Some things haven’t changed over the last four decades. The sky has always been blue. Water has always been wet. The sun always rises in the east. And Brad Smith has been a part of the ARCA Menards Series.
The unassuming Clinton Township, Michigan, resident made his ARCA debut as a 19-year-old in 1988 at Rockford Speedway, a tight quarter-mile bullring on the western edge of Chicago. Smith ran twelve races that season with a best finish of 12th in his final race of the year at Salem, that season a grueling 500-lapper.
Smith made sporadic appearances from 1991 through 2000, often just a race or two per season before jumping in with full-season efforts for most of the next eleven years. Work obligations intervened for the next couple of seasons, limiting Smith’s time behind the wheel to a handful of starts per year or less. But then a partnership with late car owner James Hylton was forged for 2015 and plans were in place to again tackle the entire season. But a grinding crash at Talladega left Smith injured and sidelined for the remainder of the year.
In 2016, that partnership with Hylton continued and Smith was again at the track every week, most of the time in Hylton’s No. 48 and he finished a career-best sixth in the series standings. In 2017, he started every race for Hylton, finishing eighth in the standings, with plans in place to do the same in 2018.
Smith missed the third race of 2018 at Salem Speedway, but returned to the track for the next race on the calendar at Talladega, the site of his big crash in 2016. Oil pressure problems kept Smith from taking the green flag leaving him 31st in the final rundown. On the way back to Hylton’s home base in South Carolina, the team’s transporter left the highway and crashed, fatally injuring car owner Hylton and his son James, Jr.
Somehow, Smith found the wherewithal to continue on, showing up at Toledo a couple of weeks later and running all day long to a 16th-place finish. Smith and his small team, now without their beloved owner, would make the rest of the races and Smith would again finish in the top ten in the series standings.
The 2019 season saw Smith behind the wheel of his now-familiar No. 48 once again, paying tribute to the Hyltons. It was a tough year for Smith, as he and his budget-strapped team fought the hard fight just to get to the race track week in and week out. He managed to finish among the top twenty in 18 of his 19 starts with a season-best 13th at Michigan. And just as he has for the previous three years, Smith locked down a top-ten finish in the final championship standings, this time in seventh.
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.