Until he returned a month ago at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals, Smax Smith’s last run at an NHRA national event was at fabled Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. That tells you how long it’s been.
The former FIA Top Fuel world champ’s race at E-Town was in the summer of 2017 in the Leverich family dragster, and he took a step to the sideline when Audrey Worm took over the controls of the car in 2018 and decided to concentrate his efforts on a new Alcohol Funny Car, driven by his son, Ed, but he always itched to get back behind the butterfly.
With Worm sitting out the rest of the season, the Leverichs brought Smith back to drive their car in Reading with an eye also on making it to Charlotte. An injection of money from computer-aided machining company Hi Tech CAM helped, and a surprise GoFundMe campaign started by some fans of the popular Englishman helped get them to Charlotte.
“I was happy for Audrey and for Gary and Bob [Leverich] because I know the team needed the money that Audrey was bringing,” he said. “I told them I would be happy to just run a few match races in the car, so to be able to run again at a national event is just wonderful.”
The team qualified 14th in the Reading field and drew Doug Kalitta in round one, with predictable results, but Smith still enjoyed himself.
“I knew we had no chance of beating Dougie, so I just did an eighth-mile burnout -– if you can’t be fast, at least be spectacular, right?" he said with a laugh, "Unfortunately, the TV cameras didn’t catch it, but it was fun. Then we had a fuel-pump issue on the run, but it was still great to be back.
“Charlotte is our last race of the season so we’d like to go out on a high note and get me the two ‘threes’ I’ve been looking for: a three-second e.t. and a 300-mph speed; I’ve gone 300 mph on the quarter-mile but never to 1,000 feet.
“We’ve got all of the stuff in place –- everything everyone else has got -– just not as new and not as great. Gary [Leverich] works so hard on this car and puts everything he has into this car. It’s a fairy-tale story; I’m just so proud to be part of it.”