MOORESVILLE, N.C. (March 1, 2019) – Zane Smith’s driver bio lists his hometown as Huntington Beach, Calif. A case could be made that his racing hometown is Las Vegas, because that’s where he grew up in the sport.
“Absolutely,” the 19-year-old driver said when asked if Las Vegas Motor Speedway was his home track despite living not far from Irwindale Speedway. “I actually grew up racing every single weekend at The Bullring right outside (LVMS). It’s definitely my home track.”
That’s a pretty fair drive for a weekly racer. When asked how far it was between home and The Bullring, Smith laughed. “I usually slept in the back of the motorhome, but I’m pretty sure it is three or four hours.”
The fact that Smith is up in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet is because of his sponsor for the race, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. .
“When this first came together, I was supposed to start (his eight-race schedule) at Bristol, but this deal came together and we made it happen,” Smith said. “I owe a huge thank-you to The Cosmopolitan for that. If you haven’t stayed there, that place is unreal. It has been rated the best in Las Vegas for the past two years. I got a pretty cool stay there last time I was out, and that room is just unreal. It really makes you sad when you have to check out.”
Making his NXS debut at a track he considers his home is a big deal for Smith and the rest of his family and friends.
“This is really big, not only for me but for everybody that’s been involved since I was on a BMX bike,” he said. “I have had so many people throughout my career that have been part of it, and hopefully we have a good day on Saturday and make that all worth it for them. Hopefully, we’ll have a lot of the people from The Cosmopolitan out and a lot of the people who have been with me since the get-go. It should be good.”
There are no butterflies, Smith said. “No, not really. It’s more just me doing everything on my part to make sure it all goes well.”
During the preseason, Smith and teammate Noah Gragson took part in a test at LVMS, and that helped Smith a lot and for one hugely important reason: it would be his first time in an NXS car.
“It was really good to test there because I had never driven an Xfinity Series car before,” Smith said. “I got to know all my unknowns, and as a bonus, we were the quickest one out there. It went really well, worked with all the guys that will be on my car this year. I also got to hang out with them for two races, at Daytona and Atlanta, so we have a little bit of a flow going. The test went well, so it’s set up to be a good weekend. It just needs to happen.”
That’s a very adult attitude for a young driver to have, but it seems to fit Smith’s personality.
“I’m going in this weekend, and really all my eight races, with zero expectations,” he said. “I’m going to give it 110 percent, work off the track 110 percent and see where it all works out. If I end up 10th, I know how much better I need to get. If I end up in the top five I’ll be extremely happy. You just want to be there at the end.
“This is going to be a tough one, we have Cup guys in it, and the Xfinity Series is always tough. I’ve always kind of grown up where I was just fed to the wolves and see how you stack up and get better from there.”
He’s had some time around the scene to get used to it, having accompanied his No. 8 team to both Daytona and Atlanta.
“The past two races have been cool,” Smith said. “I’m more paying attention to the team, the words they use, the flow they want to be in. You want to make your team want to feel like buddies and not just people you work with. That’s how I look at things.”
Working with first-time crew chief Taylor Moyer both in the car at the test and on race weekends has helped forge a good relationship. This weekend’s race will see how far Smith has come and how far he still needs to go, on a lot of different fronts.