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Hobby Stock winner a target of skeptics

Richie's Smith's dominance has forced him to fend off criticism of his driving style and the legality of his car.

By LOGAN NEILL

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001


His competitors know that it's not just dumb luck that has put Richie Smith into Citrus County Speedway's victory lane six out of seven times this season.

It certainly hasn't come from sitting on the pole position every week. In fact, only one of Smith's Hobby Stock victories came from 10th place or better in the field. The last two were won from the tail end of the grid.

The question of his car's integrity is moot as well. He has passed post-race tech inspections with flying colors every time. So what is it that has made the second-year Hobby driver such a short-track superman?

"You don't win races if you don't have a commitment to doing it," said Smith, of Brooksville.

"I've put a lot of time, money and effort into building a strong car. I ain't saying what I got is better than anybody else's. It's just better for me," he said.

That thought may not hold much comfort for the rest of the division's drivers, who watched week after week as Smith's Stype Brothers Pest Control/Armate's Restaurant-sponsored No. 42 machine thread its way through the field like a runaway freight train. He leads the division by 45 points, which he says, is not as comfortable a margin as it appears.

"I go out every week to win races," Smith said. "But this is a long season, and that's what you have to do in order to get a championship. There are lots of real fast cars in this division. I know the moment I slip up, there are guys who are going to be right there waiting."

Smith takes pride in being a self-made racer.

Before he climbed into a Hobby Stock car last season, the most daring thing on wheels he had done was run an ATV through the woods. But with the help of his older brother, Tommy, an experienced crew chief who had worked with Chris Hooker the year before, Smith began to show promise early on.

"Tommy was always pushing me, saying, "You can do better,' " Smith recalled. "He was right, and a few weeks later I won my first feature."

Smith went on to score five more victories and wound up third in points. He also took home the division's rookie of the year honors. Smith set his sights on winning the Hobby Stock crown almost immediately after the speedway finished its season in November. He purchased Hooker's division-winning Camaro, and along with Tommy and their friend, Corky Miley, spent most of the winter months rebuilding the car.

"It's real different from my old Monte Carlo," Smith said. It handles much better on the outside, and that's where I like to go to pass."

Smith admits that his dominating performance has made him a target of skeptics. He's had to fend off criticism of everything from his driving style to the legality of his car. "I don't consider myself overagressive or underagressive," he said. "I'm pretty laid back mostly, but if someone's going to beat on me all night, I'm just not going to sit back and keep taking it without doing something about it."

The last two weeks have been particularly impressive for Smith, who took up track promoter Billy Hooker's challenge to try and win from the back of the field.

"I was pretty surprised that I was able to do it because when you get that many cars on the track, nobody's going to give you anything," Smith said. "But if you're patient enough, all you got to do is wait for an opportunity. That's what I did, and it turned out to be a pretty good show for the fans."

Citrus County Speedway

WHAT: Short-track stock car races featuring the Meagher Farms/Stypes Pest Control Hobby Stock 30, Late Models, Mini Stocks, Street Stocks, Hobby Stocks and Street-Legal Junkers.

WHEN: Grandstand gates open at 4 p.m. The first heat race is scheduled for 6:30.

WHERE: 2 miles south of Inverness on U.S. 41.

ADMISSION: Adult general admission, 10; seniors and students to age 17, $8; children under 10, $2; under-12 child admission with paid adult, free; pits, $20.

INFORMATION: (352) 726-9339.

Points leaders

LATE MODEL: 1. Billy Bechtelheimer (151), 2. Herb Neumann, Jr. (132), 3. John Chance (131), 4. Dale Sanders (128), 5. George Ingole (127).

SPORTSMAN: 1. Mike Veltman (233), 2. Rex Struble (224), 3. Sport Wilson (222), 4. Mark Dominique (210), 5. Bill Oesterreicher (183).

STREET STOCK: 1. Wes Wilson (255), 2. Harley Wilson, Sr. (248), 3. Travis Nichols (234), 4. Victor Stanley (217), 5. Dean Lawyer (213).

MINI STOCK: 1. Frank Coleman (208), 2. Rob Wheatley (204), 3. Kevin Harrod (199), 4. Don Faunce (195), 5. Mike Moore (189).

HOBBY STOCK: 1. Richie Smith (308), 2. Brandon Johnson (259), 3. Art Brueningsen (236), 4. Roy Perkins (233), 5. Kreg Belcastro (194).

FIGURE 8: 1. Bob Hage (136), 2. Charlie Meyer (128), 3. Peanut Higgenbotham (116), 4. Robert Aaron (116), 5. Darryl Hage (110).

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