Most young people remember when they were 16 and 17 for the milestones they achieve, the rights of passage all teenagers follow on their way to adulthood. High school. Driving lessons. A first job.
Talking Rock, Georgia’s Chandler Smith will remember when he was 17 for a vastly different milestone.
He started the 2019 ARCA Menards Series season as a 16-year-old, with his 17th birthday in June. Per ARCA’s rules, that meant that Smith would be able to race in all of the races on tracks one mile in length and under, and once he turned 17, at WWT Raceway and Pocono Raceway.
Despite only being eligible to race in 13 events and only racing in eleven of them, Smith led the series with five victories and earned the Valvoline Lap Leader Award with 666 laps at the front of the field.
Smith made his 2019 debut at Five Flags Speedway in March, where he earned the General Tire Pole and finished fourth. He followed with another fourth-place run at Salem Speedway in April, then bettered it with a third-place finish at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, again from the General Tire Pole.
Three races and three top-five finishes would be a good start for nearly everyone, but Smith wasn’t satisfied at all.
The next two races, at Toledo Speedway and Madison International Speedway, were exactly what Smith was looking for. He dominated at Toledo, leading 140 of the race’s 152 laps as rain shortened the day by 48 laps. He did even better at Madison, earning his third General Tire Pole and leading 166 of the race’s 200 laps on his way to his second consecutive win.
Smith’s big track debut at WWT Raceway didn’t go as planned, an axle issue relegating him to 16th at the finish, the first time in his ARCA Menards Series career he didn’t finish in the top ten.
Back on the short tracks, Smith picked up right where he left off. He won for the third time of the season on the tight Elko Speedway bullring and went back-to-back again when he led all but ten laps at Iowa Speedway, the second time in 2019 he had won from the General Tire Pole.
A pair of eighth-place finishes at Pocono, his first start on a 2.5-mile track, and at Salem might have been the monkey wrench in Smith’s 2019 season, but he closed his season on the right foot, taking over the top spot at Lucas Oil Raceway when leader Ty Gibbs and second-place Joe Graf, Jr. came together battling for the lead and then passing new race leader and Venturini Motorsports teammate Christian Eckes just seven laps before Mother Nature again decided to get involved, shortening the race 33 laps before its scheduled conclusion.
Smith’s end-of-season stats are nothing short of impressive. Eleven starts, five wins, eight top-five finishes, ten top-ten finishes, 666 laps led, a 3.5 average starting position with four General Tire Poles, and a 4.4 average finish. Taking away the mechanical difficulties at WWT Raceway, where he spent 59 laps off the track while his team made repairs, he only missed two laps in any of his other starts.
Smith’s strong season was also a huge contributor to the car owner’s championship for team owner Billy Venturini. And despite only appearing in slightly more than half the races in 2019, Smith’s powerful performances propelled him to eleventh in the final championship standings.
ARCA’s 67th season will come to a close when Christian Eckes will officially be crowned the 36th ARCA Menards Series champion on Saturday, December 14 at the Championship Banquet held at the Indiana State Convention Center, held annually in conjunction with the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show. Tickets to the black tie gala, which are also available to the general public, are on sale now.