Tracking the Truck Title: Zane Smith

All things considered, Zane Smith keeps focused on making the Round of 8. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

All things considered, Zane Smith keeps focused on making the Round of 8. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

While Zane Smith battles tenaciously for a final Playoff spot for the Round of 8, the 22-year-old Huntington Beach, California native remains cool and confident. Above all else, the sophomore NASCAR Camping World Truck Series racer believes in himself and his No. 21 GMS Racing Chevy Silverado team.

Presently, Smith acknowledges the prior challenges that bogged down his season. Yes, last year’s season runner up encountered his fair share of misfortune like Harry Potter in The Chamber of Secrets. Then again, like Potter, Smith remains a crowd favorite as he connects genuinely with fans.

As Smith illustrates, he and his team remain steadfast with their approach. After all, Smith and crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion have plentiful experience handling successes and struggles.

Although Smith sits five points below the cutline, he doesn’t seem stressed. Perhaps some of his swagger comes from those cycling exercises with driver coach Josh Wise. Maybe Smith’s youth and enthusiasm provides that genuine calmness in a high pressure series.

Regardless, Smith is as ready as ever for the Round of 10 finale at Bristol on Thursday night, Sept. 16. at 9 p.m. ET on FS1. Now, let’s start “Tracking the Truck Title with Zane Smith” exclusively on The Podium Finish!

Rob Tiongson : Firstly, congrats again on making the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs. Prior to the Playoffs, you parlayed consistency. And you maximized on race days to make your second consecutive Playoffs appearance. What were some of the takeaways from the regular season that you liked in terms of your execution on the track as well as the No. 21 team’s overall performance?

After a rough result at Gateway, Zane Smith salvaged his Playoff efforts with a solid ninth at Darlington. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

After a rough result at Gateway, Zane Smith salvaged his Playoff efforts with a solid ninth at Darlington. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Zane Smith : Yeah, I mean, I guess it’s mostly bad. But I guess the good to take away from our regular season is we’ve only had one race so far this year that we’ve had nothing happen. And it’s been somewhat a smooth race. Other than that, it’s always been a penalty, or we’ve had to go to the back at least once. So I’ve learned a lot on, I guess, kind of what not to do. And I guess, I don’t know. I feel like a small handful of things have been, I don’t know, I guess like freak accidents, you could say. But we’ve really learned a lot about each other as a team.

We’ve obviously passed a ton of trucks this year. I was doing some little math on the way home from Darlington. And I put basically just 30 and then times it by 15, and we’ve passed at least 450 trucks this year. So kind of a cool stat test test to have. But I hope to just kind of have smoother races in that in the future here. And obviously, just some less crazy days ahead to capitalize on a win.

We’ve definitely been fast enough. We’ve had everything. It’s just always some dumb little thing that gets in the way of that.

Tiongson : With that many trucks overtaken this year, there should be some kind of award for that just to go and pass that many competitors. I mean, I can’t even fathom how many cars we all pass on the freeway. But to go through that many drivers in a single season. …and we still have a week to go. I hope you don’t have a headache from going through all that many drivers in the field.

Smith : Yeah, it’s definitely been a big one of those. (laughs)

Tiongson : Well, if the Truck Series did what F1 does with the’s Overtaking Award, I think you are the Truck Series’ Sebastian Vettel with the most overtakes this year. So there’s got to be some reward for that, at least in the form of making it to the rounds of eight. But you know, we’re not gonna jump too far ahead just yet.

Let’s go ahead and delve into the first two races of the Round of 10. Obviously, you’ve only done Gateway and Darlington. But what was your mindset before, during and after those race weekends with how you prepared for them? Like what was your approach, the things you were thinking of ahead of those two races?

