One of my absolute favorite things about dirt track racing are the personalities that go along with it. While many other sports see their athletes being “cookie cutter” on camera or in interviews, our sport is just the opposite.
When racers are happy they smile, and when they are mad they tend to raise nine kinds of hell. There’s no facades or fake personas – just the honest truth.
I’d say 95 percent of the racers in the dirt track world are down-to-earth people, who anybody can approach anytime and strike up a conversation. Sure, there are some exceptions but by large-and-far, I’ve come to in find over the years that dirt track racers are pretty awesome people.
One such character is the one-and-only Clint Smith. I caught up with the Senoia, Georgia racer for a little Q&A session during January’s Wild West Shootout at FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway.
We shot the bull, and I fired some of my best questions at the driver, who is known by the nickname, “Cat Daddy.” As expected his answers didn’t disappoint.
I hope you fine folks enjoy reading his candid comments, as much as I enjoyed getting them from him.
OD: What year did you start racing and where?
CS: I started in 1980 at the age of 15 at Dixie Speedway in the B-Cadet division. It was a steel-head class with a stock front clip and a stock body. I raced a ’68 Camaro. That same year I moved up to A-Cadet, which was the same car with a little bit more motor. By the time the year was over I had moved up again to the Limited Sportsman class, which was the division just under Super Late Model. I didn’t really change much throughout the year on the car. My goal was just to get more laps against tougher competition. The next year I moved to Super Late Models, and I guess you can say the rest is history.
I started in 1980 at the age of 15 at Dixie Speedway in the B-Cadet division.
OD: Your dad – Roscoe Smith – was a racer as well, correct?
CS: That’s right. He ironically started out in Drag Racing before he made the move to dirt. In his Drag Racing days, he used to regularly race against both Don Garlits and Richard Petty.
OD: What’s your all-time favorite track(s)?
CS: First would have to be Rome Speedway in Rome, Georgia. I just love the speed of the place and the way it races. Second would be Deer Creek Speedway in Minnesota, and nowadays Senoia Raceway in Georgia is one of my favorites.
OD: You’ve had a long and successful racing career, but if you had to pick your favorite memory, what would it be?
CS: Back in the day when you won a $10,000 race, that’s when you really got into an elite crowd. I’ve won some big races – like the $25,000 check at the Hillbilly 100 – but my first $10,000 victory came in 1993 at South Hampton, Virginia with the Hav-A-Tampa Dirt Late Model Series. That’ll always be the most special win to me.
OD: Throughout your career, who are some of your racing heroes?
CS: Definitely my dad (Roscoe Smith), Mike Head, Leon Sells, and Leon Archer. Those four guys were the cream of the crop around my house, and that’s who I looked up to growing up. In fact, they’re still my racing heroes today.
He knew that I called a lot of people “Cat,” so he started calling me “Cat Daddy” and it just kind of stuck.
OD: Where did your nickname, “Cat Daddy” originate?
CS: Back when I started driving a GRT Race Car, Johnny Virden gave it to me. He always a knack for coming up with nicknames for people that included the word “Daddy.” He knew that I called a lot of people “Cat,” so he started calling me “Cat Daddy” and it just kind of stuck.
OD: Do you still have as much racing today as you did back in the beginning? Why or why not?
CS: No. It’s just such a money game and so much at stake these days every time that you hit the track that it’s taken a lot of the fun out of it for me. I’m not even going to say it’s the advancements that’s ruined it. What we call advancements today is the same as when we went to leaf springs to coil overs back then or even swing arm to four-bar. It’s no different than air shocks today. It’s just the next step. That’s not what’s hurting racing.
In my opinion motors have gotten way out of control. It’s pretty tough, when you’re paying $42,000 for a motor that used to cost $10,000. The technological advancements don’t bother me, but the stout prices of these motors have made it tough.
OD: Who’s some of the young drivers that you currently have your eye on as the next batch of dirt track stars?
CS: There’s a lot of tough young guys that race around my area. You have Ashton Winger – who I think will be a dirt racing superstar in the years to come. Austin Horton is another talented young guy, and he just won the Southern All Stars title. Then you also have Zach Leonhardi, who’s come out of the Bandalero and Legends into the Super Late Model ranks. Of course on the national level, you have a guy like Bobby Pierce. People think he’s a veteran, but I mean he’s only 21 years old. He’s probably going to be the toughest in the country for a lot of years.
OD: Over the past few years you’ve scaled back your racing, and you help a lot of young guys around the house with their racing programs. How much enjoyment do you get out of your role as a mentor?
CS: I really do enjoy helping up-and-coming drivers. Even back several years ago I got a lot of enjoyment out of helping Josh Richards, when he was first getting started. I always tell the guys that I help that I want them to win, but I’m not going to give it to them. They’ve got to earn it if they want to beat me. It’s kind of a running joke.
OD: What’s the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you in a racecar?
CS: I’ve got some things I’ve done in a racecar that I’m ashamed of, but probably the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me was at Cleveland Speedway in Tennessee one time. I was responsible for taking the American Flag around the track during The National Anthem. I choked the car down after picking up the flag on the front stretch and it wouldn’t fire. So, I just set there for the entire song, unable to get going.
OD: What’s the most disappointing experience of your career?
CS: It would probably the National 100 at East Alabama Motor Speedway. It’s a race close to home that I’ve tried to win many times, but it’s always been elusive. It’s definitely a race that I’m disappointed to have never won.
If someone roughs you up, odds are pretty good it wasn’t intentional.
OD: What’s your best piece of advance for a young racer who wants to make a career in Dirt Late Model racing? CS: Dirt Late Model racing isn’t like driving your street car. You’re going to be sideways and on the verge of being out of control a lot of the time. If someone roughs you up, odds are pretty good it wasn’t intentional. Keep your cool because the next night it might be you that accidentally gets into him.
Always try to talk issues out with other racers, and don’t ever hold grudges.