CHILLICOTHE— When it comes to racing legends people think of Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty. These names often overshadow names like Danny Smith, a legendary sprint car driver, who has called Chillicothe his home for several years. Despite not being as well known Smith has had a hall of fame-worthy career.
Sprint car racing is different than NASCAR. The cars are much smaller and much lighter. Charlie Vest, CEO and owner of Atomic Speedway, said the cars are made as light as possible to go faster and rarely have any unnecessary parts added to them. Despite the difference, many big names got their start on sprint car dirt tracks.
Smith started racing at a young age following in his father's footsteps. He said it is not uncommon for the younger guys in racing to have had parents who were also racers.
"I was born into racing," said Smith. "I knew all about it before I even started."
He won his first race in 1976 and has won a race every year since then except during the pandemic. He would go on to race across the world in Australia several times and take part in the World of Outlaws series. He is currently in three sprint car halls of fame including the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame which he entered in 2015.
At the age of 65 Smith has raced for several different teams but ultimately became his own car owner with small sponsors supporting him. In his home garage he works on his cars for the season, often buying kits so that he does not have to fully construct the car by himself. The vehicles still take a lot of work to stay running, this work includes adding new tires regularly and making sure the engine is in good condition.
Smith first came to Chillicothe at the beginning of his career as a racer at the Atomic Speedway, which is a dirt track. Vest said dirt tracks are often harder to drive on than asphalt tracks and require more skill from the driver. Smith said he enjoys dirt tracks as that is what he primarily races on.
In 2010 after marrying a woman with family in Chillicothe, who was also involved in racing, Smith made the move to the area. Atomic Speedway soon became his home track with him winning the championship there six times.
"Atomic is my home track now and one of my favorites," said Smith.
Running over 60 races a year does not stop Smith from having fun on the track. In fact, he said there are still some courses where he gets butterflies before a race. His passion for racing is what has kept him involved this long and what fuels him to continue.
"The goal is to go out every night and have fun," said Smith
Shelby Reeves is a reporter for the Chillicothe Gazette. You can email her at SReeves@gannett.com or follow her on Twitter @Shelby_Reeves_
This article originally appeared on Chillicothe Gazette: What made Danny Smith build his racing headquarters in Chillicothe?