PENSACOLA, Fla. – Sammy Smith knows there is pressure in driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports, but he’s put all those thoughts out of his mind this week at Five Flags Speedway.
The driver of the No. 51 TMC Transportation Toyota Camry XSE is attempting to make the field in his Snowball Derby debut at the historic half-mile short track.
Despite a lack-luster first day of practice, Smith found some time to smile Friday morning even with the intensity of qualifying for the super late model crown jewel looming large.
For drivers like Smith who were further back on the timesheets Thursday, a Western Florida rain shower that rolled through the Pensacola area Friday morning may prove to be a blessing in disguise, affording a chance to hit the reset button ahead of time trials.
“Yeah, the first couple of practices we struggled a little bit and the guys did a good job getting the car better. I think the last practice, we ended up 10th, so we were getting better,” Smith told SPEED SPORT. “We obviously needed a little more speed to be in the top 10. Hopefully we can get that, and the track will change a lot through here and the qualifying since it has just rained. So it’ll be another reset.
“We’ll have to get the car right, and hopefully we can get a good time down.”
Smith has explained in the past how he feels no real pressure driving the No. 51 for KBM, even though by most accounts in the paddock, the ride is the most sought-after seat in super late model racing.
Fast forward to this weekend, and Smith admitted that not much has changed.
“Yeah, not really,” Smith answered after being asked if racing at the Derby for one of the “it” teams in super late model racing has crossed his mind.
“Obviously you just want to make it in the show, and then whatever you can do from there, just hopefully go win, that’s kind of the goal every weekend, but this is the biggest race of the year. There’s probably the best competition in a while here at the Derby. It’s been a while. So, obviously you want to go win, but you’ve got a lot of tough competition, so I just really want to learn as best as I can and race around good people.
“You just want to see what they’re doing and try to make your craft a little better, and then hopefully by the end of the race, you’re there and you can beat them.”
At the 53rd Snowball Derby, he will not only have the opportunity to drive for his NASCAR Cup Series champion boss, but will also have the shot at racing against him.
Smith also noted how integral the relationship he has with Kyle Busch has been this season, even if for most of the year it has been over the phone.
“He helps me out a lot. Even though he’s not at the race track, I text him throughout the week. Anything I need, he’s there to help me,” said Smith of Busch. “If I have any questions about these bigger races that he has run in the past, and this is my first time running these bigger races, he’ll give me some advice. It’s obviously good advice cause he’s won just about every single one of them.
“I just want to hopefully beat him, but the immediate goal is to have a good run.”
Smith has shown consistency through the year in KBM equipment, with three top fives and six top 10s with the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Super Late Model Tour. He also took the pole during the Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in September.
The Iowa-born driver had some impressive results already before joining the KBM stable, having won the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway last year on the strength of three victories in a pro late model.
But the Snowball Derby, and top-level super late model competition in general, is a different beast entirely.
“It’s the best of the best,” Smith said.
Although his status in the 53rd Snowball Derby is that of a rookie, Smith’s accomplishments at such a young age are more akin to those of a veteran.
Smith is optimistic about his chances for a good weekend based on his pro late model history and his prior starts at the tricky half-mile oval.
“I’ve only raced twice here at the Snowflake, and we raced the Blizzard race. At the Snowflake we had a good run last year, and then we struggled a little bit in the Blizzard race, but, we were just trying some things that didn’t work out that we put back. We feel like we have a good car.
“Hopefully, we can just be there at the end and have a chance to win.”