24-Year-Old Tolliver Smith a 12-Year Shootout Veteran
The 24-year-old High Point, N.C., resident made his Hardee's Summer Shootout debut during the inaugural season in 1994, and he's been a contender in the 10-week series of Tuesday night races ever since.
"I've been racing since I was 8 years old and I plan to continue racing the rest of my life-or until I start getting my butt whipped," the vivacious Smith said with a big laugh.
A friendship with one of NASCAR's most famous families resulted in Smith getting involved in the sport.
"Our family is really close with the Labonte family. When Justin, Terry's son, got a go-kart, he started getting all of the girls' attention so I told my dad I wanted one," Smith said. "My parents got me a go-kart and I hated it. Early on, a guy crashed into me hard. It scared me and it really hurt. But then I started winning, got a thing for it and here I am today."
Smith's father, "Captain John" Smith, was also a Hardee's Summer Shootout competitor for many years. He captured the 2001 Verizon Wireless Legends Car Masters division championship and finished third in the point standings last year. This season, he has concentrated on helping his son.
"Everyone knows my dad as 'Captain John.' He used to fish a lot, but then we got really big into racing and the Hardee's Summer Shootout, so he gave up fishing because of racing," the younger Smith explained. "My dad still loves fishing, and I absolutely hate it. He is a big fan of boats, and I'm more the jet-ski type."
Setting their differences aside, Smith carries the No. 21 on his Centex Homes Legends Car Pro division entry in honor of his father.
"Dad played football years ago and we've always been big into his football career," Smith said. "Twenty-one was his number in college, so we decided to incorporate it into racing."
The No. 21 also played a role in the younger Smith earning the nickname "Black Jack."
"I was given that nickname because I won the Legends Car Semi-Pro National Championship in a black No. 21 car, and it just sort of stuck," he said.
As a 12-year veteran of the Hardee's Summer Shootout, Smith fully understands how a driver matures.
"When you are a beginner, you're really gung-ho and you want to win no matter the cost," said Smith, who recently earned a business degree from Campbell University. "There's no patience or thought behind the passion. But as I've gotten older, I've become more intelligent. My communication is a lot better and I've learned how to think with the car. I've also been told that I am a smooth driver, like I float around the track."
Currently in the hunt for the Centex Homes Legends Car Pro division championship, Smith believes staying focused during the Hardee's Summer Shootout is the key to success.
"When I'm racing, my adrenaline is rushing so much that nothing is going through my mind except for that next move. I always try to think of where to put the car. I'll be looking two or three positions ahead to see how they are racing, whether or not they're bumping each other," he explained. "If I need to, I'll ease up, and wait for the proper time to take advantage of their mistakes, because we all make mistakes."
While many young drivers in the Hardee's Summer Shootout have aspirations of racing professionally, Smith plans to take over managing the family business-Zingo Express, a chain of convenience marts and gas stations-and race strictly as a hobby.
"I've always loved racing and the whole scene," he noted. "Every kid is chasing the NASCAR dream, but things just didn't go that way for me. However, I am content because I think I'm where God wants me to be, so I believe whatever is supposed to happen will happen."
Smith is among nearly 200 Hardee's Summer Shootout competitors that will be in action at Charlotte Motor Speedway each Tuesday night through Aug. 16. The series features three classes of Bandolero racing, three divisions of Legends Cars and the Thunder Roadsters.
Admission is just $5 for adults. Children 6-12 are admitted for $3 and kids under 6 are free. Tickets are available in advance at the speedway ticket office and at Gates 4 and 5 the night of the event. Parking is free. Contact the speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS for information or to purchase tickets.
Spectator gates open at 5 p.m. with preliminary action at 5:25. Feature racing begins at 7:30 p.m. and is scheduled to conclude by 10:15.