes him four hours just to get out of the Badger State — also adds a degree of difficulty to his attempts to chase a grueling national schedule.
“I enjoy racing with the World of Outlaws and I really feel like it’s the right thing to do for our program to make us better,” said Smith, who estimated that he put more than 50,000 miles on his hauler traveling to races last year. “But we need to scale back right now and change some things to get back going in the right direction.
“We’re not gonna quit. We’re just gonna try to be as prepared as we can for all the races we do, and hopefully in the future we can get ourselves in the right position to run (regularly) with the World of Outlaws again.”
Smith will be back on the WoO LMS trail this week, albeit just for the four-race ‘Wild West Tour’ through Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota that doesn’t hit a track more than eight hours from his residence. He hasn’t raced since traveling to Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa., for the WoO LMS ‘Firecracker 100’ from June 24-26 (he finished third in a 30-lap preliminary A-Main and 10th in the 100-lap headliner after leading laps 1-19), so he’s rested and ready for the challenge of racing the Outlaw stars he knows so well on his home turf.
The driver known as the ‘Prodigy’ should definitely feel comfortable at Superior, a track he ran regularly early in his career. He competed there for one year in a Street Stock, four years in a Super Stock and parts of two seasons in a WISSOTA spec-motor Late Model before he began branching out to enter full-blown Late Model events in the early to mid 2000s.
“We’re looking forward to getting back there to Superior for a big show,” said Smith, who won multiple features and championships during his years as a regular at the track. “After always traveling so far to race, it will be nice to race in front of my hometown fans and family. We’ll have a bunch of family there — parents, aunts, uncles, cousins.”
Smith, who said he’s raced at Superior “maybe 10 times” over the past five years, will be shooting for his first-ever full-blown Late Model victory at the facility. His last triumph there came in a 2005 WISSOTA Late Model event; the closest he’s come to a full-blown Late Model victory at Superior is a second-place finish on July 29, 2009, in a race sanctioned by the defunct World Dirt Racing League.
“I don’t feel like I’m gonna have a big advantage, but at least I have more of an idea of what to expect than most guys,” said Smith. “If it’s typical Superior, it’ll be really slick and smooth and you’ll have to be smooth and patient and have your car set up right.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to run up front,” he added. “After the season we’ve had, a win would just be awesome. It would boost everyone’s morale and definitely help the bank account.”
Smith will face plenty of tough competition from the WoO LMS travelers, including former champions Richards, Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., and Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky. The tour’s roster also features the red-hot Shane Clanton of Fayetteville, Ga. (two wins in the last three events, including the Firecracker 100), Tim Fuller of Watertown, N.Y., Rick Eckert of York, Pa., Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa., Clint Smith of Senoia, Ga., Russell King of Bristolville, Ohio, rookie sensation Austin Hubbard of Seaford, Del., Brent Robinson of Smithfield, Va., and Jill George of Cedar Falls, Iowa.
A talented group of drivers from the Upper Midwest is also expected to enter the event, including Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, who has won at least one WDRL feature at Superior in each of the last four years; Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa, who captured a Hav-A-Tampa/Xtreme series event at the track in 2003; Adam Hensel of Barron, who won a feature at Superior on May 21; Pat Doar of New Richmond, who was victorious at Superior on May 28; two-time WDRL champion Chad Simpson of Mt. Vernon, Iowa; and former WISSOTA national titlist Zach Johnson of Kensington, Minn.
Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. and time trials will get the green flag at 7 p.m. Pure Stocks and MW Mods will also be part of the program.
Tickets are $30 for ages 16-and-up, $10 for ages 6-15 and free for children 6-and-under with a paid adult. Pit passes will cost $40. Pit prices are $40. No crew tickets or other free tickets may be used for this race.
Tickets for the backstretch are will be sold from 4 to 8:30 p.m. After that tickets will be sold at the main gate.
More information on Superior Speedway can be obtained by logging on to www.superiorracetrack.com or calling 715-394-RACE.
The Mid-States Hydraulics 50 is the second stop on the WoO LMS ‘Wild West Tour,’ which kicked off Wednesday night at Deer Creek Speedway in Spring Valley, Minn., and also includes events Friday at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks, N.D., and Saturday at Dakota State Fair Speedway.
For more information on the WoO LMS, visit www.worldofoutlaws.com.
Kevin Kovac is the public relations director for the WoO LMS.