Race Weekend Central

Zane Smith ‘Absolutely’ Ready for Cup After Hot Truck Start

There is no driver hotter in the Camping World Truck Series right now than Zane Smith.

Now in his third full-time season, Smith moved from GMS Racing to Front Row Motorsports in the offseason, and the pairing has immediately clicked. Smith has already doubled his career wins this year, with three through just the opening nine races.

He’s also already scored more top fives than all of last year, a season where he finished second in the championship. Smith would be leading the points had his second-run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway not been disqualified, but instead he is fifth. 

It’s not too shabby a start for a deal that came together in December. Smith had previously been rumored to take over Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 1 once Kurt Busch departed, but Ganassi ultimately sold his assets to Trackhouse Racing Team. 

Smith is also recently engaged. His new fiancé, McCall Gaulding, is the back-to-back winner of Motor Racing Outreach’s Better Half Dash and sister of fellow driver Gray Gaulding.

Frontstretch caught up with Smith at Darlington Raceway to discuss his fiancé, his hot start with FRM, the Ganassi rumors and if he’s ready for the NASCAR Cup Series. 

Michael Massie, Frontstretch: The more important title that you got recently is the title of fiancé. So how’d you propose? I heard that Todd Gilliland might have been involved as well.

Zane Smith: Yeah, I was getting the ring shipped to his house at the time and trying to obviously keep it a secret, a surprise. I had planned during that little break we had to go down to Folly Beach [S.C.] and hang out with the dogs and, yeah, popped the big question.

Massie: Yeah, well, congrats on that. How’d you and McCall meet? Was it at a racetrack, given her brother Gray?

Smith: Yeah, it was at New Smyrna Speedway in 2015. And, yeah, we weren’t dating at that time, but that was the first time we had met, and the rest is history.

Massie: She won the Better Half Dash last year. Did you give her any tips or are you giving her any tips for that this year?

Smith: No, not really. She’s been good straight out of the gate. And so there hasn’t been a ton I needed to help with. Trying to calm her down in some racing situations, which is funny to see how antsy and nervous [she gets], I guess you could say. But it’s cool. It almost reminds me of when I was younger and getting into racing, how nervous you get in situations.

It’s definitely comedy. But no, she’s done a really good job. She’s really fast. We’ll see if we can get Koia, who’s donating to MRO and allowing us to do this, and see if she can win it again.

Massie: So going back to Truck racing, you’re probably off to the best start of your career. How have you clicked so well with Front Row Motorsports right off the bat?

Smith: Yeah, I mean, a big reason why I had made the decision to come over to Front Row was a little bit more clear path for my career. And so that’s a huge thing you look for as a driver and to know what you’re doing the next year and the following year.

And so I don’t know exactly what that may be, but it’s just clearer than what I’ve had in the past. So you’re definitely more relaxed going to the racetrack, and obviously my whole team is just a really good group. We connect well on and off track, and I think that’s just a huge part of success and in racing. It’s just like any other sport, you got to really like each other and communicate well, and I feel like that’s what we’re doing. We’re just gonna try to keep it up, and a lot more wins to go get.

Massie: So FRM having a Cup team was part of the appeal of coming over here?

Smith: No, there’s no, ‘Hey, you’re going in this or that.’ It’s just I’m signed over there for a while to where they have rights to me at least. So my commitment is Front Row right now and to win them as many trophies as possible.

Massie: So this deal, it seemed like late last year, you didn’t really have anything in place. How late did this deal come together?

Smith: Very late. Probably about a month after Phoenix or so.

Massie: So December, huh?

Smith: Yeah, it’s been like that multiple times throughout my career. I’m not the only one in that boat. It’s just when you don’t have the dollar to bring or for sponsorship funds, whatever it may be, it’s really difficult to get your self secured earlier in the season. And once again, going back to knowing I have somewhat of a security really affects how you race, how you train, your mental state on how you go about things. So that’s a good thing to have, and I’m looking forward to the future.

