By MIKE MALLETT
When Jeremy Smith decided to get back into racing three years ago he knew things were going to be difficult. He had been out of the game for several years while growing his business and raising his kids. The first year was a struggle as he adjusted to the new style cars and the changes in technology.
Year two was another learning year as the team, but the addition of Billy Decker brought a wealth of knowledge about the current racing scene. Now, in 2018, Smith is finally back on top of his game. Smith as multiple wins this season at both of his home tracks Afton Motorsports Park and Thunder Mountain Speedway. Now, after Friday night, he has a signature win on his resume. A Short Track Super Series victory.
“This is just huge,” said Smith after leading all 50-lap of the Afton Action 50 on Thursday night with his No. 46 Bicknell mount. “This is my biggest win ever. I always like to follow Brett’s (Deyo) series and stuff like that. There were a lot of good guys in that field. I know we started up front, but I feel like our car was working really well.”
Smith never expected that it would take him so long to find the rhythm that brought him success in his career prior to his break. The team finally has things where they need to be in order for him to be successful.
“I didn’t think it would take as long, but once you get going you only have to make small changes,” mentioned Smith. “We don’t have to make the big ones swinging for the fence when things are going well. The guys are doing a great job. I’m just out there driving it. Billy (Decker) helps me out a lot with recognizing things on the track. He helped me out before, but I wasn’t good enough to have it help me. There is a big team effort here. I think there is more to come from everybody.”
Thursday night’s triumph came from the pole, but that wasn’t the whole story of how things went for Smith. He received pressure early from Rick Laubach before a non-stop assault from Ryan Godown. Godown tried everything to get by Smith even pulling alongside of him in turns one and two, but he was able to hold tough. He kept the door closed to earn the $5,000 win.
“One time I did see him,” he said of Godown. “I wanted to try and keep momentum up but I didn’t know how much the track slowed down. I slowed down a little bit and kept it down there. I was trying to come in high and come out low because if you come in on the bottom and try to roll it you scrub off too much speed. It was one of them deals.”
Rocket Rides Second
Runner-up finisher Ryan Godown has had some success at the Afton Motorsports Park in the past competing with the Short Track Super Series. He nearly had some more on Thursday night as ended the night in the second spot with his Steve and Diane Searock owned TD4 Troyer car. Godown, who started eighth, was masterful on the bottom of the track early. He made tons of gains to get into the top five quickly.
“Starting eighth behind (Billy) Decker and (Rick) Laubach and (Anthony) Perrego, there were a lot of good cars there so I didn’t think I would get there,” cited Godown. “At the beginning of the race I was really good on the bottom; better than them. I was surprised.”
Godown made it to second prior to the halfway point of the feature. He was looking for an opportunity, especially when the race got into traffic. He was hoping to take advantage of slower cars at the back of the pack. Unfortunately the caution came out negating any opportunity.
The race saw a rash of cautions on lap 35 giving Godown numerous shots at Smith. Each time Godown tried something different on the restarts to get a run on Smith. He had one shot on the outside but thought better off it.
“He hit his restarts spot on,” mentioned Godown of Smith. “I tried to mess up his restarts a little bit, but I couldn’t even do that. I had a last ditch effort and got a good run off of two there but being that I could see (Anthony) Perrego I was a little worried, there was nothing up top in three and four. So I was worried about losing two spots because it was off a restart. You want to win the race, but you don’t want to lose two spots being stupid.”
On another late restart Godown actually got inside of Smith as he entered turn one on the top looking to drive down the bank to the bottom off of two. Godown was right next to him but there wasn’t enough of an opening for him to take the lead.
“It would have been ugly,” he said. “I could have moved him there, but it probably would have pretty good contact. Jeremy is a good dude. He’s never ran me hard. I know I get a bad name everywhere I go. We’ve crossed paths a lot and he’s never done that to me and I couldn’t do that to him. If they’ve done it to me then I’ll do what I have to win the race. That’s what people don’t understand. A lot of respect goes on. We try to give guys the respect they give us. Sometimes I’m the black eye of it but I really don’t care what everybody else thinks. I know what I think in the car. When I make a mistake I’ll go right to that guy and apologize. There aren’t too many guys that are like that. That is the way I am. I’m passionate about what I do. Either love me or hate me. That is pretty much how it is.”
Perrego Powers to Third
Like Smith, Anthony Perrego continued his strong 2018 season. Perrego fell back early on in the feature before rallying his way back up to third. He almost got second had it not been a caution negating his pass.
“I got boxed out of line early in the go,” said Perrego. “I tried to get down there and got hung out to dry. We were making some good moves in turn four. I was doing a little high low move and that was working for us. I think the outside got too far out where I was losing too much on entry. Jeremy Smith had a great car tonight. Godown and I had a good battle for second there.”
Perrego attributed his success as of late to the team combination. His car owner Brian Smith has put all the pieces in place for him to be successful. He’s also received help from Teo’s Matt Hearn.
“Matt Hearn at Teo has been helping me out quite a bit,” cited Perrego. “He’s at my shop when he’s not with Max (McLaughlin) and HBR and them guys. When he is home he spends his time with me and I’m grateful for that. Brian Smith gives me a great car here and Billy the Kid Engines run great. When you got a good car, the setup is working, engine is working you are right there.”
Decker Takes the Lead
Although he didn’t get the win on Thursday, Billy Decker had a solid fourth place finish. The Unadilla, N.Y., driver has now unofficially claimed the point lead in the Short Track Super Series North Region.
In speaking with Decker prior to the start of the racing action, he indicated that he’s not done with the Super DIRTcar Series even though the team missed the Quebec swing. The Mike Payne Racing team is taking a break to regroup at the moment but they aren’t done. The team will be back at series races in the future.
Decker most recently competed with the Super DIRTcar Series at the Orange County Fair Speedway with the Smith Racing team.
Hurlburt Hustles to Fifth
J.R. Hurlburt had a career night as the Otego, N.Y., driver rounded out the top five with his Bicknell. It was his best finish is a series race this season.
“I finally got Jamie (Page) some money instead of having to buy in and run consis,” joked the Afton regular. “We made it through the heat race, made it in, had a great night and the car is in one piece. I’m happier than hell.”
Hurlburt had a dogfight with Pennsylvania invader Duane Howard for fifth. Hurlburt worked him over the on the outside the final few laps. Once he got by Howard, Hurlburt got right back down to the bottom.
“The only way I was going to pass him was on the outside,” commented Hurlburt. “He was hugging the bottom pretty good. The top side was good on restarts for two or three laps before it silted back in. I capitalized on the top then stuck my nose back in on the bottom and got in line.”
Hurlburt wasn’t sure how his fortunes were going to be after making the redraw. Hurlburt redrew the worst possible starting position for the feature. He kept his nose clean throughout which put him fifth at the checkered flag.
“A couple of melees there we were lucky to get through,” he said. “Everybody was fighting for the bottom. That is tough. That causes stuff. You just got to be patient out there. I was lucky enough to squeak through that one incident.”