Jack Smith Race Car Driver - The Legend That Nascar Forgot
The Jack Smith Story
From the December, 2008 issue of High Performance Pontiac
By Christopher R. Phillip
Photography by AP Images, Betty Smith, Christopher R. Phillip, Courtesy Of The Jack Smith Collection, Lowes Motor Speedway, Nichels Engineering Archives, Racingone/Getty Images, Talladega Superspeedway
Driver Jack Smith (left) and...
Driver Jack Smith (left) and mechanic Bud Moore pose with the No. 47 Pontiac Catalina NASCAR race car, constructed at Nichels Engineering in Highland, Indiana, in the winter of 1959. photo courtesy of conversations with a winner-the ray nichels story.
On February 13, 1998, NASCAR announced its 50 greatest drivers of all time. Jack Thomas Smith, a racer well known for his No. 47 and No. 46 Pontiacs in the first years of the superspeedways, wasn't on the list. Family, friends, and fans of the legend were outraged. They knew Jack ranked among NASCAR's best, and many felt he was left off the list on purpose.
In "The Real Top 50 NASCAR Drivers," author Steve Samples corrected NASCAR's omission, and placed Smith at No. 22 on his Top 50 list. He said, "Jack was a rough-and-tumble country boy who was highly superstitious. No green cars or women in the pits around Jack. That may have made it hard for him to compete today, but Jack Smith was a hell-bent-for-leather chauffeur who didn't like to relinquish the lead."
Jack was born to Carl and Montare Smith on May 24, 1923, in the small town of Metropolis, Illinois. At the age of two, his family moved to Roswell, Georgia, a town that bootleggers traveled through to get their moonshine hauls from the North Georgia mountains to Atlanta.
His first Pontiac race car...
His first Pontiac race car was a '58 Chieftain that he campaigned in four races in 1958. It was demolished at Darlington Raceway, according to Jack's son, Lance.
His father owned an autobody shop, and Jack worked there after school, pounding the fenders of flat-head Fords and listening to his stories of automobile racing. It was there that he developed a love for fast cars. At night and on the weekends, he raced against the bootleggers on fields and homemade tracks when his parents weren't looking.
In 1949, the 25-year-old amateur racer learned about a new organization named NASCAR and showed up to race at its very first "Strictly Stock" event, a 150-mile showdown at the old dirt-track Charlotte Speedway on June 19. He finished thirteenth and earned $50, but more importantly, put his name among the 33 racers who inaugurated NASCAR into American culture.
Thirty-nine races and 7 years later, on October 28, 1956, Jack earned his first NASCAR victory at Martinsville, Virginia, driving a Dodge and taking home $2,264. In 1957, driving a '57 Chevrolet, he expanded his victories to four races: Concord, North Carolina; Columbia, South Carolina; Hickory, North Carolina; and North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, and earned $14,561 for the season.
In 1958, Jack, living in Sandy Springs, Georgia, and with the sponsorship of Atlanta Tune-Up Service, prepared to race his very first Pontiac, a '58 Chieftain. He entered the vehicle into the second Grand National race of the season, held at the Daytona Beach and Road Course on February 23, 1958, completed all 39 laps on the 4.1-mile road course (159.9 miles), and finished in Third Place.
This certificate was issued...
This certificate was issued to Jack from NASCAR in 1958, after he averaged 133.829 mph in the '58 Pontiac Chieftain through the famous "measured mile" at Daytona Beach.
Although he continued to campaign his '57 Chevrolet as his primary race car, he returned with the Chieftain for the Virginia 500, and completed 446 laps before his Pontiac succumbed to an oil-pressure problem that put him out of the race. On June 1, 1958, for the Crown America 500 in Riverside, California, he enlisted the Pontiac again, completing 186 of 190 laps, and earning a Third Place finish. For September 1, 1958, at Darlington's Southern 500, Jack crashed the '58 Chieftain on Lap No. 210 of the 364-lap race and was forced to finish out the season with his Chevrolet. His earnings for the year were $12,633.
On February 18, 1959, Jack was voted NASCAR's Most Popular Driver for 1958. Fierce balloting tied Jack and Junior Johnson for First Place and a run-off ballot was issued, pitting the two drivers against each other. NASCAR members from 15 states responded, and Jack won a majority of the ballots.
