Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Mobile Speedway Names Jason Smith to Competition Director and Looks to Get Back to Basics in 2019 with Local Divisions

Mobile Speedway Competition Director Jason Smith turns laps in his uniquely numbered 0ne car. In 2018, Smith moved from the cockpit to the tech shed and in 2019 moves up to the control tower. (Eddie Richie/Turn 1 Photos)

By: Daniel Vining, Twitter: @danielvining

IRVINGTON, Alabama (February 19, 2019) -- After long time Race Director Dan Spence announced that he would be stepping down from the control tower, and going back to the flag stand on his path to retirement, Mobile International Speedway General Manager Kody Lyons has announced that Jason Smith will be assuming the role of Competition Director effective immediately for the upcoming 2019 racing season.

Outgoing director Dan Spence is working toward easing down a motorsports career that has spanned almost five decades, and wants to do so via the same way he began, in the flag stand.

"It's not that I didn’t enjoy going to the race track, but it just wasn’t quite the same.  I wanted to sort of get back to where I started," Spence told Speed51.com.  "I’ve always enjoyed being on the flag stand.  I did that for many, many years.  I thought that I would try to finish out my career back where I started on the flag stand and let some younger guys step into those other spots. It’s been good, but I’m just ready to get back up there doing what I enjoy doing and what I’ve loved doing from the very beginning.”

Spence served as the Race Director for Five Flags Speedway, the Southern Super Series, and Mobile International Speedway for much of his career.

“Dan Spence was our Race Director up to this point but is now moving down from that spot here at Mobile, so we are moving our head tech official Jason Smith to the position of Competition Director,” said Lyons.

Smith has big shoes to fill in replacing Spence, but is ready to tackle the challenges that come with the position at one of the Deep South’s most iconic speedways.

“At the end of the day, I’m a racer at heart and just happen to be a track employee now,” said Smith. “I’ll be able to carry forward understanding of what’s important to the racers. … what resonates with them … what aggravates them, and what excites them.”

He added, “I understand where they are coming from. I understand what they’ve put into racing, and what they’ve sacrificed to go racing. I’ve been there and know how frustrating and hard it is.”

More from Kody Lyons, “I believe the racers of Mobile themselves have said enough about him to where we feel like he’s going to fit in perfectly as the director. They have often talked to me about how fair, equal, and knowledgeable he is and we feel he will transfer that knowledge right into the director’s position in 2019.”

In 2018, Smith served as Mobile’s Technical Director after a failed attempt at purchasing the speedway led him to hooking up with the Lyons family, who are now running the venue.

“I was putting together a deal to purchase MIS with an investor, but it fell apart,” said Smith. Then the Lyons came in and put a deal together themselves. Shortly thereafter, they asked Dave Mader for my number. We sat down and talked about what was going on at Mobile, and wanted to know if I wanted to still be a part of it and work for them.”

“I told them I’d gladly do it,” he continued. “I wanted to be a part of what was going on at Mobile because it was important to me that it didn’t become a dirt pit. From there, I worked all of 2018 as the Technical Director at Mobile International Speedway.”

Jason Smith is from Gulfport, Mississippi but considers Mobile Speedway his hometrack. Smith’s first race at Mobile was in 1996 behind the wheel of a modified. Over the years, Smith raced at both dirt and asphalt tracks across the Southeast, traveling as far as Bowman Gray Stadium.

Many will remember Smith by his uniquely numbered Sportsman car, 0ne. That’s not a typo, it was actually numbered 0-n-e, as a throwback to cars his dad raced in the mid-1980's.

“There were several cars running out of Gulfport,” said Smith. There was 05, 06, 07, 08, and 09 … and since they all had 05 thru 09, he came out with the 0no car (pronounced “oh-no”), and that was his car in the mid-80's.”

“So we had joked about it that we would have the 0no car, but I said you know what would be better than that would be to make it the 0ne car, and just spell it out. We were scored as 0 but the door spelled out 0ne.

In 2019, Mobile Speedway is set to continue the process of rebuilding the track’s racing program after a rocky return to full season competition in 2018.

“2018 was a tough year for a lot of reasons,” said Smith. You had new owners … new faces in new positions that haven’t worked there before and a lot of things there that made it a tough year, but we learned a lot.”

“There was some good weekends in 2018. We had some good shows, and good car counts and good races and people had a really good time. We only had a couple of really bad weekends all year long, but those bad weekends really hurt the bottom line. It is what it is, and there really isn’t one single person to point the blame at.. It’s just the way things go sometimes."

Moving forward into 2019, the speedway will get back to the basics that made Mobile Speedway a destination in the 80’s and 90’s.

“For this year we are focused on local cars,” explained Smith. “If you look back to the heyday of Mobile when it was under Lee Fields, the show was based off of locals. He’d have a packed house every Saturday night.”

Part of the plan to get back to basics includes maintaining parody between Mobile and sister track Five Flags Speedway, in Pensacola, Florida with both rules and people.

“The plan is to keep Mobile and Pensacola on the same page with each other as much as possible in as many areas as we can. We want to have continuity between the tracks if someone wants to race both tracks. We want to have that continuity with rules and procedures for both tracks. We are going to work hard at both tracks to make sure we are on the same page when implementing these things and we’ll have many of the same people working at both tracks in various positions.”

Smith said that in order to have a successful season, he wants to see the average car counts in each division rise. He said that having a healthy foundation of local divisions is key, and believes giving them the attention he feels they deserve will put the speedway on the path to greater success.

“The Pure Stock Division especially, feel like they are the afterthought and not cared about,” he said. “It's not good when racers feel like the track doesn’t care about them. I don’t want that to be said anymore. I want all those racers to know we car about that division just as much as we care about any other, and we care about all the divisions.”

He continued, “I’ve put a lot of focus on that division. I think a good, healthy, entry level division is the best thing you can do for the long term health of any race track, and that’s what you build on.”

He added, “Whether its trucks, outlaws, sportsman, whatever, if you come and see the local guys race, they’ll put on a show and I think you’ll be happy. Some of the best shows we had in 2018 as far as just good door-to-door racing come from our local divisions. We had better racing in the locals than the many of the late model shows. I think that’s going to continue in 2019. I know the local teams are dedicated to putting on a show if people just show up to watch them.”

Looking beyond this year, Smith sees the return of late models and bigger shows but understands you have to walk before you can run.

“2020, 2021 rolls around, we’ll start bringing back in the regional stuff, maybe try to bring back ARCA or K&N, who knows. We just gotta get through 2019 before we can really start considering those things.”

The 2019 racing season at Mobile International Speedway kicks off on March 23 with the return of the Big Rig Bandit Series followed up on March 30th with the first local division of the season featuring Sprint Car, Outlaw Stocks, Pro Trucks, Sportsman, Pure Stocks.

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