Smiley Sitton by Bruce Koen
My afternoon visit with Smiley Sitton in July of ‘09 was both stimulating and thrilling. As a recent addition to the Dallas metro-plex, I had no idea that I was speaking with a true racing legend. This man has racing running through his veins like a Sprint car "hookin’it up" on two wheels. From sun up to sun down and beyond, this man has racing in the forefront of his life. Here is a snippet of his life story.
Smiley Sitton has had a career in racing that many desire, wish, and dream, they could have. Early in this interview, it was clear to see that after only touching on a few subjects, it was going to take more than just a few minutes of conversation to obtain the interview I had come for. Between phone calls and assisting walk in customers I would learn a few facts, including that there was more than the "strictly business" side to Smiley. Like many of us that have been around racing for a while, his career in racing, which spans over fifty years, has seen many changes. There are only a few people in the racing community that can keep up with its ever changing pace and all of its demands. This man does, and still can. Truly I was in the presence of a very remarkable individual.
Smiley’s racing career started in the pits at the drag strip as a young boy. He was totally enthralled by racing and race cars, but drag racing was the only possible way a young person such as himself could enter the pit area. During that era of oval racing, women and children were not allowed in the pits. That was strictly a man’s area, and carried with it, age restrictions. With the strong desire to get close to a race car in those days, drag racing seemed not only to be a proper fit for him, but it was the only venue that allowed young people in the pits. He was a quick study and learned much from many of the pioneers of drag racing.
Smiley knew he wanted to race, and of course winning was the goal. Shortly after obtaining his drivers license as a teen age boy, the reality of winning began to take its course. By the time this young racer had graduated from high school in 1962, he had already won a national top fuel event. There have been many who have struggled for years and not accomplished what this young man had succeeded in doing by his 18th birthday. Candidly speaking of racing, he is the first to admit that perhaps he did not have the best equipment, but he was not afraid to admit being the one who worked the hardest for his racing wins.
By 1965, drag racing was beginning to lose its allure. Being very goal oriented, he needed a new challenge. After listening to many conversations of other racers, some suggested he might consider the world of sprint car racing. So he unloaded the drag racing equipment and purchased his first sprint car. Admittedly, he did not know the push bar from the front bumper concerning sprint cars. But as his nature was, by the end of that racing season he was soon running up in the front. Because of his ability to be up in the front and understanding it took more than a few bucks to get there, a door of opportunity opened to him.
We all know that racing requires finances as well as time to do what we love to do. Like many racers, Smiley seemed to be working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to try to accomplish this purpose while running a service station and a wrecker service business at the same time. Sure it paid the bills, but at a heavy cost. So in 1966, leaving the wrecker service and service station behind, he went into the tire business. He soon became quite a successful business man in that arena. During that time, he was building a name for himself on the race tracks as well as in the business community. One fine day, he was approached by Firestone Corporation to sell their brand of racing tires, and an agreement was reached. This was a very successful venture move for both the Firestone people and for Smiley, who in turn supplied racing tires to those in the racing community .
As with any business, there are the slow times. Since racing was seasonal, the winter months became rather lean for the tire business. So being inventive, Smiley had the idea to sell some specialized racing parts out of the tire shop. Firestone agreed to his idea since there wasn’t a conflict of interest and this move seemed to ease the financial pinch of the winter months for several years. But that was only the beginning of the success story.
The tire and parts business was very successful, but seemed to lack the challenge Smiley was so accustomed to facing. So the business was sold and Smiley went into the race track business. As a track owner, there were many new challenges to face. For most promoters, one race track is enough, but not for Smiley. With one track in the Dallas area and one track just north of Houston, there was always something going on that needed his attention. Invariably, one track would run smoothly, while the other had a crisis. Usually, the problem was at the track where he was not. Realizing that this was just part of the deal he had chosen, like always, Smiley faced the challenges straight on. Along with putting on some fantastic racing events, he did enjoy what he was doing and achieved some success as a track owner. This went on for several years with its good moments as well as those he wishes he didn’t have to remember. Finally, with two buyers in mind, Smiley decided to sell one of his race tracks. Quickly, one of the buyers jumped at the chance of owning a speedway. The deal was immediately sealed on a hot Texas afternoon under a big shade tree. Unknown to the other buyer, Smiley was approached with cash in hand by the second buyer the very next day. Within a matter of hours Smiley was without a job, and without either racetrack.
