Drag Racing, Feature Article, Washington — September 13, 2004 at 4:47 pm

Art and Russ Smith (issue 61)

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By Steve Heeb

For the Smith family racers, the road to Bremerton Raceway started halfway across the country and more than four decades ago.

Back in 1960, Art Smith needed a car. The Chicago resident plunked down $600 for a Ford five-window coupe.

The car was race ready, and obviously so was Art. During a brief racing career, he lost only one race in 25 events he competed in during the ’60-61 seasons.

At the end of the two campaigns, Art sold the car for $650.

Jump ahead forty years to January of 2002.

Art followed an internet lead that brought him to 210-inches of vintage rail happiness.

What he found was the ’69 Pete Ogden chassis that Bill Wishart drove in the early ’70s. The rail originally was a Top Fuel car and had picked up a First Place nod for the competition award at the 1971 Oakland Roadster Show.

“It was a ‘barn fresh’ race car,” Art says of his new purchase.

The prior owner at the time had stored the car for 10 years, but never raced it.

Well, Art certainly was going to race it.

Until the heart attack.

Plans for racing the rail were put on hold, and Art wouldn’t be doing any driving. That opportunity would knock for son Russ, who hadn’t been born when Art was racing in the ’60s.

Last October, Russ brought the car out to the track at the tail end of the racing season.

Now, midway through his first season of driving, when he’s not at Pacific Northwest Builders, Russ spends his quality time making 175-185-mph laps in the 7.50-second range.

“It’s cool,” Russ says of driving the front-engined dragster. “A lot of fun.”

Russ is no stranger to the drag racing community. Living in Fallon, Nev., at the time, Russ joined the NHRA’s Safety Safari team in 1989, following the crew through the Western swing of events for Divisions 6 and 7, and the bigger Nationals. His specialty was being an Emergency Medical Technician.

Now he and Art bring the dragster out an average of 2-3 times per month, taking in test-n-tune sessions when there isn’t a race.

He’s also gathered proper sponsorship to help in his endeavors, partnering with Amsoil, Freeway Trailers, Hooter’s, Digatron, Security Race Products and FuelerGear.com.

The car boasts a front-mounted all-steel 454-cid big block Chevy bored .30 over, a 6:71 GMC blower with Cragar intake, and more power than you can shake a stick at.

“I’m getting used to the speed,” Russ says on Day 2 of Bremerton Raceway’s 10th annual Nostalgia Drags. “Keeping the front end on the ground.”

The day before, Russ had a terrifying pass that lifted the front wheels through the first 93 feet.

“The wheels came up twice in the run,” Russ recalls, gesturing with his hand to show the floating motion of the dragster’s front end. “They never touched in between. I couldn’t see anything but sky.”

Fortune smiled on Russ and the nose found terra firma without breaking the car or Russ.

Back in the pits, the Smith family has grown by two players as Russ’ sons Trevor, 17, and Taren, 10, have taken up racing in the Junior Dragster ranks.

Trevor competes in the Lightning class and drives for Hooter’s, Amsoil and Freeway Trailers. In August, Taren was Bremerton Raceway’s  points leader in the Thunder class, driving with Digatron and Amsoil sponsorship.

Russ’s advice for racers looking to add serious sponsors to the sides of their cars: Persistence.

“Be at the right place at the right time,” he suggests. “And do the best you can.”

Our advice for Russ: Keep the wheels on the ground and the exciting history of vintage front-engine rail dragsters alive and well.

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