The typical way to an ACDelco PSC Crate Modified driver seat starts with years of kart racing on local dirt tracks, followed by more laps turned in a Micro Sprint, Slingshot, Legend Car or some other mid-size race craft, before moving up to a 400-horse powered Crate Modified ride.
While the typical way is fine for most, Ocean View resident and ACDelco Crate Modified racer Matt Smith did it his way, by starting at the top.
“I never raced karts or anything else,” beamed the 21-year-old racer. “I jumped in a crate car in August six years ago, and I’m still doing it.”
ACDelco Modified Cars are of tubular construction with sheet metal fabrication, powered by what’s known as a crate motor. Crate motors are factory-designed for racing. They are built to spec and dynamometer-tuned (“dynoed”), and then all entry points are sealed with metal tags to prevent crews from going in and tinkering with them. Crate motors can be purchased at car dealers or from the track at Delmar where Smith purchases his engines.
Crate classes are designed to create an affordable competitive field that reaches speeds above 90 mph at Georgetown Speedway and near 100 mph at larger tracks, such as Delaware International Speedway in Delmar, where Smith is currently in the top 10 in his class. In addition to Georgetown and Delmar, Smith sometimes ventures up to Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey, near the foot of the Delaware Memorial Bridge.
“Bridgeport is nice and wide, but in New Jersey the state police control racing,” Smith stated. “They write their rules, which allows crate crews to do more to the motor than we can at Delmar, which makes them hard to catch.
“We began the crate class in 2013. We started out buying a roller [chassis], and then we ended up buying a brand new Chevy 602 crate to put in it. That car was good for us to learn in. We spent about two and a half years in that car before we finally made the switch to a Bicknell race car. From there, we’ve just taken off.”
It takes more than a good driver to make a winning race team. John Mitchel is the team’s crew chief. Smith’s wife maintains his driving suit and helmet. His father, Keith Smith, and Mike Emmett and Jacob Peoples are also on the team.
“Everybody is important to the team,” Smith pointed out. “In the 2016 season, we started winning races. In 2017, we bought a new chassis, and we’ve been going forward and backward. Now we’re going forward with it, and we’re getting better every week.”
Smith gets financial support from sponsors Langenstein Farm’s Kona Coffee of Hawaii, Scott Hitchens Enterprises, Rent Equip and Keith Smith Plumbing. Also on the side panel is Jamie Mills and his company, Blue Hen Speed.
“We started racing crate cars because they’re economical,” Smith continued. ”We’re not having to go out and spend $150,000 on a race team for a Big Block Modified car, but we still get out there and have fun racing the crate class.
“The competition is there in the crate class. There’s some guys who are hard to beat, and other guys who are easy to beat. It’s a good mix of the two. It’s not like every week with the same guy spanking us. So that’s why we chose the crate class. It’s competitive, fun and affordable.
“This year, we started out a little rocky. In the first race at Georgetown, which was the opening for any racing in Delaware, we didn’t perform as well as we planned to. Then, coming into the Delaware International Speedway points chase, we started out rocky. We had to fix a few things that were our fault, just chasing the car a little bit and adapt it to what the track wants. In May, we wrecked the front end at Delmar. After that, we had to go back to the car and re-set it up. We pretty much had to start from nothing, from the bottom.
“We bought a new motor, so we’ve been investing more of our time and resources toward the new motor, trying to get it to its peak and trying to get as much out of it that we can. Once we get that under control, we have to fine-tune the rest of the car.
“We’re doing more than nut-and-bolting each week,” he noted. “We’re making sure that if it’s supposed to move, then it does. We’re playing with some different set-ups each week, and now I think we have one. We’ve gotten two top 10s since then, and we finished second this past week after we led 13 laps. Unfortunately, we lost to someone who has more seat time than I do. He knows the track better than I do, when we got to that part of the race.
“But it was a hard-fought battle for 13-laps. We were quick, we won the heat race, and we’ve had five heat race wins this year — so the car does well. We just gotta keep it on track to where we can get that win.”
Smith is not only a young racer, but a young entrepreneur as well. He owns Rent Equip in Ocean View, a division of Matt Smith Properties LLC. Smith worked at Rent Equip for 12 years, and then, two years ago, he bought the business.
By Bruce C. Walls
Special to the Coastal Point