Zane Smith Making His Move in NASCAR

August 22, 2023

By Alex Valdes

“The harder you work, the luckier you get.” It’s a saying among race drivers, and that’s Zane Smith to a tee. It also helps that he’s really, really good.

You’d think a 23-year-old could only be called a “rising star,” but Smith is long past that. Last year, his first with his team Front Row Motorsports, he won the championship of the Craftsman Truck Series – one of NASCAR’s three racing circuits – after finishing as runner-up the previous two years.

In 2020, Smith’s first full Craftsman season, he won two races and was named Rookie of the Year and voted Most Popular Driver of the Truck Series.

Smith has also competed part-time in NASCAR’s two other circuits – the Cup and Xfinity series – and this year finished 13th in the Daytona 500.

Smith currently sits second in the Craftsman Truck Series standings, having won earlier this season at Daytona and Circuit of the Americas.

“I’ve been surrounded by smart people with a great work ethic,” says Smith, never one to brag. “it’s so important.”

Talking to Smith, it’s easy to forget he’s only 23 – he seems more like 33 or even 43. He’s mature and wise well beyond his years, and that makes sense. After all, he’s been honing his craft for two decades on dirt and asphalt tracks across the United States.

Smith grew up in Huntington Beach and later moved to North Carolina, all the while competing around the country — in BMX for a few years and then karting. He really wanted to move into supercross motorcycle racing but quickly realized how tough it is on the body.

“You can get really hurt,” Smith says. “It’s just brutal. Fortunately, at a young age I changed my route.”

From karting it was on to Legends cars – which are basically 5/8 scale fiberglass bodied replicas of the old NASCAR modified racers with motorcycle engines – and then Super Late Models, micros and quarter midgets.


‘Super Hard To Get To The Top’

Smith then moved into stock cars, finishing second in the ARCA Racing Series championship with four wins in 2018, then raced part-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – the lower division to the Cup Series – and had a couple of top-five finishes in 2019.

Smith’s a star now in the Craftsman Truck Series, and it seems like only a matter of time before he gets a full ride in the Cup Series. But he realizes how difficult it is to crack into the highest tier of American professional racing.

“Like all pro sports, it’s super hard to get to the top,” Smith says. “But NASCAR is especially tough. There are only 36 spots at the dinner table, and a lot of these drivers age like fine wine. They stay there a long time.

“All three (NASCAR) series are a grind. The long years will eat you up before you know it.”

In the world of stock car racing, with its deep southern roots, Zane Smith is the latest star to emerge from the cool California breeze. Vallejo’s Jeff Gordon won four NASCAR Cup titles and El Cajon’s Jimmie Johnson – Smith’s role model – won seven titles, including a record five straight. In fact, 13 of the past 28 Cup championships have been won by Californians.

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Aside from Smith’s success, he’s got a lot else going for him: great relationships with Ford, Toyota and Chevrolet and his FRM team, which may decide one day to elevate him to the Cup Series.

140 Degrees Inside The Car

For anyone that thinks these are just guys who are good behind the wheel, you’d be wrong. There’s hours of film study of drivers and races, team meetings, and lots of physical training. For Smith, that means full-body weight training, running 10 miles a week, and biking 25 miles a week to ready his body for the rigors of racing.

And that’s a good thing. Few professional athletes have to endure the amount of stresses on the body that racecar drivers endure.

“It’s 38 weekends, and you never have a ‘home game,’” Smith says. “You’re always traveling. The temperature inside a race car can be 130-140 degrees for four hours and you lose like 10 pounds per race. It’s so mentally draining, and the G-forces it puts you through (are) really a challenge.

“Your body just gets destroyed. You’ll burn 3,500 calories every race.”

And then there are the crashes, the bumps and the hits of a race. Smith says he’s still feeling the effects of a knock he took at Texas Motor Speedway on April 1. “My hip is still feeling it.”

But Smith realizes “you’re going to get some big hits. It’s part of your job, they’re going to come. I’ve gotten some good ones at Talladega and Daytona.”

Although some might say NASCAR’s popularity has waned among American sports consumers, Smith isn’t seeing that. Cup Series races keep selling out, and NASCAR has done a lot to attract younger people to the sport with what Smith calls “a massive tailgate,” with performers from country and other musical genres on race weekends.

“There’s no other sport where fan access to drivers is so available,” Smith adds. “You can ask drivers for autographs or pictures at any time. Even a couple of minutes right before a race the fans will be at our cars. The fan access to drivers is unbelievable.”

NASCAR Big in the Casinos

Smith has also seen a big surge in NASCAR interest among bettors.

“There are a lot of fans that keep betting on drivers. When you win for them, you’re their guy. Going to Vegas in the past couple of years and walking through the casinos, it’s standing room only watching NASCAR.”

Despite all of Smith’s growing stardom, he realizes it’s not just him – it takes an entire team to create a winner.

“It starts from when these things are just dumb pieces of metal,” Smith says. “It depends on everyone, right down to the shop. You have to make the right adjustments, make the right changes. The pit stops are super important, what decisions you make during a race. The firing on restarts, the adjustments you make inside the truck. We try to be perfect in all areas. Being perfect in the small areas is where you see the difference.”

“These guys are putting so much into it, I don’t want to let them down.”

He rarely does.

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Alex Valdes
Alex Valdes is Web Content Manager at Tipico North America. He has written, edited and performed user and site analysis at MoneyTalksNews, NBC Sports, MSN, Bing, MSNBC, as well as newspapers and magazines.