The Most Popular Driver Award gave him the recognition he needed to further his opportunities in NASCAR, and he was chosen by the Atlanta International Raceway to be the first driver to test its 1.5-mile track before it opened to the public. Jack's 1959 scorecard counted four First Place finishes, and $13,289 in earnings, but a '59 Chevrolet was still all he had to race with.
In February 1959, Jack accepted...
In February 1959, Jack accepted the NASCAR Most Popular Driver Award.
It was then that Ray Nichels approached Jack and asked him if he would drive a Pontiac for the 1960 season. According to Jack's wife, Betty, "Jack was thrilled because all the drivers were hunting for sponsorships after the factories had gone out of direct support of the racers, and he was glad that Mr. Nichels had come along."
On February 12, 1960, Jack strapped in behind the steering wheel of a '60 Pontiac Catalina with a NASCAR 389/333hp engine, race-prepped by Nichels Engineering, and sponsored by delivering dealer, Boomershine Pontiac of Atlanta. Unsure of the Pontiac's capabilities, he entered the Daytona 500 qualifier, took First Place, and earned $1,000. He started second for the Daytona 500 two days later, led 14 laps, finished twenty-third, and earned an additional $900.
Johnny Brunner in the starters...
Johnny Brunner in the starters stand gives the green flag to the field of 37 stock cars at the start of the Firecracker 250 in Daytona Beach, Florida, on July 4, 1960. Jack Smith, shown in the No. 47 '60 Catalina, quickly got the jump on his competitors: Bobby Johns in the No. 3 '59 Catalina, Glen "Fireball" Roberts in the No. 22 '60 Catalina, and Cotton Owens in the No. 6 '60 Catalina. Jack ended up winning the race with a new speed record of 146.842 mph.
Jack considered the 21st race of the season, the Charlotte 600 on June 19, 1960, very special. He started in second position behind Fireball Roberts, took the lead on laps 141-143, and again on laps 160-352, and built a commanding lead against his competitors, with 48 laps to go. According to Betty, "The asphalt was tearing up in big chunks, and Jack ran over one and it knocked a hole in the gas tank. They tried every way to fix it, but they couldn't and he had to come in. He would have easily won the race if it wasn't for that."
One race later, he got the big win he was looking for. At the Daytona International Speedway Firecracker 250 on July 4, 1960, in front of 15,919 fans, he completed 100 laps on a 2.5-mile paved track in 1 hour, 42 minutes, and 9 seconds, earning First Place, and an $11,500 purse. Betty told HPP, "I was up in the scorer's stand, and I couldn't see him on the backstretch. I was just praying that he would come back around."
The Daytona Beach News Journal gave Jack its front-page headline, which read, "Smith Cracks Record to Win, Roars in First with Amazing 146.842 mph" and went on to say, "Smith's come-from-behind finish was as amazing as his record speed. He had to push his red '60 Pontiac Catalina to its limit-up to 170 mph on the fast backstretch-to overtake Everett "Cotton" Owens in a white '60 Pontiac. Smith closed a gap of over a quarter of a mile in the...dash and crossed the finish line just 30 feet ahead of Owens."
He competed in four more races in 1960. The most notable was the Dixie 300 at the Atlanta International Raceway on July 31, 1960, where he took Third Place behind Fireball Roberts and Cotton Owens, both driving '60 Catalinas. His earnings for the year were $24,721.
Jack smiles from the driver-seat...
Jack smiles from the driver-seat of his '60 Catalina NASCAR race car. Notice the Bud Moore Garage patch on his shirt.
In 1961, Jack fielded two nearly identical '61 Catalina 389/333hp race cars: No. 47, painted in Coronado Red, competed in 25 NASCAR races, and No. 46, painted two-tone Coronado Red/Shelltone Ivory, competed in 12 races. To allow both of his race cars to be campaigned simultaneously, Jack hired Bob Welborn, Rex White, Bobby Johns, and Larry Frank as drivers.
He placed Sixth in the Daytona 500 on February 26, 1961, and his first season win came on June 8, 1961, at the Pickens 200 at Greenville-Pickens Speedway. With Bob driving, the No. 47 Catalina took Second Place at Atlanta's Festival 250 on July 9, 1961, and with Jack driving, it earned Fourth Place at Atlanta's Dixie 300 on September 17, 1961. His earnings for the year were $21,410.