Massie: You finished second in points two years in a row. What have both of those runner-up instances taught you that you think will help you this year to get that one spot higher?

Smith: Yeah, I have been very close, obviously, both years. Green-white-checkered that I think Sheldon [Creed] and I came from 13th-15th at the time to finish one-two. And so really close that one, and I got passed with about seven [laps] to go for last year.

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You have to go about it as it’s a championship as its own, getting to the final four, and a huge privilege to race for one. This format of trying to win these is really difficult. And so it’s that day, whoever’s the best that day. And some people may love that, some people may hate that, but it doesn’t matter. It’s what we’re dealt with.

I felt like two years ago, we were really good at Phoenix. It was my rookie year, but I felt like we had everything that we needed to to win the championship. Just fell a little short. I felt like last year, just from practice on, we just weren’t really right. But you just have to be better than the other guys. And unfortunately, we were the second-best that day.

Massie: I’ve heard Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, them kind of say the same, where it’s like you need to judge drivers on Championship 4 appearances now. That should be like the big thing now. So you’re kind of in line with that way of thinking?

Smith: Yeah, I think you could ask any driver here, and I think their mindset is all going to be the same. I mean, even past champions. It’s really difficult with that oddball that always gets thrown into these late rounds, such as Talladega [Superspeedway], or there’s some crazy track.

There’s just so many variables that it takes to be in contention to win these things, let alone win these things. It’s been a good past two years. I think last year was probably a bigger accomplishment with how much adversity was thrown at me. Myself and my team were able to be clutch and win in that final chance we got. That one will always be special to me.

Massie: Last year, the big rumor going around was Chip Ganassi was talking to you about the No. 1 car. Obviously, he gets bought out. That doesn’t happen. Was there truth to that rumor, and how did it feel to have your name floating around the Cup rumor mill?

Smith: Yeah, the beginning of last year, I had gotten signed by Ganassi. Same deal, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to be doing. It seemed obvious in a way that it was most likely going to be the No. 1 with Kurt [Busch] leaving or whatever it may be.

I was looking forward to that. I felt like I was, at the time, I wanted some more experience. But I’m a big believer in everything happens for a reason. I was just so fortunate to really have those people reaching out and them wanting me to race for them. I think that’s just super cool.

Super unfortunate it didn’t work out. I was obviously pretty bummed out when that had happened. And then it gets followed up with, I don’t know where I’m gonna be going at all or if I’m going to be racing at all.

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But I took a risk on that, signed my name on that paper to hopefully see if it would work out. Unfortunately, it didn’t. But I go about my life and my racing life rolling with the punches, dealing with what it gives me and doing the best I can at it, and that’s what we’re doing today.

Massie: Do you think you’re ready, or at the end of the year you’ll be ready, for the Cup level?

Smith: Absolutely, I mean, looking at it now, I think even last year I was ready as I’m ever going to be. Where my head is right now, I don’t care what I’m doing, as long as I’m winning. I don’t know what I’m gonna be doing next year. I don’t know what I’m gonna be doing tomorrow. All I know is what I’m gonna be doing tonight, and that’s hopefully contending for a win.

About the author

Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

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stubbscupseriesdotcom

Zane is the 2nd best prospect in the lower series behind Ty Gibbs right now, and I find myself rooting for him and Hocevar every Friday night.

Jill P

Yes, they are bright spots in the Truck series. I just hope they don’t get rushed up the ladder too soon like some other drivers have.

JohnQPublic

I like Zane Smith. I’ve been pulling for him as my favorite Truck driver since the start of last season. He should take a history lesson from Nemechek, Alfredo, and Todd Gilliland. He should use the feeder system properly and allow himself to develop. If he wins the Truck Championship, then he’d certainly be ready to graduate to the Grand National Series, but I don’t think he’d make the Round of 8 if he had gone there this season. He’d be in the back with Cody Ware and the like if he leapfrogs Grand National and goes straight to Cup next season. He should take his time. He’s only around 23 years old.

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