JR Smart’s desire to delve into racing occurred at Road America with a serendipitous bump on the head in 1960.
Smart, then age 8, was a spectator with his father FJ, sitting on the inside of a Turn 12 spectator area. A person walking at the top of the hill — above the Smarts — dislodged a few rocks and one hit JR in the back of the head.
FJ handed his crying son over the fence to corner workers, who tended to the injured boy. In that moment, JR’s need for speed took a sharp turn.
“As my head was being patched up, I was feet away from these ground-pounding, thunderous cars, whirring through Canada Corner,” Smart said.
“I thought ‘I’ve got to do this. This is for me.’ I knew right then and there that I wanted to race.”
Smart will compete in the WeatherTech® Chicago Region SCCA June Sprints® at Road America on June 14 to 17.
Smart participated in a driving session at Jim Russell’s driving school in California in 1976. He bought a sports car and has continued to consistently compete — with a few breaks – for decades. The Madison resident is marking the 110th anniversary of his family’s car dealership this year.
Smart has won races in a handful of series at the 14-turn, 4.048-mile permanent road course in Elkhart Lake, including the Sprints, Mazda Road to Indy Series and Midwest Council of Sports Cars Clubs.
The veteran driver has been running for 12 years with Pabst Racing, and during the 2018 Sprints weekend will pilot a Formula Atlantic with a Toyota-powered Swift 014 chassis.
Smart said he’s enjoyed working with Augie Pabst III, especially considering the fond memories he has of watching Pabst’s father, Augie Pabst Jr., race in a Scarab at Road America.
Smart has posted a win already this season at Blackhawk Farms Raceway, two second-place finishes at Homestead-Miami Speedway and two top-five efforts at Sebring International Raceway.
“Augie re-does the vehicle, ground up rebuild every season over the winter, and we carry a spare engine with us because things happen,” Smart said. “The engine typically is freshened up maybe every 900 to 1,000 miles. They go over the car with a fine-tooth comb.”
Smart said he has fond memories of roaming the paddock with his father and scoping out the best spots to watch race events at Road America.
“There are a lot of rolling hills and excellent observation areas everywhere you go. It’s just hard to describe how absolutely stunning the track is,” Smart said. “The elevation changes, the challenging carousel and kink — there are so many places you can go and see something different, unique and exciting.”
Smart has run dozens of tracks in the United States but said his favorite is his home track. Getting the opportunity to compete in front of his parents was incredibly special, especially when his late father was in the stands.
“One of my favorite memories up there, and this wasn’t even a victory. It was a top-five finish in the Sprints,” Smart said.
“My mom was not always a big fan of my racing but she understood my passion for it and accepted it. My dad was grinning like a little kid every time he saw me pursuing my passion at Road America. It’s fast, it’s fun and gives me a thrill every time I put a wheel out there. I just can’t get enough of it.”
Just like Smart’s many lifetime memories, new thrills and memories have yet to be made, as generations of racers and their families will flock to the June Sprints for their chance at glory. This year, over 350 sports car drivers running everything from showroom stock to highly modified purpose-built race cars are scheduled to fill four days of practice, qualifying and racing as the June Sprints are the first trophy stop to win amateur racing’s most prestigious title, the Triple Crown® of Racing. To earn this title, competitors must win in their class at the June Sprints, win their respective divisional title and win at the SCCA National Championship Runoffs.