On July 29, 1961, at the Volunteer 500 at Bristol International Speedway, Jack campaigned his No. 46 Catalina and won First Place, beating Fireball Roberts driving a Smokey Yunick-prepared '61 Catalina. But it wasn't Jack who crossed the finish line. Betty explained why Jack had to make a pit stop and relief driver Johnny Allen was sent in, and won the race for him. "There was a small hole under where his feet were, and the heat from the engine blistered his foot," she said. "He had to come in to see about it. Johnny Allen took over while a doctor looked at his foot."
The Pontiac factory billing...
The Pontiac factory billing manifest shows a '62 Super-Duty assigned to "Smith."
In 1962, Jack campaigned two '62 Super-Duty Catalinas. The first was built for him by Pontiac, carried No. 47 lettering, and was sponsored by Miller Pontiac of Columbus, Georgia. (See sidebar.) According to Richard Parris, who worked on Jack's race team for the '61 and '62 seasons, "Jack called the No. 47 Super-Duty his superspeedway car. He also bought a barely used '62 Super-Duty Catalina that had been damaged in a fire. Jack gave that one No. 46 lettering and used it for short to medium asphalt tracks early during the '62 season. The two Super-Dutys were easily distinguishable. No. 47 had roll-up side windows and a permanent hardtop. No. 46 had no side windows, and a removable hardtop, allowing it to compete in NASCAR's convertible races."
The No. 47 Super-Duty competed in 51 NASCAR races, earned pole position seven times, and won four First Place finishes: Savannah; Hickory; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Asheville, North Carolina. The No. 46 Super-Duty took First Place at the Concord Speedway on November 5, 1961. With Pontiac's SD-421 Catalinas propelling Jack at every race, he earned $34,748, the most money of any year in his entire NASCAR career.
Like other Pontiac NASCAR drivers, Jack found himself without a sponsor when GM forced Pontiac to shut down its racing programs in January 1963, and he agreed with Ray Nichels to a one-year contract with Chrysler. He retired in 1964, wanting to spend more time with his family, and opened Jack Smith Transmissions in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which is still in business today.
In the early days of the superspeedways,...
In the early days of the superspeedways, crew/driver communications consisted of chalkboards, handwriting, and quick eyes. Jack Smith was the first NASCAR driver to use a two-way radio in a race. This photo is from 1963, after Pontiac pulled out of NASCAR racing.
His achievements were recognized by the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame, Jacksonville Raceway Hall of Fame, Legends of Darlington, Old Timers Racing Club, Legends of Auto Racing, and with the Smokey Yunick Racing Pioneer Award.
Jack died from congestive heart failure on October 17, 2001. His son, Lance, continues his tradition by displaying the '60 No. 47 Catalina replica race car at events and shows throughout the United States. We asked Lance if he would talk to High Performance Pontiac about Jack Smith's career and love for Pontiacs, and he was happy to oblige.
High Performance Pontiac: Please tell us about the first Pontiac that Jack Smith raced.
Lance Smith: It was a '58 Chieftain that was built for Dad when he still lived in Sandy Springs. It had a 370ci engine and a four-barrel carburetor.
HPP: Jack was within car lengths of winner Paul Goldsmith on the old beach course at Daytona in 1958. Did he think he could win the race?
LS: Absolutely. He felt he could have taken First Place, but when he made a pit stop, the tire jack sunk into the asphalt on the tire change and slowed him down just enough so that he lost that race.
HPP: How did the wreck at Darlington occur and how badly was the '58 Pontiac damaged?
LS: According to Dad, he was following a slower car that blew its engine and caused an oil slick on the track. He hit the oil slick, slid off the track, and demolished that Pontiac when he crashed over the guardrail to the outside of the speedway.
Lowes Motor Speedway invited...
Lowes Motor Speedway invited Jack to participate in its 1991 Winston Legends Shootout.
HPP: Was he hurt?
LS: No. A doctor checked him out, said he was fine, and he drove back to Atlanta that night.
HPP: How did Jack feel about winning the NASCAR Most Popular Driver Award for 1958?
LS: He loved every minute of it-especially the complimentary week in Daytona complete with food and lodging. Dad and Mom told me they treated him like a king.
HPP: How did your dad come up with the No. 47 for his race cars and when did he start using it?
