Zane Smith goes after NASCAR Truck Series title – Press Enterprise

It probably was a given that someday Zane Smith would be racing for a living.

At 3, he was on a BMX bike, the little kid from Huntington Beach zipping around the Orange Y BMX track (which closed in 2016) or Bellflower BMX. At 5, he was racing go-karts, at the track in the parking lot of Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway or at Adams Kart Track in what is now Jurupa Valley. He won championships five consecutive years before graduating to Legends Car racing, running 5/8-scale replicas of classic cars from the ’30s and ’40s.

Now 21, he’s still trying to get to the finish line first, and as a driver in the NASCAR’s truck series – officially the Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series, for those who keep track of the corporate benefactors – Smith will race for another championship this week. He’s in the final four of the truck standings going into Friday’s final race of 2020 at Phoenix Raceway, along with GMS Racing teammates Sheldon Creed and Brett Moffitt as well as Grant Enfinger. Whichever of those four crosses the finish line first in the field of 33 at the conclusion of the 150-mile race (5 p.m., FS1) will carry away the season title.

Smith, now based in North Carolina and in his first full season on the trucks circuit, qualified for the final four by placing fourth in the points standings. In 22 starts, he’s won two races – at Michigan and at Dover, Del., both in August – and he has five stage wins, six Top 5 finishes and 12 Top 10s.

Zane Smith goes after NASCAR Truck Series title – Press Enterprise
Zane Smith celebrates his victory after a NASCAR Truck Series race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich. on Aug. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

It could be considered a quick rise if he hadn’t been doing this sort of thing all his life. Given that his dad, Mike Smith, runs the Terrible Herbst Motorsports off-road racing team based in Huntington Beach, we can assume Zane was born to race.

Professionally, he won a CARS Super Late Model event in July 2015, a month after he’d turned 16. Two years later, he was ninth in the ARCA Menards championship standings, and in 2018, at age 19, he’d won four times and finished second in the standings. That same year, he made his debut on the NASCAR truck circuit and finished fifth in his only start. In 2019, he was a part-time driver in the Xfinity series and had seven top 10s and two top 5’s in 10 races.

“The trucks are a lot harder to race,” he said Wednesday in a Zoom interview. “It’s really easy to get shuffled back, and it’s really hard to pass, (and) a lot of people on the track are really aggressive.

“The Xfinity car, I feel, is harder to drive by itself, but it’s easier to race around other cars. The truck is the opposite. They’re easier to drive by themselves but a lot harder to race around other trucks. That’s why track position is so critical … that’s why we’re so aggressive to get it.”

This year, with all of the necessary changes in NASCAR procedures – among them no practices or qualifying for post-pandemic races – it’s been a test of adaptability, especially for a newbie.

“I know there’s a lot more stuff that’s going on in the world that’s way more important than practice and qualifying, but it’s very tough to go about racing (without them), especially for a guy like me in his rookie year that had never been in trucks, never been to a lot of these places, and I’ve gotta go compete with the veterans of this sport,” he said.

“I feel like just being aggressive (compensated for that) … I was brand new going into this year, I didn’t have any plans for 2021, and it’s really hard to get a seat in this sport. A lot of seats are opening in the next couple of years on the Cup side of things. I gotta make a living, and so I knew I had to be aggressive and make my name out here, and I feel like I’ve done that.”

Zane Smith goes after NASCAR Truck Series title – Press Enterprise
Zane Smith celebrates after winning the NASCAR Truck Series race at Dover International Speedway on Aug. 21, 2020, in Dover, Del. (AP Photo/Jason Minto)

Now he does have plans for 2021. GMS Racing has retained him for next season.

Did this happen quicker than he’d anticipated?

“Probably … I don’t know,” he said. “It’s been a hard road to get here, and I probably want to (salute) all the people who have been with me along the way … I don’t go out there for the fame or to just be out there. I go out there to win, and hopefully to give back to all the people that got me here.”

He has some devoted investors backing him, including ProAm Racing Products president Roy Dehban, Tim Casey of La Paz cocktail mixes, former truck series team owner Jimmy Smith and the Herbst family.

“You have to have sponsorship dollars or an opportunity in front of you to be able to showcase your talent,” Zane Smith said. “Unfortunately, I don’t come from (big) money by any means. My dad runs an off-road race team, my mom is a school lunch lady. So I’ve just had a group of really good people behind me … three to five guys who have just really been a part of my racing and truly believe in me.”

The big payoff – a spot in a Cup series car – is down the road, but at 21 he’s got time. Success Friday could be the first sizable return on those investments.

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