Not many 11-year-olds get an opportunity to race a 500-horsepower car on a real asphalt track.
Racer RJ Smotherman is doing just that.
He proudly spoke about the car he gets to race.
“It’s a junior late model, really fast,” RJ Smotherman said. “It has over 500 horsepower and weighs 3,000 pounds. It’s a full size NASCAR. It is way different than the Bandelero I drove (a class of race car), which has only 20 horsepower and that only weighs 750 pounds. It’s weird going from 750 to 3,000 pounds and 20 hp to 500 hp.”
The young racer comes from a racing family. His father, Robert Smotherman races, his aunt Susan races, his sister Dylan races and his grandmother Jeri Patrick races.
So it wasn’t so far-fetched that the sixth grader, who attends Rosemary Clarke Middle School, would race and enjoy it.
“I love racing because it runs in the family and I am pretty good at it,” he said. “It’s really fast and I want to someday race NASCAR.”
Before he gets to NASCAR he said he probably will race Modified racers at the Pahrump Speedway.
“I want to someday beat my best friend Jake Pike in Pahrump,” RJ Smotherman said.
The kid racer spent some time in the Bandolero Class racing in Las Vegas, where he even won a championship.
RJ Smotherman has raced his new car twice at Madera Speedway, taking fourth place in his first time out. This third-of-a-mile asphalt speedway is 29 miles north of Fresno, California, which is a good 7-8 hour drive from Pahrump.
“In his very first race (at Madera) he started in 13th place and got fourth,” Robert Smotherman said. “Which is really good. This last time he was in fourth but he spun out and couldn’t catch up and got ninth in his second race.”
What made his racing possible was a series put together by Kyle Busch and Madera Speedway owner Kenny Shepherd. They put together a series for kids 10-16 years old called the Junior Late Model Series.
“Kyle Busch and Kenny Shepherd donated the money that covers the kids’ insurance,” Robert Smotherman said.
“The concept for the Junior Late Model Series is something I’ve thought about since 2009, as I believe a restricted late model is a great place for a youngster to hone their skills in a car they can move up with throughout their teenage years,” Shepherd said.
Robert Smotherman said the restricted late model is safe for kids and can only go so fast for the safety of the kids.
“There is a restrictor plate and a 6,000 chip that limits revs at 6,000 RPMs,” he said. “The motor normally revs at 9,000 RPMs.”
The father said he purchased the car from family friends that own J&S Machine in Las Vegas.
“His son became good friends with my son RJ and they wanted RJ to drive their old car,” Robert Smotherman said. “We drive out to Madera once a month so RJ can race,” Robert Smotherman said. “I am pretty much taking a break from my own racing at Pahrump Valley Speedway for my kids. I want my son to learn to be a good sport and be nothing like me.”
The young racer even has sponsors that helped with the cost of racing.
“The engine itself on this car costs $30,000,” Robert Smotherman said.
He said Affordable Auto, Wulfenstein Construction, RV Superstore and Gragson Racing all had a role in helping his son live his dream.
Contact Vern Hee at firstname.lastname@example.org