At NASA Utah Round 6, Jason Smith qualified and raced in the late Roger Miller’s SCCA World Challenge BOSS Mustang 302S. It was a fitting tribute for Jason, who without the help of Roger and a few others wouldn’t have the career he has, to race his friend’s car one last time.
I emailed the busy man with a few questions, and after a twenty hour day that included prepping the Discount Tire/Innovative Garage FR500S Mustang for the season ending endurance race (October 26 at Miller Motorsports Park), he got back to me.
CAM: How did the opportunity to drive Roger’s car come about? Did you put the idea out there, or did someone approach you with it?
Jason Smith: Cheri (Roger’s wife) and I have had been talking about the possibility of me driving Roger’s World Challenge car for a couple weeks before the race. She wanted to make sure it was acceptable to the rest of the family. After getting the go ahead from them, Cheri called the Wednesday before the NASA race. As I sat there on the phone in the shop listening to her on the phone, give me permission to race her late husbands race car, my eyes teared up. Such a HUGE honor for me. I was beyond stoked for this.
CAM: What was going through your head when you were in the car, waiting to go out for your sessions? Were you nervous at all, or did you treat it as you would any other day?
JS: I didn’t want to put to much wear on the car, so I only went out to qualify and for the race itself. I sat there waiting to go out for qualifying, which was pretty much business as usual. Being an instructor in the Ford Racing School I am lucky enough to be on track 2-3 times a week in a mustang. So no big deal. I went out and and turned a few laps, felt out the setup and came back in to the garage. Qualified P5 overall and like 3rd in class.
I don’t think it hit me until I was gridding up for the race. Cheri, Richard and Harly (two of Rogers children) came up and started taking pictures. Cheri stuck her head in the car and said. “I’m proud of you and Roger would be too.” Again my eyes teared up and the weight of driving (more importantly, not wrecking) Roger’s pro car, fell on me. I thought to myself over and over “DON’T SCREW UP!!” I was nervous as we followed the pace car out on track. I was nervous as I warmed the tires on our parade lap. I was nervous as we started to grid up for the rolling start. I was nervous UNTIL……I watched the green flag wave and every gnarly v8 surrounding me roar simultaneously. Adrenaline, confidence and instinct took over. Nervousness was gone.
CAM: You had a good battle with Bob, you ended up in P1 in class and took home racer of the day/hard charger/racer of the world. You’re no stranger to winning or battling people on track, but did it feel different doing it in that car?
JS: YES! Very different. I’ve had winning races, losing races and races where I just should have stayed home. As soon as the green flag dropped, things just went good. At the exit of turn 1, I had picked up 3 spots and went to P2 overall. I had gotten a decent start and passed a car in the breaking zone of turn 1, another by the apex and was side by side with Bob Evans in his Nascar Cup Car from apex off. Seemed about 8 laps of insane battle with Bob before he finally bested me as we caught lap traffic. I did everything I could to keep him behind me, without putting Rogers car at risk. We had a close, CLEAN battle. Such awesome racing, I was happy to be involved in the entire experience. And the fact that it all happened in Rogers car, with his family watching, made the entire experience that much more gangster.
CAM: Roger meant a lot to those of us involved with NASA. What was your relationship like with him?
JS: I considered him a great friend. I would call him for advice on business, computer stuff and racing. He would call me and ask my thoughts on his personal race car, NASA and different race teams he was working with. He took interest in my career, helped out where he could. Roger, along with a few other key managers at Miller Motorsports Park, are the reason I’m able to work in this industry. It’s rare to meet a guy as busy as he was, that would still take the time to talk to you. With everything that dude had going on he was ALWAYS willing to lend a hand. Iv’e always admired that about him and tried to pattern myself the same way.
The whole weekend meant so much to me. I want to thank Cheri, the Miller family and the MMP staff for everything they have done for me so far. I greatly appreciate their support and allowing me to be a part of such a rad facility.
Miss you sir.
Words and photos by Michael Chandler.
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