769. And hes been hauling a goat around for years.
When Freddy Smith took the checkers September 18, 1999 at Volunteer Speedway in the Loven Ready Mix 100 Hav-A-Tampa event at Bulls Gap, Tennessee it marked the 769th time the driver stood in victory lane.
So dont even question this veteran about retirement. He just got the job done at one of the countries toughest tracks, against some of the countries toughest drivers.
"You know thats something that Fred has a good outlook on," said Freddys wife, Naomi. "He looks at it like this and says, You know people dont go up to everyone and ask them when they are going to retire because its their job. Racing is my job, so why does everyone have to come up and ask me that? Hes got a good point. This is the way he supports his family and as long as he can do the job, why cant he keep doing his job?"
Its a job he has been doing since the 1966 season when he began his racing career in a Ford on the Carolina dirt tracks, a car that was built by him and his father.
"He has said, hell know when to get out." Naomi continued. "When he gets out there and cant compete, win races and run up front, he says hell know its time to get out. But until hes not competitive hes gonna be out there. Why give up the one thing he loves the most, other than his family, when hes still good at it?"
Naomi Smith has watched Fred, as she sometimes calls him, do his job for the 34 years they have been married and is without a question the Southern Gentlemans number one supporter. She was there when he won his first Dirt Track World Championship in 1983. Again in 1985. Again in 1991. Again in 1993. And Yet again in 1998.
She was there for the 1994 Dream at Eldora, where Freddy stood in victory lane. By his side throughout the 1996 season as he claimed the Hav-A-Tampa championship. And was close-by when he showed everyone at the Show-Me in West Plains.
"What can I say that people dont already know about Freddy?" said Naomi, in an interview in the couples motor home at the 1999 version of the Topless 100. "Everyone knows his accomplishments, they know what kind of guy he is, theres not a lot that people dont know about him."
They all know the big races hes won, that he put the GVS Racing Team in the national spotlight by taking their entry to victory as the team driver from 1990 until leaving to form his current team with Clayton Christenberry at the end of the 1995 season.
Listening very intently is Oni, Freddys mom who has spent a lot of time on the road with Freddy and Naomi this season. "Lets see where all have they taken me this year Brunswick, Calvert City, Paducah, Cedar Lake, LaSalle, Brownstown and of course Grassys Memorial at Lawndale." Said Oni.
"That was a real emotional deal for us all," commented Naomi. "Freddy really wanted to win that one. He was on a mission. It was just like his daddy got a hold of him and took him to the front. Him and Jeff both were very emotional."
"It was a full moon that night and someone said you know maybe Grassy is watching down on us." Shared Naomi. "We got to see a lot of friends and family that weekend. Thats considered a local track for Freddy (who was born and raised in nearby Kings Mountain), so everyone showed up."
"It really meant a lot to Freddy." Naomi viewed. "That being the first one and all. I told him if he didnt win another all year that was the one to win. Hell always have that inaugural win. We really appreciated Ernie (Elkins, Thunder Valleys promoter) for putting it on. It was a fantastic turnout."
Sharing moments like that the strong silent Freddy exposed the Southern Gentleman that his fans love. "Hes very quite, but yea he talks a lot to me and Jeff as far as family, and Id say Skip and probably Clayton (Christenberry, car owner) and Jimmy (Cabral, crew chief) in racing." Shared Naomi. " I guess a lot of times he can say things to me that if he said to someone else they might take out of context. But now Im his wife but Im also his best friend too."
Known the past several years as the Southern Gentleman, Naomi commented, "To me thats what he is. I mean in the South if there were one person it would be Freddy. But also Skip (Arp). You know Skips a lot like Freddy. Theyve been friends for years now."
"He is a lot like Freddy." Naomi continued. "If I was to pick anyone to carry on in Freddys footsteps, other than Jeff, it would be Skip. Because we think that much of them (Skip and wife Janice). Shes a lot like me, doing everything I used to do before I broke my foot. Shes doing the stuff that I used to do. They are really great people."
Freddy Smith has got all the characteristics of a Southern Gentleman. "His favorite colors are red, white and blue of course." Naomi said. "Hes a very patriotic person. Hes a good father, good husband, and a good son. And I know thats painting a picture that hes perfect but in my eyes he is, but maybe in other peoples eyes hes not. But he tries to treat people like the way he wants to be treated as a person."