Misfortune or not, Zane Smith remains confident about advancing into the Round of 8. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Misfortune or not, Zane Smith remains confident about advancing into the Round of 8. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Smith : Yeah, I mean, really going into the Playoffs, it was just to not have any mistakes. And unfortunately, we’ve had those so we went into Gateway. And I mean, that’s really the only reason I’m below the cutline here. Unfortunately, not scoring points in stage two, and then ultimately not finishing the race. And breaking really, really early on and then having the rest of the Playoffs guys mostly finish in the top 10, that’ll really hurt you.

So I feel like if it wasn’t for that, we would definitely be locked in by now. So there’s one more left, we’re five below the cutline. And Bristol’s been a good track for us. So we’re just gonna go into that one and do our best, do what we know what to do.

Tiongson : That actually leads to my next talking point. And yes, you’ve run really well in Bristol, because if it’s the concrete or dirt, and obviously this time around, it’s going to be the concrete surface. Like you mentioned, you’ve been competitive at Bristol. And in fact, you were I think in the top five or top 10 in both stages last year. So you know, with this month’s cutoff race being back on the concrete at Bristol, how are you preparing for that cutoff race especially with the aforementioned five point deficit between yourself and that final transfer spot?

Smith : Yeah, I mean really, I mean, not doing anything different to prepare. I feel like our preparation for the past two years now with Josh Wise and my crew chief Bono Manion and and my whole team in general, we’ve done a good job on preparation. It’s just, like I said, the dumb little mistakes that’s gotten in the way of our major success, I guess, this year. So I feel like we’re just gonna, I don’t know, race hard, race smart and hopefully stay out of trouble.

I feel like every time we’ve entered Bristol, we ran really good. Last year, we were third that whole final stage. And then it was about 10 to go, we corded a left front really bad, and we fell back quick there. But that was unfortunate. But we’ve made a few small changes for our truck this year. And hopefully, they’re in the right directions.

Tiongson : Now, I’ve noticed, speaking of going in the right direction that the GMS trucks are showing some of that speed that may have, I don’t want to say hasn’t been there because obviously your teammate Sheldon [Creed] has been rocking it so far. But it’s been kind of a regular season beforehand, where John Hunter Nemechek was pretty much putting on a show for everybody. And you guys would grind out to get those top 10s. But you know, how encouraged are you to see the speed out with your trucks? Because clearly, you guys have found something.

Smith : Yeah, I mean, to be honest, our speed has been there all year, at least on the No. 21 team. It’s just, if you go back and watch, we just always have something happened to us and it takes us out of it. I’ve lost track of how my races of where I’ve been leading or the top three there, and we just have to go to the back. And these races are so short, you can’t compete with that. I can only pass 36 trucks so many times.

Tiongson : You actually touched upon something I thought about with the Truck Series and in particular with the Playoffs format. With the fact that you guys, unlike the Cup and XFINITY Series, you guys don’t have a lot of time to make up for mistakes. So kind of going into a two part question.

I’ll go off in the first one, you know, you’ve kind of mentioned about mistakes and how they either hurt or impeded the progress that you have otherwise had with a fast No. 21 truck. From your perspective, what do you do to kind of like, dust off those errors? Whether it was self inflicted? Or you know, something happening with the pits top? Like, what do you do to basically just put it away?

"I go into each and every race, just controlling what I can control and and just knowing when I leave the racetrack, that's all I was able to do." - Zane Smith (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

“I go into each and every race, just controlling what I can control and and just knowing when I leave the racetrack, that’s all I was able to do.” – Zane Smith (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Smith : Yeah, I mean, unfortunately I wish I could say they’re self inflicting mistakes. But I think the one at Darlington was my first one where I’ve actually made a mistake. Other than that, it’s been mistakes on pit road that are simply out of my power. So I don’t know, I go into each and every race, just controlling what I can control and and just knowing when I leave the racetrack, that’s all I was able to do.

Tiongson : Yeah, that’s exactly right. I mean, you definitely have to, you know, make sure everybody’s on the same page. And if someone makes a mistake, you know, being that you’re a young 22-year-old driver, from what I’ve observed, you’re pretty good at picking up the slack or everybody. I can think of a quote you said last year was at the Martinsville playoff race where there was some kind of situation on pit road. And your crew chief was fired up. And you’re the one who was saying, “Hey man, I got this. Don’t worry.” And you got yourself a top three.

