By: Tadd Haislop
Sammy Smith set the bar high in 2021, when as a rookie he dominated the ARCA Menards Series East with a trio of victories in eight races en route to the series championship.
Somehow, the 18-year-old from Johnston, Iowa, was even more impressive in 2022 as he earned his second consecutive East Series title.
Now driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports after winning the title last season under the Joe Gibbs Racing banner, Smith wheeled the No. 18 Toyota to five wins and seven top fives in seven East Series races in 2022.
He closed the East Series season with a dramatic victory at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 15.
Smith arrived on the East Series scene in 2021 as an accomplished driver in the lower divisions of stock car racing. He had picked up 31 victories at eight different tracks over three years competing in Legend Cars. In 2018, he won the championship at Texas Motor Speedway’s Big Top Nationals, and he just missed out on a national championship with a season that included 23 wins and a 3.9-place average finish in 65 starts.
In 2019, Smith won a Pro Late Model title in the World Series of Asphalt at New Smyrna, as well as the Governor’s Cup. In 2020, he emerged victorious on the first night of World Series of Asphalt racing driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
All of which paved the way for Smith’s 2021 debut in the East Series, which took place at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway. That’s where his dominant 2022 season began.
Smith opened the season in February by leading 167 of 200 laps and winning on the half-mile paved oval in central Florida. He followed that performance with another dominant run in the Sunshine State, as he led 107 of 200 laps at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola en route to Victory Lane on March 19.
Then came one of the rare East Series races in 2022 that did not end with Smith in Victory Lane; he finished fifth at Dover Motor Speedway in April. He rebounded with a third victory in four races when the East Series returned to action in May at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.
In June, Smith notched a runner-up finish to teammate Brandon Jones at his home track of Iowa Speedway. The eventual champion returned to Victory Lane in August, when he started from the General Tire Pole and led 122 of 150 laps at the Milwaukee Mile.
Smith made clear in 2021 he was an ascending driver in stock car racing.
His performance in 2022 does more than reinforce that revelation. It places him among the top young drivers to watch in all of motorsports.