Up to that point, the racing business had been good to Smiley and he turned his efforts toward restoring old cars and building street rods. As usual, he was soon piled up with more work than he knew what to do with turning out restored vehicles. With several cars in the shop at one time and over fifty cars waiting for his touch, the work went on. His storage lot, full of would-be fixers, stared him in the face every day. This early retirement stuff was beginning to bother Smiley. The challenge was there, but not that much money was to be made. The restoration shop left him uneasy until that "one day." The owner of the tire and parts business Smiley had previously owned called and asked if he would be interested in helping him out.
Soon all of the old cars in the restoration shop were sold and Smiley was back to doing what he loved. Helping other racers on the phone with information, and selling racing tires and parts. Smileys racing products had grown over the years to extend into many fields of racing equipment and parts that now reached nation wide. At the time Smiley returned to the business, Hoosier Racing Tires had moved on to the scene, and with plenty of the right relationships, Smiley’s had become Hoosier’s southwest distributorship. Since the racing parts division had exponentially grown during his absence by reaching into all forms of racing, Smiley would only handle the sprint car and oval racing portion of the business.
Please see: http://www.smileysracing.com/
As if the parts and tires business wasn’t enough work, in 1992 Smiley saw a need, and started his famous "Outlaw" Driving School. Today the school not only has professional 410 powered sprinters to train in, but unlike some other driving schools, there is also work in the class room. All of the information taught in the class room helps to prepare each student before any of the actual hands on training happens at the race track. The school offers several different levels of training. Regardless of which program a student chooses, Smiley states: "If you will listen to me, and do what I teach you, I guarantee you will be successful." As you can see, it is more than "turning laps" to his brand of education.
Now with two full time jobs, there was another area that needed Smiley’s attention. In the late 1990's, the sprint car count across the country began to dwindle. To be competitive, the extreme cost of running a sprinter became so price prohibitive, many who loved the sport were calling it quits. Once again, because of his passion for racing, Smiley saw a need and came to the rescue. After talking with men such as French Grimes of VA and others, the solution would come in the form of rules that would make sprint car racing affordable again. Again, seeing a need, Smiley found himself another job as he oversaw the "Sprint Series of Texas" which he helped form in 2005. For this series, all would be racers are required to use the "RaceSaver" 305 SPEC engine. This SPEC engine rule prevents those with money from buying a significant horse power advantage over the other racers. With similar rules in place, a competitive race car can now be built and on the track for under $10,000. There is still plenty of horsepower to race with, and the series really puts on a show wherever they compete. It has been said, that in many of the smaller communities the race fans feel like the "World of Outlaws" has come to town when the SST racers hit the track. And justifiably so, as they really do put on a great show for the fans. Smiley is still the series race director, and makes every event.
Please see: http://www.sprintseriesoftexas.com
Smiley is right back where he likes it- working, with three full time jobs, and only one of him. It was easy to see that he rapidly works rings around anybody at any time. Although modern technology dictates, he has no use for a computer. No cell phone either. Just hard work put this man in the forefront. Do you think that you can keep pace with this man? After seeing part of his daily routine, I doubt that many of us could.
Smiley is as smart as they come, and will quickly tell you so, without bragging, of course. Because of his racing knowledge and many years of experience in the racing world he is a master. His ideas, thoughts and counsel are sought by many. Simply put, hard work is what keeps this competitor in life going. Thanks, Smiley, for helping all of us in racing.