09th Jan2015

Living The Dream

by Michael Chandler

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How do you measure success?  Are you successful if you have millions of dollars, property across the globe, dozens of cars, a few boats and access to a private plane?  Is it having a family, working a 9-5, 3 kids, a dog and a modest house?  Is it finishing that dream build you’ve been wanting to do since you were old enough to know whats what?  What if it’s none of those, but a combination of them?  People say that I’m living the dream because I cover races, take pictures of cars, and occasionally travel to do so.  I don’t say that I am.  If anyone I know is living the dream, it’s Jason Smith.  His job is to teach people how to drive fast in the desert, and race across it himself.  He has his drift project BMW and daily drives a very nice Ford Raptor.  He has a nice house in the suburbs of Las Vegas, where he lives with his lovely wife, three awesome children and two dogs.  That’s the dream, but it hasn’t always been.

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I first met Jason way back in 2010, right after CAM was founded.  I was going to cover the NASA Nationals, specifically the Honda Challenge races because the only locals I knew were running in that.  And I barely knew them.  I was going to interview the three of them, but before meeting face to face I sent them some basic questions.  I figured we would chat when we met and I would have more.  Jason was the only one to respond to the email questions.  At the interview he told me he wouldn’t be running in Honda Challenge, nor would he be there most of the weekend because of his job at Discount Tire.  But he had set up the other two cars for success (which was undone by an out of town “expert”).  That told me he was a good dude, and he would only cement that the longer we knew each other.

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We would run into each other at the track, we added each other on Facebook, and one day I had a problem.  The tires on my Subaru were toast.  I needed new ones, but I didn’t really want to deal with the local tire dealers.  Then Jason piped up.  He said that if I bought a set online that he would mount them for me.  All I would have to do is drive to his shop, Innovative Garage, in Orem.  So I did just that.  I was ready to pay him for his services, but he said it was all good.  He owed me for the Honda Challenge coverage.  After that we kept in touch on Facebook and such, seeing each other at meets and the track.  Then he moved his shop to my neck of the woods, and then something else happened.

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Our boy got a job at Miller Motorsports Park, working on the Mustangs, taking people out in said Mustangs and being a driver/instructor for their Raptor Assault program.  Our baby boy was growing up!  Innovative was still kicking, and they were doing a lot of suspension set up for local racers.  They were also dabbling in the local drift scene.  Before long Innovative was the title sponsor, and Jason (along with some of the local drifters) was the driving force behind Salt City Drift.

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From tire tech to a driving instructor by day and champion of the local drift scene by night, He had come a mighty long way.  Through him drifting had a better foothold at Miller, and some locals had sponsors for their pro-am endeavors.  It had looked like Jason had set down roots, and wouldn’t be leaving Utah.  How could he?  It’s not like an even better opportunity would come along…

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As fate would have it, a better opportunity did come about.  The Vegas Off Road Experience offered him a position where he’d be doing a lot of the same things: instructing, working on the vehicles, and racing said vehicles.  Not just little things, but full on desert races: Vegas To Reno and the Mint 400.  He also go to do stuff at SEMA, like drift and jump one of the VORE Raptors and hob knob with industry execs.  If that isn’t top 5 dream job, then I don’t know what is.

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I consider Jason a true friend, a guy who if he needs something I’ll go out of my way to help.  And he’s done the same for me and CAM.  When we needed a place to stay for SEMA last year he opened his house to Joey and I.  He hooked me up with parts for Rhonda, and I’ve shot some products for Innovative and Miller when he was there.

When people ask me what living the dream is I point to my friend Jason and say “that”.  He’s doing what he loves, providing for his family by doing so, and raising a trio of awesome kids.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

Words and photos by Michael Chandler
*Article and Photos are copyright of CAMautoMag.Com and their respective owners.

 

06th Jan2015

The Happiest Place in Nevada

by Michael Chandler
Photo by Becky Smith

Photo by Becky Smith, VORE

We’ve all been here before.  It’s time for a vacation, but some of those bucket list events are too far away, too expensive, or just not happening during your allotted vacation time.  What’s a gearhead to do?  Settle in on the couch and watch all the old FIA GT series races YouTube has to offer?  No damnit!  You’re not spending your vacation like an unemployed goon!  Pack your bags, book a flight, hotel and rental car.  We’re going to Vegas, and we’re gonna have some fun in the desert.  Halfway between Las Vegas and Boulder City, next to a gun range, sits a happy little slice of awesome that is the Vegas Off Road Experience (VORE).

