As far as Houston Smith and Chase Elliott are concerned, the future of racing is now.
Both are just 15 and climbing the ranks with the same dreams anyone who gets behind the wheel of a race car hopes to realize — competing at the NASCAR Sprint Cup level.
They are well on their way.
Dawsonville resident Elliott, the son of former NASCAR driver Bill Elliott, is the youngest driver on NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series. On June 20, he finished fifth in the circuit’s inaugural run at Langley Speedway to earn his second Rookie of the Race award of the season.
Smith, who will be a sophomore in the fall at North Hall High, signed with Corrie Stott Racing in January. He’s about to make the leap from racing in the Carolina Late Model touring series to the Pro Cup Series.
The jump means upgrading from a 2,800-pound, 400-horsepower car that can reach speeds of 95 miles per hour, to a 3,200-pound, 650-hp car that reaches 150 mph depending on the track. He’ll also go from racing around 35 laps to 250.
Smith, who has been racing since the age of 8 earned the promotion to the Pro Cup series after demonstrating to Stott that he was ready for the next big step. He began with go-karts for five years, moved up to a super truck in 2010, and has raced in late models up to this point. He’ll get behind the wheel of a Pro Cup series car in early July.
“I’ve dreamed about this since last year,” Smith said. “It’s basically an old Nationwide car. It gets you used to a truck or a NASCAR car. It’s a really big step.”
Though he’s yet to drive a Pro Cup Series car, he feels comfortable in making the jump.
“Things are moving at a great pace for me,” Smith said. “Everything is falling into place.”
With Smith, Stott is following the same plan for all his racers, and he sees promise in the youngster.
“His potential is untapped, so we don’t know,” Stott said. “Obviously, he’s run races for us, won a pole and finished second, so we feel good about him up to this point. We’re just going to keep pushing the envelope and find out where he stacks up, and where we stack up with him and then decide the next step. There’s strong competition in the Pro Cup, so we’re level-headed on projections. We don’t expect to win off the bat, but try for 10th, and maybe get eighth the next time, and continue to grow.
“He’s a real good kid and I enjoy working with him.”
For Smith, it’s about making adjustments.
“It’s basically getting used to the size of the car and how much you’ve got to let off and get in,” Smith said. “More horsepower is easier on the throttle, and these aspects get bigger the higher you move up.”
Smith’s plan is to race anywhere from one to three years in the Pro Cup series and advance to K&N, then ARCA. By the time he’s 20, he’d like to be on the NASCAR Nationwide tour.
Elliott too is on the fast-track for success. With the name recognition from his father, he’s got an advantage most drivers don’t.
He’s a pretty good racer too.
“He’s done really well for his age,” said Darron Turner, who’s worked on Team Elliott as a tire specialist since 2009. “One of the things that sets him apart is how smooth he is with a race car. He knows what he wants and always takes care of his equipment. In the three years I’ve been helping him, he hasn’t wrecked much.”
This is Elliott’s first year on the K&N series, and Turner believes one day he’ll see him on the Sprint Cup circuit.
“I think he has the potential to,” Turner said. “He’s always there at the end of every race.”
Both Smith and Elliott seem to have the business side of racing down. For them, it’s beyond the fun and games of operating a motor vehicle before the age of 16. They have photo shoots, sponsors to thank, appearances to make and fans to greet.
Smith said he doesn’t mind the extracurricular activities.
“You know what the big picture is,” said Smith, who has maintained a straight-A average since fifth grade. “You have to take in all of it. It’s not just racing. I learned that very quickly and I’m OK with that.”
Added Turner, “(Elliot) does just as well off the track as he does on it. He’s been around it since he was born.”