So I mean, kind of reminds me, actually, of the unique relationships and dynamic between you and Bono Mannion. I know we bring it up every interview, but I just think it’s such a cool contrast to have touched veteran crew chiefs with a very young but very talented driver.

And when you’re having a season like this, and it’s been kind of like you’re knocking on the door, you just need some good luck on your side. What is it like to have someone of this stature and experience around motivate you and your team?

Smith : Yeah, I mean, I feel like, luckily, me and Bono from the get go have always been kind of on the same page where we’re actually pretty similar in a lot of ways. So I feel like we’re a good team. And not only just us to our whole team in general, I feel like we all know what we need to do. And our emotion level is mostly always on the same page. So that’s a really important. I hope to get to work with Bono for many years ago.

Tiongson : Many years to come. And I’m sure you’d love to bring them to the XFINTIY and maybe the Cup Series down the road, I bet.

Smith : Yeah, yeah. That’d be fun.

Tiongson : We’ll see about that. And hopefully, the new GMS boys and girls can get up there and fight in the upper ladder series of NASCAR, to say the least, you know, kind of going back about, you know, the intensity of the Playoffs. And I’ve asked this year with the various drivers in the Truck, Cup and XFINTIY Series. How have you been balancing the demand into the Truck Series, given the sprint like race stage length and trying to optimize your mental and physical health, so you don’t get burned out, but you’re also like, “Alright, I’m going to put some effort into this?”

Smith : Yeah. I mean, I guess for me, least, I wish we raced twice as much. I feel like only 21 races is kind of lame, in my opinion. I wish it was a lot more, but it is what it is. I was bummed that we even took off a race this year. So not sure on the reasons for that, but the big breaks in between are annoying at times. So, especially when you just want to redeem yourself. So I feel like, I wish we just raced more. Really, I guess that with the short stage links, especially for me this year, it’s just been kind of going to the back and trying to get as many as you can, and in such a short amount of time. So that’s been the challenges here.

Tiongson : You nailed it about the Truck Series about how there’s those long lulls after, you know, an exciting start, or an exciting string of races. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to kind of like, “Alright, you know, I’m going to work out, I’m going to meet with the team, keep myself busy, but it’s gonna be a while for my next race.” So it’s interesting to hear that perspective from you, in terms of those little moments where you don’t get to race, because that would drive me nuts if I was if that was being dragged. But, you know, hopefully, you’ll be up there and being more busy, of course, in the world of NASCAR.

Let’s not lie about the fact that the Truck Series is a very competitive and exciting division. You know, whether you’re new or old racing fan, and being one of those young drivers who’s mixing it up with the veteran talents. how exciting is it to be a part of the series that has such a stark, but you need representation of talented racecar drivers in bringing in new racing fans?

"There's a lot of competition and a lot of good trucks. It's tough. It's really hard racing, close racing." - Zane Smith (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

“There’s a lot of competition and a lot of good trucks. It’s tough. It’s really hard racing, close racing.” – Zane Smith (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Smith : Yeah, I mean, I feel like the Truck Series has had it’s probably peak or if not damn near close. There’s a lot of competition and a lot of good trucks. It’s tough. It’s really hard racing, close racing. I don’t know. I mean, I remember when I wasn’t Truck racing and Truck races were always my favorite to watch. So they’re fin to be a part of. But yeah, the competition is definitely really stiff at the moment. And I think it’s going to be getting harder in the years to come.

Tiongson : I think of a quote, I can’t remember which Hendrick driver said this, there is saying something about and you get deeper into the season, and especially if you’re a playoff driver, that’s when business kind of gets more cut throat, if you will. In your case, of course, you’ve got your teammate Sheldon Creed, who is obviously advancing to the Round of 8. And I’m sure you’d like to join him as well.