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It is here where all sorts of fun and excitement happens.  And by “fun” I mean off road hooning to your heart’s content.  No matter what you decide to do you will get some instruction from the talented instructors.  Now, you have to ask yourself “Do I want a hopped up Raptor as my chariot, or do I want to hop in a trophy truck and get the whole enchilada ?” The choice is up to you, and your wallet.  Prices range from $295 for 5 laps on the “short course” in one of the trophy trucks or 45 minutes in a Raptor, to $2995 for a two day jaunt in the desert to give you the full Sportsman level experience.

There are also add ons to the afore mentioned packages.  Add ons such as luxurious limo or party bus transportation to and from the facility, video and photography, and shooting some guns and blowing up a car!  Where else are you finding all of these things at once???  NO WHERE!*

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Now, when we say talented instructors, we mean talented.  When they’re not teaching you how to take the jumps on the short course, or how to fly through the desert, they’re racing.  The Vegas to Reno race is a staple every year, along with the MINT 400.  The folks teaching you really know what they’re talking about, and you will leave VORE not only with memories, but with knowledge that’ll make you a better driver.

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There you have it folks.  Your next vacation is planned out.  No need to thank me, just go and enjoy your trip.  And watch out for turtles please.

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While we were at VORE we were given the nickel tour by Becky Smith.  She took us out on the short course in a Raptor, let us tag along to shoot some photos of someone on course, and let us hang out until Jason came back from giving a desert tour.  We can’t thank Jason and Becky and everyone else at VORE for their hospitality.

For booking information, or more information than what I’ve put up here, head over to VORE.com.  When you’re booking your experience ask for Jason Smith, or at least tell them he sent you.

Words by Michael Chandler, photos by Michael Chandler and Becky Smith .
*Article and Photos are copyright of CAMautoMag.Com and their respective owners.

*Don’t quote me on that, but I highly doubt there is another place in the US where you can receive top notch off road racing instruction AND pop off a few rounds.

25th Oct2013

A Racing Tribute

by Michael Chandler

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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.

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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.

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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.
*Article and Photos are copyright of CAMAutoMag.Com and their respective owners.
03rd Sep2013

Western Endurance Racing Championship at Miller Motorsports Park Part 1

by Michael Chandler

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This was going to be an entirely different article.  It was going to be like the old Honda Challenge stuff we did: chronicling the local guys on their home track as the battle the out of towners.  I was going to talk about how Dave Dingman, Todd Ainsworth, Travis Williams and last second addition Jason Smith took the fight to them over the course of the six hour race.  It was going to be heroic and epic and all of those things.

But then their day went belly up.  Here’s how it happened: Dave went out first, and irony found him.  See, Dave pilots the Freeway Mazda Miata we all know and love in the NASA Utah events.  As he was out in Travis’s FR500S Mustang was hit by a (wait for it) Miata.  This prompted the stewardess to tell Travis and Jason that he had thirty minutes to come in and file a report.  If he didn’t the team would receive a five minute penalty.

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After a brief discussion, the team decided to leave him out.  When he came in they’d get his side of the story, top him off with fuel and send him on his marry way.  His side of the story goes something like this: he gave the Miata plenty of room going in to turn one, but closed the door because thats how his line was.  The Miata, seeing that there wasn’t any room, decided to stick its nose in there.  Contact was made, it was the Miata’s fault.  Anyway, the team didn’t have radios so Travis grabbed a white board and a red marker to communicate to Dave that he was to come in.  He scribbled something on the board and ran to the pit wall.

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As it turns out, it’s hard to see red on white as you’re at speed with the sun in your face.  The crew in the next pit stall noticed Travis’s mistake, gave Jason a black marker, and the sign was re-scribbled.  Travis again ran to the pit wall and held the sign.  It worked better that time around, and Dave came in.

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Travis got Dave’s story and explained the situation.  He also made sure Dave stayed strapped in, because if he unstrapped then his stint would be over.  Jason topped off the fuel tank and Todd held the fire extinguisher just in case.  The tank was brimmed after some more conversation, and Dave took off making sure not to abuse the clutch upon his exit.  They weren’t going to leave him out there for too much longer, so I hung around the pits so as to not miss the driver change.

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The professionals at RaceCo were a few stalls down, showcasing the professionalism, enthusiasm for produce and the proper way to kinda listen to someone’s story about something…or whatever.  They were also fielding a FR500S Mustang in the race.  The competition had been meet, and they had watermelon and a canopy in their stall.  More on them later, because Dave was about to come in for the first driver change of team TRADINGWOR’s night.

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Dave out, Todd and fuel in.  Dave took over fire extinguisher duties, while Travis helped Todd get settled in.  Jason, and his Vans, manned the fuel can.  Notes were passed between the drivers and the rest of the team.  I imagine that this is what it was like in the fifties.  All the drivers had other responsibilities and the only time they could communicate what the car was doing or feeling like was when they came in for fuel and fresh rubber.  Except I don’t think anyone would be wearing bright red shoes, but I could very well be wrong.

