For Pittsboro resident Scott Smith, media director for the largest motorsports sanctioning body in the world, the significance of racing goes well beyond his work for the National Hot Rod Association. The Danville Community High School graduate grew up in Hendricks County with motorsports being a gathering point for friends and family. From the family reunions at the Indianapolis 500 to selling event programs as a kid, the former ESPN media producer said he still gets a special feeling from walking the dragstrip in Brownsburg. Now, the husband and father of two says he is still making memories at the track
With NHRA getting ready to drop the green light at Lucas Oil Raceway for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, here we ask Scott Smith 10 Questions…
- Growing up in Danville, what role did sports/motorsports play in your life? Well, I grew up playing different sports through the years like baseball and basketball, but my family has always had a love for motor racing. I went to my first Indy 500 when I was 9 years old. That was always our big family reunion. Family from Florida and Ohio would always come together for the Indianapolis 500, so having those memories with my grandparents and other family members was always something special to me. And even in grade school, I worked here selling programs when it was Indianapolis Raceway Park. I think I got 10 cents on the dollar for each program…So it’s always been something I’ve been involved with in one way or another, even as a little kid.
- So l guess you could say that you associate motorsports with family? Definitely. I think one of the neat things is that even now we have a block of six Indy 500 tickets that have been in the family for years… So today we are making our own memories and I think we see that a lot at our own NHRA events; families with kids walking through the pits, fathers and sons, and even daughters…
- What got you interested in sports media as a career? I went to Ball State University and was studying telecommunications and one of the major components was completing an internship. So l remember talking to my friends about it that were going out into the real world and they would tell me to do something hands on. Don’t be the employee that’s just making copies or getting coffee. Get in the middle of it. So I went to my professor and told him that I’ve always loved motorsports, and asked if there was anything in the Indianapolis area that could be a part of There was a company called Lyngner Productions which was right on Meridian Street that did a weekly show called ESPN Speed Week Before the days of the internet, it was a results show that could really break down what happened that week in motorsports. It was really the bible of racing at that time. Instead of having all the information at fingertips with Google, you had to go to Speed Week. I later got hired on there with ESPN covering auto racing on a show called RPM 2 Night based out of Charlotte. That was a daily show that covered motorsports where we could break it down even further daily access to racers, teams and tracks. So that’s kind of how it all got started.
- Why do you think NHRA has experienced a surge in viewership in recent years? Overall I’d attribute a lot of that to Fox Sports which is our TV partner and has been for the past couple of seasons. They’ve just been a tremendous partner. They are very good at cross-promoting NHRA across multiple platforms and having consistent airtime, which is very important… We are also on Fox national broadcasts four times a year. Viewers are seeing the excitement and passion, they’re seeing the 300 mph runs women compete against men, African American and Hispanic racers that diverse nature of our sport. And I think that has been one of the key reasons for the dramatic growth.
- In your experience, how do the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals compare to other drag racing events? It’s special, and the reason for that is it used to be that if you had a racer down in Florida he would race against all of his Florida friends and the drivers from California would race against people on the West Coast, the drivers from the Northwest would race against the drivers from their area. So the US Nationals grew from wanting to see all the best racers compete against each other, and when you won, you were the champion, the best of the best. And that is still translated even today with the Mello Yello Series which is 24 events, what we call national events that are all over the country. But when they come to Indy, that is the event for which they have been saving their best parts, their best pieces. Now with a lot of what we call the Nitro teams, Top Fuel and Funny Car teams based here in Brownsburg they get to perform in front of their friends and family.
- So you might say that the location also makes the event special for those drivers? They are usually crisscrossing the country and racing away from their friends and family and next store neighbors. But when they come home, they can tell them to come out and watch. And through the years, the legend has just grown. Even now, I go back to walk the drag strip, there’s just a special feeling and you think about the big names associated with it: Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney Don Prudhomme. That’s where they cemented their legendary status, here in Central Indiana.
- So it’s almost like walking on sacred ground? Yes, you can even talk to some of the drivers who have been racing for years, and they come in here right before the event…getting everything ready, and they always talk about that first time they come back. Even seeing somebody like John Force or Ron Capps Champions who’ve won numerous races, but when they come here it kind of takes your breath away when they come down the track.
- What advice would you give to local residents planning to attend their first U.S. Nationals event?
It is definitely a family event; kids 12 an under can get in free with a paid adult, so fora mom and dad bringing two kids, it is definitely an affordable event. You can bring in drinks and snacks, so that can kind of help take away some of the financial burden. Another thing every ticket is a pit pass.
- So you’d say fans have pretty good access to the teams during events? When you go to a Colts game or the Indianapolis 500, you can’t go right up close to Andrew Luck or the Indycar drivers. But here our pits are wide open. So if you want to see John Force talking with his crew chief or getting the car ready, they can go right up to that. Another thing is that at other sporting events they will usually have dedicated hours for autographs, but at ours, you can walk up and see drivers signing autographs all day long… meeting and greeting the fans.
- If you could interview any sports figure throughout history, who would it be and what would you ask? I don’t have one specific person, and I have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with some of our NHRA racing legends. Tom McEwen, Don Prudhomme, Don Garlits, and I think the NHRA does a good job at saluting our legends, but my question to them would be: When did you know that you had something special going? When did you see the sport grow and evolve? It wasn’t too long ago that some of our race teams were working on their cars in a Walmart parking lot or their hotel parking lot because they would leave the West Coast and not come back for months on end and now they have these giant racing complexes here in Brownsburg When was that tipping point? When did you go from racing on a shoestring to 24 events across the country? And that is something that I have always been fascinated with. You know everybody says the good old days, but are we in the good old days right now?