Thursday, May 25, 2023

ARCA EAST: Jeff Smith takes last on a weekend of several ARCA returns

Jeff Smith's No. 49 Ford next to his brother Brad's No. 48 Chevrolet
PHOTO: Gavin Newton, @runnings_racing (via Colby Evans @StartAndParkCar)

by Ben Schneider Staff Writer

Jeff Smith finished last for the 1st time in his ARCA Menards Series East career in Saturday’s Dutch Boy 150 at Flat Rock Speedway when his No. 49 Ford retired with clutch issues after completing 1 of 150 laps.

The finish came in Smith’s ARCA East debut.

Jeff is the older brother of longtime ARCA Menards Series veteran Brad Smith. Jeff made his ARCA debut on August 8, 1987, at Rockford Speedway in Illinois, where he finished 28th and last due to an engine failure on the opening lap. Since then, he has primarily served as a crew member for Brad’s ARCA team. Last season at Michigan, Jeff made headlines at Milwaukee by being the sole pit crew member for Brad’s No. 48 car. Brad would go on to finish 21st in the 28-car field, completing 136 of the race’s 150 laps. Jeff would later tell, “I did it because it was for my brother. I wouldn’t do it for anyone else….it was his 400th start and I wanted to give him his best shot.”

This past weekend, Jeff made a return to the driver’s seat, 35 years, 9 months, and 12 days after his previous one-off appearance. Driving the team’s backup car, renumbered with red tape to create the No. 49, Jeff completed one lap before pulling behind the wall with “clutch” as the reason out. While Saturday’s race was strictly an East Series event, it is believed to be the longest-ever stretch between last-place finishes in ARCA-sanctioned competition.

Jeff and Brad Smith on Saturday at
Flat Rock Speedway
PHOTO: @DriverBradSmith
Just 16 cars appeared on the entry list in total. In the days leading up to the event, Jeff’s comeback was not the only ARCA return making headlines. The return of Flat Rock to the ARCA schedule for the first time since 2000 also brought series team owner Billy Venturini out of retirement for a one-off return of his own. Venturini did not compete full-time in ARCA until 2002, two years after Flat Rock was dropped from the schedule. “It was really something that was on my bucket list my whole life,” Venturini told Frontstretch. “I grew up watching my father race there, [he] won his first ARCA race there. [He] had done countless races, and it was always my favorite track.” The opportunity to check the track off of his bucket list inspired Venturini to make his return behind the wheel of his team’s No. 20 Toyota.

While ARCA timing and scoring indicates Jeff Smith ran a total of nine practice laps, he not make a lap in qualifying, locking him into the 16th and final starting spot. Nate Moeller joined Smith on the back row of the grid, placing 15th with a time of 14.879 seconds. Dale Shearer, Brad Smith, and Ryan Roulette rounded out the Bottom Five qualifying positions.

After Jeff Smith pulled off on Lap 3, Dallas Frueh became the next retirement when he pulled behind the wall with overheating issues after running 18 circuits. Brake issues forced Moeller and Brad Smith out of the race after 25 and 31 laps respectively, while Roulette rounded out the Bottom Five with an engine issue after 42 laps.

Up front, William Sawalich scored another win after executing a bump-and-run pass on polesitter Sean Hingorani with 48 laps to go. Lavar Scott scored a career-best finish of second, bumping Hingorani back to a third-place finish. Venturini, meanwhile, enjoyed a successful return to the driver’s seat, placing fourth in his first ARCA-sanctioned start since Talladega on October 5, 2007.

16) #49-Jeff Smith / 1 lap / clutch
15) #01-Dallas Frueh / 18 laps / overheating
14) #06-Nate Moeller / 25 laps / brakes
13) #48-Brad Smith / 31 laps / brakes
12) #12-Ryan Roulette / 42 laps / engine

1st) Toyota, Ford (2)

1st) Wayne Peterson Racing (2)
2nd) Fast Track Racing, Brad Smith Motorsports (1)


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