Interview with Stu Smith Junior

Skegness_UK_Open-May2014-Colin-Casserley-15

Stu on his return to racing.

Back in May the UK Open championship weekend at Skegness saw the return to the tracks of Stuart Smith Jnr 390. F1stockcars.com managed to grab some time with Stuart on the Sunday morning, and with apologies for the extended delay in bringing this to you, below is the result of 45 minutes in the back of the Team Smith Motorsport Transporter.

So welcome back, and more to the point, where have you been? The fans have missed you.

Well I have been doing everything else your supposed to do in your private life, with Andrew moving down to Essex I had to concentrate on my business. In the space of a year I have gone from being the “running rag” in the workshop to having to buy, sell and service every van plus get up to speed on paperwork and finance and that was quite a big ask, its really made me grow up.

I did think stockcars was everything and would spend every minute of the day on it but then I met Katie and marriage and the business took over. I didn’t want to race as an also ran that’s just not me so I took time out to sort the business and private life.

Now I have had 12 months of working seven days a week all crazy hours and I’m glad to get away for a weekend, and I think that’s what I will get from the sport now a chance to relax. You know when I was younger I just wanted to win but so far this weekend I have just been able to relax and forget about selling vans for a change and I have really enjoyed it.

So going back to your question, it’s been Wedding, Business, and now we have a little one on the way.

Oh congratulations, another little racer. Only 11 years or so to wait and the mini stox will be in the back of the bus.

Yes we will have to buy one from Jessica*

*Jessica Smith is Stuart’s niece and currently lighting up the tracks in mini stox.

So tell me about this tarmac car – is it the same one you raced before?

Yes I think we first raced this car in 2005 or 6 so it’s quite old but with tarmac cars as long as you get the fundamentals right and its correct on the scales then age does not matter. I think last night I was well up in the lap times and I felt confident with the new tyres so hopefully today I can grab a win or two.

What have you done to this car? With the new rules for tyres, brakes, and shock absorbers, it must have needed some modification.

To be honest no, I’ve put the new shockers on and altered my set up to suit the new tyres and so far it seems to be on the money. But then I have only done one meeting so I might be getting a bit ahead of myself.

And the engine, is this the same one that you raced before?

This is the last engine Andrew had (Andrew is Stuart’s brother and a former multi world champion). The car went to Nigel Harrhy but Andrew kept the engine and gearbox and I bought them from him. The new shale car will have the small block engine which used to be in this car.

Are these both Team Smith Motorsport engines that you have built in-house?

We have re-built them more than once but we did not build them originally, we had them built for us but not by one of the regular stock car engine builders.

At this point I did consider waterboarding or some other Guantanamo Bay approved method of extracting information as Stuart seemed to have some memory loss regarding where his engines first came from, so we moved on to other matters.

Stu poses for a photo with the gold roof just after winning the 2007 World Final.

Stu poses for a photo with the gold roof just after winning the 2007 World Final.

The shale car, is it ready to go?

It’s almost done, a few bits of wiring to do then weigh it and set it up. We are aiming to be out for King’s Lynn. We have been working every night for two months skipping from car to car trying to get everything sorted.

So King’s Lynn should be your first meeting back on shale, or there is also a world qualifier on the Monday at Belle Vue.

I didn’t fancy taking it out first time at Belle Vue, I think it is better to iron out any problems before you go there, Kings Lynn is a bit more forgiving with plate fence and wider bends.

Is the shale car going to be a lot different to previous cars?

Axles and suspension set up are pretty similar to before but a lot of work has gone into the chassis and the looks are quite different. I have gone for a larger cab and higher roofline to have more distance between me and the roll cage.

So are you hoping to do a full season and be a regular racer?

Hopefully yes, which for me means all the big trophy meetings plus qualifiers and then some local events. I can’t see myself being at Northampton or Skegness if it’s not a major event, I still have to consider the business and it needs my time.

And what sort of Stuart are we going to see on track this time round? In the past we seemed to get a different Stuart every week, sometimes focussed on winning lots and very aggressive,with many drivers intimidated, other times it’s all Mr Flamboyant the entertainer throwing the car at the track, and occasionally we got a disinterested Stuart plodding around the pack well off the pace.

It’s a good question; I have been asking myself how am I going to drive. I think in my last two years of racing I didn’t do many meetings, mainly just tarmac and I just wasn’t dedicated enough to run at the top of the sport so maybe that’s why I was laughed at.

Back in 2009 when I won the Silver roof I was totally dedicated but if I didn’t win then I didn’t enjoy it, I finished up not liking myself when I wasn’t winning and I want to change that attitude and I think life experience helps you do that, hopefully I might calm down a bit and do some more winning.

Stu lines up for the GN after clinching the silver roof after the Final - Belle Vue, 1st November 2009.

Stu lines up for the GN after clinching the silver roof after the Final – Belle Vue, 1st November 2009.

Well, don’t calm down too much, as may fans are waiting for a bit of the 2009 version. That year you totally dominated the Shoot Out and had pretty much got it won by round 4 or 5, and if you could replicate that sort of form for a full season then you would be collecting a lot of trophies.

I think I have always been my own biggest critic but back then I did nothing but Stock Cars and to do it at that level you have to treat it like a job, it’s not just working on the car at night, you’re thinking about racing all the time, what you’re going to do next in the garage and next time you’re on track. When you do it like that is when you’re going to be a regular winner.