Coming up with Bristol, or just in general, what’s it like to lean on him and Tyler Anrkum, Chase Purdy and your new coming teammate Jack Wood in terms of collaborations and just feeding off each other on new ideas?

Smith : Yeah, I mean, all of our competition meetings were all just a debriefing. So, I don’t really know. I mean, I feel like I’m mostly leaning on Josh Wise and his film and his input of what he has to say. And I say as much as I can and really just apply it to the weekend.

Tiongson : Fair enough with me and, no, I get it for sure. You know, Josh Wise, you’ve mentioned him quite a bit. And of course, he’s your driver coach and a veteran NASCAR driver. I’ve noticed on social that you know you’ve worked out with him on cycling. Let me ask you a little bit of a fun question for you. Which one would you say is more tough in terms of intensity and challenging conditions? Would you say cycling with him in the incredible, oppressive conditions for a long ride is tough or is racing in Texas Motor Speedway during the daytime tougher?

Smith : (chuckles) It depends. Obviously the heat at Texas is pretty damn hot. So that’s difficult, but some of these bike rides that we do as well are definitely some of the hardest things you’ll do, it feels like. So I don’t know. It’s all hard, but that’s what makes it fun.

Tiongson : When you were beginning your cycling with Josh, was there a moment in time where he was probably going a little bit faster than you? And you’re just like, “Hey, man, slow down, you know, I’m in shape! But I need to make sure I can keep up with do not see you like a, like a tiny little pixel in the distance?”

Smith : (laughs) No, no, not really. I mean, I feel like I’ve always put a big effort at that of trying to be better. And I actually grew up on a BMX bike. So cycling has always came easier than harder for me.

Tiongson : Let me tell you a little piece of advice, because I’ve got a few years on you. Keep doing that. Because if you try to do it in your 30s, and you’re just starting, it’s not so easy! (laughs) So, if you keep limber, I’m sure it’s going to be quite easy for you. Now, like you’ve said, you bike, you have all this racing pedigree, from your childhood to now.

So let’s get talking about Gateway. Not so much about what unfortunately happened, but with the lights going out, which had to be, from my perspective, the weirdest thing I’ve seen in a long time. Have you experienced anything like that as a racecar driver?

Lights out and the rain and fog, we go in Austin. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Lights out and the rain and fog, we go in Austin. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Smith : No, I would say probably the only thing is racing at the local short tracks, really, just with no lights. Well, they have lights, but it wasn’t quite at that level, but it also wasn’t too far from it. There were luckily still a few lights from the infield that were still that up, probably from the generators that hang around. So, that’s what’s really kept it, I guess, still drivable. But yeah, it’s definitely one of the craziest things I’ve been a part of.

Tiongson : I will say that for many years, how Juan Montoya’s accident at Daytona in 2012 was weird. But when the telecast kind of broke away, I think you were running second to Sheldon. I was like, “What happened to my TV? Is that AT&T acting up again?” And then we heard Vince Welch’s voice saying, “They’ve lost power at Gateway.” And I’m like, “Well, darn. Hopefully nobody’s wrecking because that’s an unfortunate situation to say the least.” (chuckles)

Smith : Yeah, yeah. I remember me and Sheldon were going back and forth there for the whole first stage and I’m not sure if is the first stage or second stage or, or what it was. But when that happened all of a sudden, it definitely caught us off guard.

Tiongson : Yes, for sure. Hopefully, we don’t have any more lights out moment. Unless that means you go to victory lane at Bristol which I’m sure the lights will definitely go out with a little bit of a celebration. Maybe rivaling yours at Michigan, which replayed recently on TV. And I still think that’s one of the most emotional but sincere race victories I’ve ever seen in my life during my 13 years of covering the sport, so that’d be cool.

Smith : Yeah, thanks! It was a good one. The first one’s always the best one.

