By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
Zane Smith began competing in BMX at the age of three, moving up to Karts and Legend cars before gaining national recognition in 2015 when he won the overall Super Late Model championship at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway. Smith capped a fantastic 2015 season with a second-place finish in the Snowball Derby behind current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie Chase Elliott.
Smith will make the next step in his career in 2017, competing in 18 races in the ARCA Racing Series behind the wheel of the No. 55 Toyota for Venturini Motorsports, the team announced on Friday morning.
“What I’m really excited for is I finally get to have a mindset all on just one thing. My main priority is ARCA, ARCA, ARCA,” Smith told Motorsports Tribune in an exclusive interview.
“This year we went to all these different races just going for wins. Now I’m going to be going for wins and a (owner’s) championship and Rookie of the Year, just many things.”
The Venturini organization has recorded thirty victories in ARCA competition since 2008 with several big name drivers, including Christopher Bell, Alex Bowman, Todd Gilliland, Joey Logano, Brennan Poole and Austin Theriault.
“Man…. really everything,” Smith said of the advantages of going to a team with the success of Venturini Motorsports. “It’s definitely got a great background. We’ve still got a little bit until it starts up but I’m definitely excited to get to go get started.”
Smith will compete for SCOTT Rookie of the Year honors with the same car and crew chief that Dalton Sargeant drove to one win and 10 top-five results this season to capture the Rookie of the Year title.
“I’ve been watching the ARCA series all year. It’s been a thought pretty much all this year (to move up to ARCA) so I was trying to pay attention to all of the different teams. Venturini and Cunningham were extremely consistent. I feel like Venturini is the way to go. With the 55 and (crew chief) Billy (Venturini) backing me is just even better.”
Smith made his ARCA debut with Venturini Motorsports earlier this year at Salem Speedway and finished ninth before making his second start at Kentucky Speedway where he was involved in a wreck not of his own doing.
“The pits stops are something new that I had to get used to,” Smith said of what he was able to learn from his two ARCA starts in 2016. “We moved forward from Salem and we went to Kentucky and that was a blast going on the mile-and-a-half deal. We definitely had speed there before we got caught up in the wreck. Once you’re at those speeds there is no part of slowing down, especially when it’s on a restart and you’re just surrounded by everyone.”
At 17-years-old, Smith will not be eligible to compete at Daytona and Talladega due to the ARCA age restriction requiring drivers to be 18 years of age. Noah Gragson, who recently signed with Kyle Busch Motorsports for the 2017 campaign in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, will pilot the No. 55 Toyota at Daytona and Talladega.
“What I’m really looking forward to is all the mile-and-a-half stuff,” Smith said regarding the diversity of tracks on the ARCA schedule. “I am beyond pumped for that. Just from my first laps at Kentucky I’ve fallen in love compared to the short tracks in Super Late Models that I’m used to.”
Speaking of short tracks, the Huntington Beach, Calif. native plans to return to Five Flags Speedway for the Snowball Derby in December and also compete in the bigger Super Late Model events in 2017.
“The ones with big car counts or big payouts – we will be a part of it. The schedule that I’ve seen so far for me, I will definitely be busy next year. The whole plan is to win these deals because that’s what gets you noticed the most. There isn’t really anything better than winning.”