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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - When a race track opens its doors for the first time, there are always a lot of firsts to be had.
The first pole winner, the first feature winner and perhaps most importantly, the first track champion.
At Dominion Raceway in Thornburg, Virginia, Nick Smith can proudly say he was the first NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I champion in the history of the new .4-mile oval that hosted its inaugural season of racing in 2016.
“Dominion is one of the nicest tracks I’ve ever been on and one of the nicest facilities I’ve ever raced at, especially at a local home track level,” said the 30-year-old racer from Newport News, Virginia. “It’s one of the most fun tracks I’ve ever been on and it makes a lot of great racing.”
Smith was nearly the first late model stock car feature winner during track’s inaugural season in April as well, but a bizarre scoring mix-up cost Smith the victory and allowed Tyler Hughes to win the first race of the year.
Smith took the checkered flag as the race leader, but the scoring system had lost track of how many laps had been run. After a review of the results, officials realized that Hughes was actually the race leader at the time the checkered flag should have waved and awarded the victory to him.
“We won the first race the first night but we weren’t granted the win because they said we ran too many laps,” Smith said. “That kind of made me wonder how my season was going to be, but we kind of put that behind us and moved forward and from there on out we just had a great season.
“I felt like I had a win stolen from me. There was some talk about not ever coming back because we were upset, but I just kind of told myself that I wanted to show them that I deserved to win.”
Not to be deterred, Smith proceeded to rattle off 12 victories at Dominion Raceway to comfortably capture the track championship. No other driver had more than two victories at Dominion Raceway in 2016.
“We battled hard for 12 wins this year. We had some really close racing and some close finishes, some of the hardest racing I’ve had in the past 10 years that I’ve been racing,” Smith said. “I really don’t know why we were so good. We built a brand new car this year and we had a lot of good help from our chassis builder and our motor builder.
“It’s an aggressive race track and you’ve really got to charge the corners hard. There is a lot of grip there and it is a really fast track and maybe that is my style of racing. I just adapted to it very well.”
Along with his 12 victories at Dominion, Smith scored 18 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes in 21 starts between Dominion and another Virginia track, South Boston Speedway. Those numbers were so good that it allowed him to finish fourth in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National standings behind champion Matt Bowling, Keith Rocco and Ty Majeski. He also ended the year second in the Virginia state rankings behind Bowling by just nine points.
“Obviously I just wanted to go out on a weekly basis and just try and win the race,” Smith said. “At the beginning of the year I wouldn’t even say we were shooting for a track championship. We just wanted to go win some races and then it turned into a situation at one time towards the middle and end of the season that we were in the running for the (Virginia) state championship and the National championship all in one year. That’s never really happened to me before.
“I only ran 21 races this year and some of the guys that I beat in the state and the nation ran 40 races this year. We were really good on the track when we were on the track and we had good car count to get us there. It’s an unbelievable thing and an unbelievable thought to be able to accomplish all that in one year, a track championship, a state championship and a National championship in the same year like Matt Bowling did. That’s a dream season.
“We just wanted to go out and win some races and we had a chance to be that guy.”
Looking ahead to the 2017 season, Smith said he isn’t sure if he’ll return to Dominion to defend his track championship. He admitted that if his hometown track Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, returns to action then in all likelihood he’ll race there.
“They didn’t open up this year,” Smith said about Langley Speedway. “There is a possibility that they may open next year and it is only 10 minutes from my house for me to run at Langley versus a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Dominion. We’re just going to wait and see.”
Smith tallied 12 wins and 19 top-five finishes in 21 starts in the inaugural season at Dominion Raceway. Courtesty of Dinah Marie Photography