Jacob Seelman – BROWNSBURG, Ind. — There’s very few things that Danny Smith hasn’t done over the course of his more than 40-year racing career, but the Chilicothe, Ohio veteran will embark into unfamiliar territory when he straps in for his first appearance at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in January.
Smith, a 60-year-old National Sprint Car Hall of Famer, will partner with Indiana-based Buckeye Landon Simon to drive a midget during the 32nd running of the crown jewel midget event, set for Jan. 9-13, 2018 at the Tulsa Expo Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Simon, 28, said the chance to work with one of the sprint car drivers he idolized growing up was one that was impossible to pass up.
“Danny actually got ahold of me a few weeks ago after I made a post online … and joked around about wanting to do Chili Bowl,” Simon told Race Chaser Online. “I didn’t know how serious he was, but he kept talking about it on social media and a few weeks later I got another text message, saying that he was really interested and wanted to work something out. There was no way I could pass up that offer.”
“I think Danny’s just at a point in his career where he wants to go and do the things he hasn’t done yet, and this happened to be one of them. I grew up watching him race with the (World of) Outlaws and the All Stars (Circuit of Champions) and, later in life, watched him dominate the winged (sprint car) scene in southern Ohio. He’s always been a hero of mine, he’s a great person and he’s one hell of a race car driver. I’m really excited about getting to work with him.”
In spite of all of the things that Smith has accomplished in his Hall of Fame career, he hasn’t driven a midget in more than three decades.
“I actually asked him the other day if he’d ever run a midget before, and Danny told me he ran for Tracy Hines’ dad one night and then he ran a midget in New Zealand in 1982,” Simon said. “He said that was the last time he had run one, so it’s been a long time … he’s actually not driven one since I was born,” he laughed.
That means that Simon will be serving as mentor for Smith, in addition to driving in his own right at Tulsa in January.
“We’ll be out there with two cars, and we plan to have a whole lot of fun doing this,” said Simon, who will have a teammate for the first time as he makes his second Chili Bowl appearance. “Mt. Baker Vapor is back onboard for my sprint car and midget program next year, and they’ve been such huge supporters of everything I’ve done up to now. I can’t thank them enough and this is just going to be another great memory in our time together.”
Simon finished ninth in his qualifying night B-Main and 16th in one of the F-Mains during championship Saturday in his Chili Bowl debut, and while a driver never forgets their first time at the big show in Tulsa, Simon admitted the upcoming edition might be even more special to him than this year’s was.
“I’m jut grateful for the opportunity to get to work with Danny,” Simon emphasized. “I’ve gotten to work with some great guys over the course of my career — Jac Haudenschild comes to mind as one that was pretty special for me — but it’s just cool to be a 28-year-old car owner and get to be the owner for those guys that you grew up watching as a little kid.”