Smith “Mad Fast” In ARCA Victory

Winner Chandler Smith [Photo by Doug Hornickel –]

Winner Chandler Smith [Photo by Doug Hornickel –]

by Paul Gohde

It’s not often that you see a driver win the pole, drop to the rear of the field after 37 laps, and come back to win by half a lap.

But the latest ARCA “wunderkind”, fifteen-year-old Chandler Smith, did just that Friday night, capturing his first ARCA Series win in the Herr’s Potato Chip 200 at Madison Int’l Speedway.

The Talking Rock, GA youngster drove his Venturini Craftsman Toyota to his fourth consecutive series’ pole and rocketed- off to an early race lead before falling back to the rear of the 19-car field with handling problems. “There was a lug nut loose on the right-front wheel. I had started to feel a vibration, but thought it was maybe nothing.” he noted. “I just started falling back and was just trying not to crash.” After stopping twice during a convenient lap 37 caution period, he restarted 13th on the lead lap and began his pursuit of leaders Zane Smith, Gus Dean and Riley Herbst.

He moved to third and was pressuring Smith and Herbst by the half-way flags. He took the point for good shortly after a lap 126 restart with Zane Smith and Herbst unable do anything more than watch as “the kid” stretched his lead to more than 11-seconds at the checkered-flag.

“I really didn’t really have anything for him after that restart. I got too free off the corners,” Zane Smith explained, as he kept his La Paz Margarita Mix Toyota in second-place behind the victor.

Current series’ points leader Sheldon Creed and Herbst pitted for fresh tires during a lap 130 caution while the leaders stayed out. Creed took advantage of the fresh rubber on his United Rentals Toyota and finished third behind the Smiths. “I think it was his turn to win, he’s had three poles (now four) and it’s obvious that we need to work on our short-track program. We need to be more consistent.”
Purdy and Dean rounded-out the top five.

Sixth-place finisher Natalie Decker perhaps summed up the dominant win by Chandler Smith; a win that had many scratching their collective heads. “He’s mad fast and impressive. I’ll have to get some advice from him,” she explained. “He’s really a great driver.” A lesson that the entire field learned well Friday night.

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”