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Todd left gingerly, but not any harder than you or I leaving a stop light quickly.  Dave proceeded to tell us his story, and show us when the Miata decided to test just how small it was.  He also mentioned that the car felt good, and he wasn’t using the clutch much.  He was rev matching up and down shifts because he wanted to keep the clutch for later in the night.  Remember: it was a marathon, not a sprint.  With that handled, I hopped in the Subaru and made my way to turn one to catch some of the cars on track.

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Miller is a challenging track for many reasons, but one reason I have heard many times is it’s very dusty.  This is because the track is built in the middle of high desert grazing land, which will grow wild grasses and other native vegetation but not a whole lot else.  The track is never going to look like Road America, and that’s not a huge problem.  Willow Springs is in the middle of a desert in the middle of nowhere, and it does plenty fine.  However, that lack of vegetation has one drawback.  That drawback, coupled with the recently constructed motocross track in the infield of the east half of the road course, can become a calamity when it gets windy…  Like it did the whole weekend and pretty much every evening in Tooele county.  Eventually the wind died down and visibility returned to a safe level.

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An HPD backed Fit was out.  They were banking on only having to stop a few times for fuel.  They were also excited by the prospect of being lapped so it would look like they were in the race!  That’s the kind of optimism and creative thinking we like around here.  We also like E30 BMWs with crazy light bars, because who needs lights in factory locations when you have a bunch of really bright LEDs on your hood?  Oh, and there was the very patriotic Factory Five GTM.  Nothing says freedom like a mid-engined LS powered car you can assemble in your garage.

I sent a text to my friend Jenny to inform her that Jason was going to be driving the #22 Mustang.  The pack passed by a few more times before she responded.  Her response was concise and very concerning:

“I knooowwwww It just blew up though! :(”

After seeing that a few thoughts raced through my head: where did it blow up?  Why wasn’t there a yellow flag?  Why wasn’t the safety crew rolling out?  Did I miss them on the track the whole time I was stand on the outside of turn one?  I ran back to the Subaru and double timed it to the pits.

Did the car blow up?  Was Todd horribly disfigured?  Does Travis have to buy a new car?  Where are the night shots?  All of these questions will be answered in the thrilling conclusion!

29th May2013

iDrift Round 3

by Michael Chandler

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Memorial Day Weekend brought tire smoke, friends and a contest to Miller Motorsports Park.  For what?  iDrift Round 3 of course!  The focus shifted back to the West Paddock where the barriers were placed, James Dean and Darth Vader were propped up (and subsequently blown down.  Damn wind…), and rides were given.  And look!  Jordan’s 1UZ powered S13 was alive and kicking!

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Jordan approved of his vehicle’s performance.  Some of the drivers had to work the course, much like at an autocross event.  However, they got a golf cart which served many purposes.

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Jordan used it as a chariot to spear cones, while Trent sat in judgement while at the helm.  What was he judging?

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Jason Smith in O.P. Anderson’s car for one!  After some *ahem* difficulties, Jason started whipping the E36 around like an old hand.  He even took second in the competition!  Was it rigged?  Doubtful.  If it was he would have won.  Although, this would be the best cover for any sort of rigging…

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Hey Nick, your thing is dragging…  He also blew up his rear diff, which is amazing because the former diff was a weak 1.6L piece that lasted years with the power he’s putting down.  Those usually break at slightly higher or sometimes even stock power levels.  He has a 1.8L diff now, and a new bumper on the way.

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This guy took third.  I don’t know who he is, but the primered coupe was consistent all day.  Also, James blew over long before I got there and lost his head somewhere along the way.  A tragedy, I know.  But hey, he does approve of what is going on here.

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Here’s your winner ladies and gentlemen.  Smoke?  Plenty.  Smoothness?  And how!  Fancy colors?  YOU BET!  His entries were also on point, and he wasn’t afraid to approach the barriers or clipping points.  He deserved the win.

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There was also this: Brent Cheney’s old S14!  No longer Brent’s and no longer SR powered.  It belongs to Rob, and it’s packing a LSx.  How he did in the contest I don’t know, but it did sound good.

It was a good day for everyone who made it out.  Missed out?  Don’t worry!  THERE ARE MORE COMING!!!  Next one is June 22 in the Midway.  Don’t worry about not having a car, or astronomical ticket prices.  I haven’t had a car to drive for any of these, and tickets are only $6 at the door.  And those tickets let you watch whatever is going on at the track that day.  That’s a lot of entertainment for $6.

Words and photos by Michael Chandler

*Article and Photos are copyright of CAMAutoMag.Com and their respective owners. Images and words may not be re-posted, re-distributed, modified, or copied without expressed written consent from CAMAutoMag.Com.