Tiongson : And you kind of said how the Truck Series schedule got cut short of race or two. And I’m sure, like you said earlier this year, “Yep. He’s pretty bummed that Michigan and Dover got cut because those are two excellent Truck Series racetracks.

Smith : Yeah, of course, they take the ones off that I both got a trophy at. (laughs)

Tiongson : Let’s just hope it’s not the Alex Bowman Curse that’s following around with you with these tracks on the schedule. I’m kidding. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Last question for you. I know it’s kind of a somber one. But certainly, it’s hard to ignore the fact that last Saturday was the 20th anniversary of September 11. And I know you were only two years old when that happened. So you may not remember that day at two years old.

But obviously, you’ve grown up and you’ve learned about what happened that day and what it means for each of us as people and as Americans. But given the fact that is 20 years ago, and how much things have changed since then, there? What do you think about in terms of the people that have sacrificed their lives to save others? And in terms of what it means to be an American on that day?

Suffice to say, Zane Smith possesses patriotic pride. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Suffice to say, Zane Smith possesses patriotic pride. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Smith : Yeah, I mean, it also means everything, personally, to me. I feel like our soldiers and all of our service members really don’t get enough credit that they deserve. And I feel like that’s especially the case right now, unfortunately. So hopefully, during this 20 year anniversary, it’s just a good remembrance of everyone we lost on that day.

Obviously, there’s a lot of evil in the world. And we’re the best country in the world, really plain and simple. So, obviously, while we’re remembering our fallen heroes, we’ll have a race to watch at Richmond as well as it’s always fallen at Richmond. So obviously, till I die, I’ll always remember all the people that are lost that day, always a sad day. But we always have to make sure we don’t forget.

Tiongson : You’ve nailed it right there. And, you know, September 11, or Patriot Day, no matter what we all believe in, I think we can all come together and agree that you got to always think our ways women and men who serve for us. And, you know, just be proud of this country and come together because the one thing I can share with you today in about that day, that not so much what unfortunately happened. The one thing I loved happening was seeing everybody come together that evening.

Even if we didn’t like a sports team, or we don’t agree on whatever it is, everybody came together. And I thought that was such a beautiful thing. And I hoped I’d get renewed not only on the 20th anniversary, but everyday on moving forward. And we can disagree on who wins the championship in the Trucks. But we can always agree that we’re in one of the greatest countries in the world for sure.

Smith : Yeah, for sure.

Tiongson : Absolutely. Well, Zane, hopefully, we’ll be talking again next month. I’m sure we will. Because I think you have a good chance to make it at Bristol, and to the Round of 8. But before I wrap this up, do you have anything you want to say to the fans that are going to listen in or read this on The Podium Finish?

Imagine being a fly near the hauler with this engrossing conversation between Zane Smith and Kyle Larson. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Imagine being a fly near the hauler with this engrossing conversation between Zane Smith and Kyle Larson. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Smith : Yeah, I mean, obviously, just always a huge thank you to all my fans and supporters. Everyone that’s really been a fan especially from the past year. It was really cool to win that Most Popular Driver Award and really just see all the support as they go around the track. It has been night and day difference from when I really first gotten into this sport. So I appreciate you all more than I know or you know. (chuckles) And, we hope to grow that fan base as they continue.

Tiongson : I’m sure there’ll be a lot more Zaniacs that are gonna follow you after the interview and what you can do this the rest of the season and in the future. You’ve got a really great feature, my friend, so keep it up. And like I said, hope to be talking to you again at this time next month and talking about the Round of 8.

Smith : Yeah, thank you for that. I appreciate it.

Tiongson : You’ve got it. Let’s catch up next month. Let’s see you get that sword at “The Last Colliseum!”

Smith : Alright, it’s planned!

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to Zane Smith for taking the time for a delve into his Truck Playoff efforts exclusively on The Podium Finish. Also, thanks to Leighton Sibille for his support and assistance with this special journal entry. You can keep track of Zane Smith here on TPF, his official websiteFacebook and Twitter! For a podcast version of Zane’s journal, please check it out below!

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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