NASCAR is not a sport known for its diversity, but Jonathan Smith is out to change that. The Drive for Diversity graduate has been racing since age five and was even a Rookie of the Year runner-up.
After a brief hiatus from the track, Smith is ready to get back in the driver’s seat. As he prepares for his first race back, Jonathan took the time to do an interview with BSO.
How did you get into racing?
It started with my Dad who raced in the Connecticut/ New York area; you can say that racing is in my blood because he passed it on to me. I started racing dirt bikes when I was 6 and continued to race bmx bicycles and go karts.
I started my stock car career at 19 at Stafford Springs in Connecticut. I ran in that local NASCAR series for one year, and then moved up to the Bush East Series which is now the K&N Pro Series where I raced for 4 years.
As the economy declined 2 years ago, finding sponsorship was hard, so that sidelined me from the racing scene.
What is the process one has to go through to become a NASCAR driver?
There is a licensing process. I bought my first license at my home track in Connecticut. To race there you just have to pay, arrive and drive. Once you move up into the K&N Pro Series, you still have to purchase the appropriate license, but there is an approval process you have to go through. NASCAR officials will watch your race to make sure you aren’t overly aggressive, run a clean race, and drive safely with the other drivers. Based on their observations, NASCAR step-by-step approves you to race at bigger tracks.
Tell me about how Drive For Diversity helped your progression as a driver.
Drive for Diversity is actually what brought me from local racing to the national scene. The program is how I got involved in the K&N Series. They do a great job of getting you in the cars and getting you in front of the people who can help you succeed. Drive for Diversity gives you the opportunity; it’s just a matter of what you do with it.
Tell me about the challenges you’ve faced as you follow your dream of being a NASCAR driver.
It all comes down to sponsorship. You have to be able to fund the season, fund the cars, and get to the track. So where performance on the track is very important, it’s also very important to keep that professional image so you can be a good spokesperson for the sponsors.
What do you look for in a sponsor and what would you bring to the partnership?
You have to make sure that the sponsor is a good fit. For example, I’m not quite sure Hello Kitty would be a good fit for me, but I’m a big fitness enthusiast so athletic companies would fit well. It’s important to find a sponsor you have a passion for so you can actively speak and feel comfortable when you go to events as their spokesman.
You said you are a fitness enthusiast. How does that help you on the track?
It helps tremendously. Everybody thinks you just sit in a car and drive around, but a good way to explain the fitness aspect is that if you’re not physically fit your body will wear down during the course of a 2.5 to 3 hour race. When that happens your brain will naturally switch to try to figure out how to keep your body up, which will take away from your focus on the track. I’m really into running, working out, and keeping my body in the best shape as possible so I can keep my mind in the right place on the track.
What does your body go through during a 3 hour race?
The forces in the turn put a toll on your body. The core of your body really gets worked out. I lost 8 pounds during a race once. So you can get a workout.
Early in your career you had a lot of success, now that you’re getting back in the car again after 2 years how do you bridge that gap?
It’s a very big mental game. Staying mentally prepared is very important. Faith also plays a huge part. Just keeping the faith and knowing that God will help me do what I have to do. And finally being prepared and just getting in the car as much as possible to get in practice.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
If you would’ve asked me this question 5 years ago my answer would be totally different. Five years ago I would’ve said running full-time in the Sprint Cup Series. But now I’m finally getting back on the scene after being out of the car for two years. Ultimately, 5 years from now I’d like to be on the top-level of the cup series racing every weekend, or the top-level of the grand am series prototype racing every weekend.
Jonathan Smith is super-excited to be back in the car and will compete in his first race, the Road Atlanta Continental Tire Sports Challenge, on April 20th. There are big things is store for this promising young man as he climbs the NASCAR ranks.