LS: My older brother, Jackie, was born in 1947. On February 17, 1957, for the Daytona Beach Course race, Dad used No. 47 on his '57 Chevrolet race car for the very first time. The number stayed with Dad when he switched to Pontiac in 1958, and again in 1960.
HPP: Why did he move from Sandy Springs to Spartanburg in 1960?
LS: In 1960, Spartanburg was the center of the racing world. Dad wanted to be where all the action was.
Jack and Cotton Owens, neck...
Jack and Cotton Owens, neck and neck, led the field at the '60 Firecracker 250. Bobby Johns and Fireball Roberts are in Third and Fourth.
HPP: What did Jack say was his biggest career win in a Pontiac?
LS: The '60 Firecracker 250 at Daytona. I wasn't there to see it, but my mom was. She said that toward the end of the race NASCAR tried to get Dad to pit so Cotton Owens could win the race. Dad realized what was happening, chose not to pit, and won.
HPP: What did he do with the prize money?
LS: Mom said the money from the win helped us build our house in Spartanburg.
HPP: What made the '60 No. 47 Catalina different from the Catalinas prepared by Cotton Owens, Ray Fox, or Smokey Yunick?
LS: Each racer had his own machine shops and mechanics to make special parts, and nobody shared secrets. Dad hired Pop Eargle and Bud Moore, two of the big names in early NASCAR, to machine parts for his '60 Catalina, and perform top-secret work on his engine to give his Pontiac an advantage over the other racers.
Fireball Roberts (center),...
Fireball Roberts (center), Jack Smith (right), and Bobby Johns (left), enjoy time off before Atlanta's Dixie 300 race on July 31, 1960.
HPP: How did Jack become the first driver in NASCAR history to have a two-way radio installed in his race car to communicate with his pit crew?
LS: Tom "T.O." Moore of Spartanburg owned Harty & Moore Radio. Dad asked him to make a two-way radio system to work in his race car, in the pits, and around the track. He used it at the first World 600 in Charlotte in 1960. The communication edge helped him obtain a huge lead, but fuel tank problems with the race car caused him to finish Twelfth.
HPP: Who did your dad consider fierce competition in the early days of Pontiac in NASCAR?
LS: Fireball Roberts.
HPP: What's the most important thing Jack ever said about Pontiacs?
LS: They were both fast and reliable.
HPP: What year Pontiac was his favorite?
LS: The '60 race car was absolutely his favorite. Mom said they both thought it was the prettiest car that had ever been made. Dad loved '60 Pontiacs so much that he and I restored a Coronado Red '60 Pontiac Catalina Sport Coupe with 42,000 original miles to street legal-all original but with the same lettering as his race car. And we started to build a replica of his '60 race car before his death. (See sidebar.)
Jack poses with his '62 Super-Duty...
Jack poses with his '62 Super-Duty 421 Catalina Sports Coupe at Daytona International Speedway in 1962. His NASCAR career wins included 21 First Place and 142 Top-10 finishes.
HPP: Did Jack have a Pontiac-only household?
LS: Dad owned three or four Pontiacs when he died. Although it wasn't a Pontiac-only household, he thought Pontiacs were wonderful cars and he was proud to race them.
HPP: How do you want to see your dad's legacy continued?
LS: I would like to see him in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. I think he deserves it. I would also like to have the '60 No. 47 Catalina race car replica on display in a sports museum. People can learn more about Jack Smith's career at our Web site, www.smithenized.com.
Jack Smith And The '62 Pontiac Catalina Super-Duty 421 NASCAR Race Car
Through an arrangement with Pontiac racing representative Ray Nichels, Pontiac produced a 421 SD Catalina sports coupe for Jack on January 4, 1962. Thanks to the assistance of Jim Mattison of PHS-Automotive Services Inc. we determined that this Super-Duty was ordered with the code 13B, 421/405 hp Super-Duty engine with dual four-barrel carburetors (later removed and replaced with a single four-barrel per NASCAR rules). It included the following:
Johnny Allen and Jack Smith...
Johnny Allen and Jack Smith celebrate their victory at the Volunteer 500, the very first NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway, on July 29, 1961.