"If he can help someone, hes gonna be the first person there to help them." Said Naomi. "And if someone comes up to him about a setup or something hes not going tell them a story, hes either going to tell them or say I cant tell you that. Hes gonna be truthful no matter what, hes not gonna lie to you."
Freddy is recognized as one of the all-time best, partly because of his 769 wins and in part because hes gone through all the different styles of driving from sling them sideways to gentle and easy. " He saw all the changes." Commented Naomi. "I never thought hed adjust to these cars after being around the others so long.
"He can really adjust about to anything. Look at all the tracks hes won at, I dont know if there is one he hasnt won on. I mean like the big ones. Hes won Eldora, Hagerstown, Pennsboro," said Naomi. "That win at Thunder Ridge was really good, cause it proved he could win the Dirt Track even if it wasnt at Pennsboro. I was really disappointed it wasnt at Pennsboro, cause that seems like it is the Dirt Tracks, but him and Jeff starting on the front row, that was a big weekend for us all. That was the very first one of those that Grassy had miss and he told Freddy, before he went that he wanted him to be able to give him the wave, with those five fingers up," said Naomi. "So as soon as it was over and Lisa (Jeffs wife) called home and Grassy answered the phone and he started crying and he handed the phone to Oni and she started crying."
On that fall afternoon Freddy shared victory lane not only with Jeff, but a special part of Freddys life now. "He had Zack, Jeff and Lisas boy in his arms," Reflected Naomi. "And the first thing Zack said, was Papaw Freddy, when you gonna give me some money. So Freddy told me after we got settled down, You know what that little rascal said to me, papaw Freddy when you gonna give me some money. We dont get to see him, Jeff or Lisa as much as wed like running on the road like we do."
"I know Zachs gonna be a race car driver too he goes to sleep with one in his hands all the time." Laughed Naomi. "You call him and say what you want us to bring ya, its racecar always."
You would think that Freddy Smith would make a good politician, but Naomi had a different response to the "what if" questions of a non-racing Freddy Smith.
"No definitely not, hed been a golfer." Said a Definitive Naomi. "He can really play. He was good when he was playing. He played up until he broke his wrist and then he went 5 years and maybe went once last year with Skip. But he loves golf."
"But had he not been a race car driver, I think he would have made a good veterinarian." Continued Naomi. "He loves animals. He can not stand to see an animal in pain. We went to Florida one time to race and a deer hit us. We were in the motor home, pulling a racecar. Well, you know, as a rule most people would have left it there, not us. We had to move things out of the trailer so Freddy could put that deer in the trailer, go in to the next town and find a police officer and ask him what to do with it, Freddy told him Im not leaving it on the side of the road. He asked where you going and Fred said Florida, the officer said take it with you, I have no where to put it so here we go all the way to Florida with a deer in the trailer. Freddy couldnt stand it so some of the guys that was helping us at the time. So they took the deer out in the woods across from where we were staying. We didnt know it at the time, but they cut the horns off and that year for Christmas that killed him."
That was only the first of many animal tales Naomi had on Freddy, "We went to see my brother in Bluefield, West Virginia and Fred went to an auction with my brother and comes back with Jeff a Shetland pony in the back of our station wagon." Says a laughing Naomi, " so what do we do, weve got to come back to North Carolina. So we rent a U-Haul, go buy a bale of hay and off we go. We had to stop every hour and half and make sure it had water and everything, but we made it home."
"Then another time we was out here in Knoxville, Iowa and we got a friend that had a goat and he had a baby goat. Freddy went out one morning and was feeding that goat and our friends saw how much Fred loved that goat so he gave him the goat." Continues Naomi. "So here we go again, got the racecar again, were emptying the trailer, putting hay in there, get everything and head back off to North Carolina with a goat. We had to stop at the weight station in North Carolina to rest and all these truckers are coming through and being weighed and weve got this goat tied up outside and its baaing at everyone going by and they just looked.
Quick to point out that its been 34 of years of racing, and Freddys still carrying a goat, around the nickname for all GRT race cars, Naomi laughed and said, "Oh my word, Freddy and his goats. We sure have had a good life racing and hauling goats!"
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