By Aaron Bearden, Open Wheel Editor
Chandler Smith came to Iowa Speedway without experience on larger ovals and unsure of what to expect.
He nearly left the track with the checkered flag.
Smith rose through the field over the course of the 150-lap event and shadowed ARCA Racing Series points leader Sheldon Creed to the finish en-route to a second-place result in Saturday’s Fans With Benefits 150. The run was Smith’s fourth top five and fifth top 10 in five-career ARCA starts.
“This is my first time ever being on a big track, first time coming to an ARCA race at Iowa in general,” Smith told Motorsports Tribune. “It’s only my fifth start in the ARCA Racing Series, so to run race smart and run second is awesome.”
The Venturini Motorsports prospect’s day started off quiet. Smith qualified seventh and spent the first half of the 150-lap race running outside of the top three as Creed, Michael Self and Riley Herbst dueled for the top spot.
Creed continued to show pace as the event entered its second half, but Self and Herbst dropped out after contact during a mid-race battle, opening the door for the other ARCA stars to rise into contention. Smith and Venturini took advantage, rising to second on a Lap 111 restart and following in Creed’s wake over the ensuing run.
Neither driver was aware of it at the time, but that run would stretch out until the checkered flag. Smith rose to within a two car lengths of Creed’s rear bumper a few times over the run, but as the race entered its final laps the 16-year-old’s odds grew increasingly low.
With five laps to go the gap was under half a second. Creed dropped back in the next couple laps, but in the final circuit found something that gave him a burst of speed. Unfortunately the boost came too late – the Madison International Speedway winner took the checkered flag just .236 seconds behind Creed in second.
“I moved around at the end of the race, and on the last lap I found something that I should have probably done five laps earlier,” Smith said. “I wish we had a few more laps. We could have driven by him and probably pulled away. Learning experience.”
While he fell short of bringing home a win for Venturini, Smith kept his No. 20 Toyota clean and gained experience on the 7/8-mile Iowa oval in the process. In the end that was reward enough after a night he entered with uncertainty.
“It was a wild experience,” he said. “I went four-wide one time. We were three-wide a few times. It was almost breathtaking, you could say. I was just soaking in the whole deal.
“I wanted to win, but it’s always a good day when we’re loading it up on the hauler in one piece after a good finish. I’m just happy to be here.”