* 4-bolt main caps
* Super-Duty forged-steel connecting rods
* Mickey Thompson forged aluminum pistons
* Super-Duty cylinder heads (No. 540306, 68cc, 11.0:1 CR)
* 1.65-ratio rocker arms
* Heavy-duty valvesprings
* 1.92/1.66-in valves
* Special solid lifter camshaft (No. 541596 McKellar No. 10 camshaft; 308/320-deg duration, 0.445/0.447-in lift)
* Dual-point distributor
* 44S spark plugs
* Super-Duty fuel pump, flywheel, and harmonic balancer
* Super-Duty air cleaner
* Aluminum intake manifold
* Super-Duty exhaust manifolds (iron)
* Dual exhaust
* Special oil pan and pump
* High-speed propeller shaft
* Heavy-duty starter
* Super-Duty clutch
* Heavy-duty three-speed manual transmission
* Special HD frame
* Standard radiator
Lance Smith and Jimmy Kellett...
Lance Smith and Jimmy Kellett of Laurens, South Carolina, re-created Jack's '60 Catalina NASCAR race car.
Other options included dual-speed electric wipers (code 402), windshield washer (code 421), and permanent anti-freeze (North) (code 621).
The Super-Duty Catalina was ordered with non-recommended two-tone paint, Mandalay Red body (code V) and Starlight Black roof (code A). Only 162 '62 Super-Duty Catalinas are documented (155 received the 421ci and 7 received the 389ci), making Jack's NASCAR race car one of the rarest Pontiacs ever made.
According to Richard Parris, the only known living witness to this Super-Duty Catalina's true horsepower, "Daytona had an Autolite dynamometer, and Jack decided to see if his Catalina had more horsepower than Fireball Roberts' car. I was there when we tested it. It pulled 510 hp in stock form, over 100 hp more than Pontiac claimed it left the factory with." Those were the days.
"I built the '60 Catalina...
"I built the '60 Catalina NASCAR race car in honor of my dad," said Lance.
Restoring The '60 No. 47 Catalina NASCAR Race Car
Jack and Lance Smith began working on a '60 Catalina race-car replica before Jack's death. Lance continued the project with the help of Jimmy Kellett. "I found the car that would become the No. 47 replica for Jack back in 1993. It was a '60 Ventura out of South Carolina, equipped as a 389, four-barrel, automatic," Jimmy recalls. "Jack took the body off the frame and had it dipped to strip the paint. After I began working on my '62 Catalina Fireball Roberts race car, Jack asked me personally to build a replica race car for him, but I didn't have the time to get started on it."
According to Jimmy, the project sat in limbo for several years until Lance called him in July 2003, and asked him to complete the race car. Jimmy picked up the car in August 2003, and located the components to duplicate the drivetrain of the original race car.
Gene Moore and Edwin Caldwell, employees of Jack Smith Transmissions, built the engine and transmission, and Lance brought Bud, Jack's mechanic from 1960, to Jimmy's shop to show him how the original race car was set up. This helped Jimmy duplicate the dual-shock setup on each wheel, run the rollbar tubing from behind the X of the X-frame out under the rockers to have side-impact protection, and provide the correct ride height. Bud also explained how to put a trap door on the front right floorboard of the race car to inspect front right tire wear, just like Jack had back in 1960.
The race car was completed in 2006 and shown for the first time at the '06 POCI National Convention. Lance wants to thank these additional people involved in its re-creation: Tim Timmerman of Clinton, South Carolina, who performed the fabrication of the rollbar and shock mounts; Bryant Body Shop in Laurens, South Carolina, for paint; Chris Salters of Greenwood, South Carolina, for lettering; and Bobby Sumerill of Laurens, for upholstery.
|No. 47 ’60 Catalina Replica Specs|
|Block Casting||No. 536387|
|Intake||'60 four-barrel, No. 536518|
|Heads||'60, No. 536109|
|Cam||Crane mechanical special, 290/300-deg advertised duration, 0.500/0.520-in lift|
|Carburetor||Carter AFB, No. 1686 750-cfm |
|Air Cleaner||NASCAR-style, custom fabricated|
|Transmission||Borg Warner T-10 four-speed manual|
|Tires||Road Hugger P275/60R15|
|Exhaust||Factory 420A headers and dumps|
|Rearend||Pontiac Safe-T-Track with floating hubs|
|BrakesF/R||Aluminum finned drums/steel finned drums|
|Springs||Stock, cut for height and handling|
|Shocks||Carrera (2 on each corner, 8 total)|