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North Hall teens race to success
North Hall High School student Houston Smith races in the NASCAR Whelen truck series.

Not yet old enough to get their driver’s license, Houston Smith and Joseph Galloway of North Hall have their eyes fixed on NASCAR, having ruled the tracks in go-kart racing.

Their eyes light up just talking about it.

“I dream about it every day,” Houston said.

The 14-year-old friends’ resumes are strewn with championships and other honors in karting.

This year, Houston has moved on to the Super Truck division at Lanier National Speedway, where the minimum age to compete is 14 but the field features its share of grown men.

Joseph, or “Boo-man,” has been kart racing for eight years, starting out in “kid carts” powered by weed-trimmer engines. He remembers the seat swallowing him when he first began the sport.

He met Houston four years ago while at a go-kart track in Shiloh in West Georgia.

“I rode his go-kart to see if I like it,” Houston said. “I was just (at the track) to see what it was like.”

The experience was “just unbelievable, and I just wanted to ride it every second of my life, it’s just so fun,” he said.

Both boys went on to successful careers in kart racing.

Joseph, son of Teddy and Sue Galloway, has won national championships in 2007 and 2009. Houston, son of Shannon and Tina Smith, won three national championships.

“I was at the top in karting and it was so hard for me to leave because I would have to go all the way to the bottom and work my way back up,” Houston said. “It’s just hard, but we’re getting there, slowly but surely.”

Houston placed sixth in his first truck race.

The difference between the two sports is “speed and the handling, how it turns and how much input to the wheel you’ve got to put into it,” he said.

Houston and his family were looking last week at signing with a South Carolina-based marketing agency and, as part of that,

Houston was taking an etiquette class.

“We’re going to meet a team to see if we’re a good fit,” said his father of their weekend plans.

Joseph hopes to win a couple of big kart races this year before he steps up in the ranks.

For Houston, the next step is reaching ARCA, or Automobile Racing Club of America, which generally accepts drivers at 18.

His father said he has been told he could reach ARCA by 17 “if the marketing is right and the talent is there.”

“What makes these boys special is they’re national-caliber drivers on an ordinary budget,” he said. “Both moms and dads work jobs, both families sacrifice a good bit. We don’t go to the movies, we don’t go out to eat.”

“This is our life,” Houston chimed in.

His father added, “We eat it, breathe it, sleep it. We don’t have the money that some other teams (have). You can either have the name or the money. ... If either of our boys make it, it’ll be a Cinderella story.”

Reaching the top will require finding backers.

“You can’t make it unless you have sponsors,” Houston said.

Even though racing is their main passion, both boys have other interests.

Both have excelled in school. Houston participated on North Hall Middle School’s Academic Team and Joseph placed third in the Hall County wrestling tournament.

They are rising ninth-graders, with Joseph at Chestatee High School and Houston at North Hall High School.

“I’m a little nervous,” Joseph said.

Houston nodded and grinned. “Yeah, we’re not the biggest people, you can see.”

Friends off the track, they were fierce rivals on it.

Sue Galloway remembers the two boys fighting for first place in a race in Bristol, Tenn.

“Joseph ended up taking Houston out and Joseph got a black flag,” she said. “Houston’s car was destroyed.”

But off the track, “after the race was over, they still shook hands,” Galloway said. “They could still speak with one another.”