Donnie Wilson expected to have two chances to win the Winchester 400 on Sunday but instead will watch from the infield as Chandler Smith drives his No. 2 in the prestigious Super Late Model race instead.
Smith was scheduled to race a No. 26 out of the Wilson Motorsports stable, but an engine problem discovered before qualifying left the team with just one fully prepared car and engine combination.
The owner conceded to the client, even though Winchester Speedway is Wilson’s favorite event on the schedule.
“That’s the biggest thing, if we go out and have a really good day, I’m going to think of Donnie.
“It’s his car. We had the engine issue in the No. 26 and Donnie gave up his car and said, ‘I’m not running. You are.’ Me as a racer, I can’t say I would do this. It’s my favorite racetrack and I know it’s his too. It takes a lot for a racer to do that. It’s why I love this team so much and his guys so much. It’s a family.”
This is actually Smith’s debut with the Wilson Motorsports team, but he’s known Donnie since he started in Late Models as a 12-year-old. He drove his own family Late Model before making the transition to ARCA and NASCAR this year.
So, when the Smiths decided they wanted to tackle the Winchester 400, All-American 400 and Snowball Derby, Wilson Motorsports was a natural first choice.
“Donnie has everything figured out right now and has a lot of really good people around him,” Smith said. “Beyond that, I’ve known them since I was like 12 or so and it’s like a family deal. They have a lot of fun when they go to the racetrack and I wanted to be a part of it for these three races.”
Meanwhile, Wilson has made 11 starts at The World’s Fastest Half-Mile and is bummed that he can’t improve on his best finish of third in the 2014 Winchester 400, but offered a concession: “He’s got a better shot than me anyway.”
While Wilson boasts an admirable resume over the past two decades, Smith is Toyota’s top development prospect and one with nine ARCA wins a triumph in the 2018 Speedfest 200 at Watermelon Capital Speedway.
“I think he’s got a great shot to win all three,” Wilson said of Smith’s chances at Winchester, Nashville and Pensacola. I feel good about our team right now. Stuff happens in racing. We went through everything thoroughly and that one engine had a noise, and I just didn’t want to take a chance with it, and grenade one with him behind the wheel, you know?”
Smith is excited to be back in Super Late Model racing for the three biggest races of the year and missed both the community and competition of short track’s biggest national stage.
“I have missed the community,” Smith said. “Everyone looks out for each other here. I had people asking me what they could do to help when we had our issue and thought we might not race. I just really enjoy how everyone treats racing at this level — especially being with Donnie and his team.
“The other thing: I’ve missed these cars, Super Late Models. I learn way more driving these than anything else I race.
More than the ARCA car.
More than the NASCAR Truck.
“I’ve said that in a lot of interviews, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart,” Smith said. “I love having to wheel these cars. They make me sharper when I race Trucks.”
Smith will start on the outside pole on Sunday in the Winchester 400 — just in the No. 2 and not the No. 26.