If you look at the drivers who are at the top now they all put the hours in, the cars are so equal now and most of the lower graders have good quality kit. So to have the extra edge you need to put the time in. I take my hat off to the lads who are at the top now but I don’t intend to be behind them for very long.

That sort of brings me on to my next question. We hear comments from a number of drivers that the time required to maintain two cars and race regularly is a five nights a week job. What can we do to get this reduced as the commitment required to reach the top is potentially a deterrent to new drivers coming into the sport.

Exactly, I agree 100%, but it’s hard to police. We can’t stop people spending as much money and time as they have got. But I think we need to get back to where drivers think they can do things for themselves rather than just buying bolt on parts. We should be buying a part from a scrap yard and modifying it not buying some trick part from the USA.

And this is the way the drivers committee want to go to bring the level down a bit so you can run at blue or even red without doing 5 nights a week as currently it’s those who treat it like they are professionals who do most of the winning.

Stu's new shale car on its debut at King's Lynn.

Stu’s new shale car on its debut at King’s Lynn.

I noticed that you had joined the drivers committee over the winter, and wondered what input you were having, or if you had a particular area of interest.

To make it cheaper to compete. There are cars on track now that have had lots of money thrown at them and most of it is unnecessary, we don’t need bespoke components for stockcars, people are spending silly money on axles.

On my new car the only axle component specially made is the half shafts, the rest is all from a Ford Transit. I would rather somebody got an edge on track using their engineering skills than by buying an off the shelf component.

The shockers were a problem people were spending lots of money having shockers modified and the committee had to stop that as we couldn’t have drivers having to buy a new shocker then have to spend another £150 on it to be the same as the top lads, the winners should be those with talent and dedication.

One issue which seems to be a regular occurrence is that every time a rule changes, some drivers seem to feel left out of the decision making process and not clear on what the new rules are.

Yes but drivers get a newsletter in the post every month and it has all the details. I know its old fashioned but we all get bills by post and we open them and deal with them. If you don’t take time to read the newsletter then it’s a bit foolish to go broadcasting your dissatisfaction.

If a driver is not happy then he can speak to any committee member anytime. The current chairman is never off the phone talking to drivers and promoters. We also need to get more drivers to the AGM because we need the views of all drivers at all levels to be considered.

All smiles on the podium. Frankie was the first person to congratulate Stu on his victory.

Stu on the podium after his victory in the 2007 World Final.

Turning back now to things on track, racing has got a whole lot more aggressive in recent years. There are several drivers like Rob Speak, Mick Sworder, and Ryan Harrison, who don’t know when to back off. How are you going to cope?

When I first raced I was under a lot of pressure following my dad and Andy and all they had achieved, I would say I was not bothered but to be honest it did get to me so maybe I was trying to live up to something and be a big hitter was part of it.

I remember racing Kev Smith [now retired famously destructive driver] and he fenced me at Belle Vue. I got him back here at Skegness and that made a few people take notice that I would not be messed with.

Well, I take your point but Kev Smith was blue or red, while the guys I am talking about are established superstars with top quality cars and big budgets to cope with the damage.

Don’t forget I use to race against the likes of Frankie Wainman Jnr at his very best and my brother, they were both big hitters. I sorted Kev Smith and it will be no different with these new drivers.

Any particular ambitions or targets for this year? Silver or gold, perhaps?

I want to get a good place in a semi first four rows, preferably at Stoke as I used to go well at the rougher tracks. It would be great to make it to the World final with a chance of winning. I do believe if we can get the car right then I will be as good as anybody. We have the knowledge and experience to make the car work so I should be in with a chance.

Are you getting any input from brother Andy on the car?

Yeah he is watching me and the car then giving me a de-brief. Last night in the heats it wasn’t right but we tweaked a few things for the final and it was much better until the engine leaked water onto my tyres. We fixed the leak for the GN and it was really flying.

So will you be trying to qualify for the Shoot Out?

Yes defo, I love the shootout, it adds lots of excitement to the end of the season.

And how about a trip to Venray for the World Cup?

I think it will be a bit much for this year, I only want to do it if I am going to be in with a chance of winning it. To win overseas would be really special and I think it’s the only thing neither Andy or my dad managed to do so it’s something to go for.

Nobody gets far in this sport without a team behind them, so anybody we need to mention?

My team have been so supportive and have worked so hard for months to get me on track. My sponsors have also been brilliant with many agreeing to help me without knowing if I would do 5 or 45 meetings.

Teng Tools and Lucas Oils have helped along with my regular supporters J Davidson Scrap Metals, Go Goodwins Travel, Richard Baldwin Motorhomes, Barny’s Bar and Restaurant, Cheque Change at wecashanycheque.com, and Fentec, and not forgetting of course Rochdale Van Centre.

Last but not least my wife Katie who fortunately is even madder about racing than me. They have all been brilliant and now I want to deliver on track to re-pay them.

And finally, have you got your timing right? Is the baby due in the off season?

No unfortunately not.

Oh don’t tell me it’s September!

Well she did ask me what I would do if she went into labour on World final night and I said I would do the victory lap then shoot over to the Hospital. But it’s due after the World final so I think we are safe.

At this point I thanked Stuart for his time and left the Smith Transporter wondering if this was a new chilled out Stuart just looking for something to kick away the pressures of work for the weekend.

The answer came just a few hours later as the 390 car stomped all over the opposition including a flying Matt Newson to take the UK Open title back to Rochdale. Life in Briscaland is never dull when Stuart is on track and if you’re lucky the big black bus will be coming track near you very soon.

Stu was talking to Damian Noblett

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