Smith Relishing Blizzard Series Finale Win in new Hamke SLM, Turns Focus to Derby in Decemberadmin
Smith Relishing Blizzard Series Finale Win in new Hamke SLM, Turns Focus to Derby in December
By Chuck Corder
In less than five months, Casey Smith’s 20 years of disappointment at Five Flags Speedway evaporated.
The 36-year-old Texan had endured decades of heartbreak and near misses at Five Flags. Smith had led hundreds of laps at the famed half-mile asphalt oval, driving a Super Late Model and competing in the Deep South Cranes Blizzard Series and at the prestigious Snowball Derby. Smith was winless at Pensacola’s high banks despite being a perennial favorite each time he unloaded.
“Man, there was no place I wanted to win more than Five Flags,” Smith recalled. “But I had resigned myself that it was never gonna happen. We led 130 laps at the Derby one year before we got wrecked at the end. There was always something that would happen, even with Blizzard races. It was never the consistency we were looking for.”
Mercifully, his lengthy drought ended in 2021. Smith captured a Modifieds of Mayhem 50-lap feature in May and backed up the victory earlier this month when he won the 100-lap season finale for SLMs.
Smith controlled the last half of the Blizzard Series race, leading the final 62 laps and dominating the 28-car field. He attributes the win to his new Hamke Racecars SLM, a popular manufacturer that has always fared well at Five Flags.
“These Hamke cars are fast everywhere they go,” Smith said. “Over the years we’ve had great cars, but we were never in position at the end to win. (Hamke has) a niche on the kind of setup you need at Five Flags. That helps to give me a feeling of knowing what I need to do.”
Which is half the battle in winning short-track racing’s preeminent race and hoisting the Tom Dawson trophy at the Derby. Smith is confident the Blizzard victory gives him a good baseline to build from when December rolls around despite the obvious effects temperature changes will have on the track.
Still, after years of disappointment in Pensacola, he refuses to take that ever-elusive SLM win in stride.
“I hate losing way more than I love winning,” Smith said. “Right now, my focus is on the next race. I’m not taking that win for granted because it may never happen again. But I need to get better.
“With this new engine and car combo, there is no reason I need to be second-guessing anything. Excuses are out the window. I put a ton of pressure on myself, knowing we have really good equipment and when we unload, we’re just fine-tuning the car and not throwing the kitchen sink at it.”
Smith has long eschewed conventional wisdom that Late Model programs need to utilize a crew chief. Instead, he chooses to call the shots and make the important decisions.
“I really enjoy working on cars,” said Smith, who operates out of his family’s shop in Manchaca, Texas, a short drive from his home in Austin. “We’ve had a lotta good help over years. Everybody has their own philosophy on how you get there. Hamke gives us a good baseline and pointers on what to do. It has worked out well so far.”