One of the things Dana Smith loves about racing is you never know who you’ll get to race against.
Smith, who drives in the Pepsi Sportsman Modifieds division at Claremont Speedway in Claremont, New Hampshire, recalls a time a few years back when he raced against NASCAR Cup Series rookie Ryan Preece on the modifieds tour, then watched Preece win a NASCAR Xfinity Series race soon after. The following week, Smith raced against Preece once again.
“If you play basketball you’re not necessarily going to get to go compete against LeBron James, but in racing you could potentially compete against the best out there,” Smith said. “Racing is the one sport where if you put together a car you can go race against the best in the country. So it’s fun to do stuff like that.”
Going to the track and racing for wins is what keeps Smith coming back to Claremont – a third-mile oval asphalt racing as a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series sanctioned track for the first time since 2007 – for the last dozen years.
And while he’s no stranger to winning championships, having won two in 2008 and 2017, nowadays he’s much more concerned with just getting in the car and competing.
“If I didn’t have to miss any races I would probably try for a championship, but I don’t really want to think about that, it kind of takes the fun out of it,” Smith said. “I’d rather go out there and try to race for wins. It’s more fun and whatever happens happens.”
Another aspect Smith loves about the sport is getting to race in front of his family. Smith has a 14-year-old daughter and an 11-year-son.
He’s prioritized his kid’s sports and events over his own racing, and on the other side his kids love to watch him get out on the track.
“My daughter loves racing. Absolutely loves it,” he said. “She’s big into sports, but I can’t go to a race without her because it breaks her heart if we won and she wasn’t there. I don’t want her choosing between her stuff and racing so if she has something to do I take the night off.
“I can miss some races. I’ve got the rest of my life to race… But having them at the track, I wouldn’t think about going without them.”
The competition, seeing the fruits of the team’s labor, and making friends with other race fans and drivers is all part of what makes racing special to Smith.
“I like competing in general. We put so much effort into the car. I like so much of it,” he said. “I know you hear people on race day say they’re not there to make friends, I enjoy the friend side of it.”
Smith’s father raced before Smith was born, but gave up on driving after an accident when Smith was a baby. He stayed in the sport, owning a car that Smith would work on the pit crew for.
Smith started driving himself, but took a few years off to get married, build a house, and start a family. Not long after, he got the itch to get back.
“My weekends were kind of empty and I got dreamy about racing,” he said. “My dad had a dirt modified at the time but he wasn’t driving it so I asked him if I could take it out. And he said, ‘Nope, it’s too old and not competitive, so then he went out and bought the late model.”
Smith raced late models for a season at Claremont, buying time until the track brought back modifieds, which he switched to in 2007.
This year, his 14th at the track, he has two seconds and two fourth place finishes.
“I’ve always liked modifieds. They’re lower to the ground, big tires. It’s always been my favorite division,” he said.
Smith will miss this weekend’s race at Claremont – the Valenti Modified Racing Series and New England Antique Racers featuring Sportsman Modifieds, Late Model Sportsman, Street Stocks, Six Shooters, and Pure Stocks – to watch his daughter dance.
But be sure, the next time she’s able to come to the track, he’ll be there too. Because getting a win isn’t as special without someone to share it with.
“I don’t go out there thinking we have to win. To me it’s not about winning, but I definitely want to be excited about it,” he said. “We’re having fun. It’s a good division. We just hope it grows.”