It’s no secret that respect and respectability don’t come easy in the cutthroat world of outlaw doorslammer racing. Past results and credentials don’t really mean all that much, a point driven home to “Texas Bounty Hunter” Gaylen Smith when he ventured into the American Drag Racing League’s (ADRL’s) premier Pro Extreme class.
Smith, 46, and his LenMar Motorsports team mounted a part-time effort with the ADRL in 2008, but had trouble even qualifying for the 16-car show. Then, if they did make it in, “Guys didn’t see us as a threat and didn’t feel like they had to throw what they had at us,” he recalls.
That kind of response from his on-track rivals just didn’t sit well with the two-time Texas Outlaw Pro Mod Association (TOPMA) champion, who was accustomed to being a feared frontrunner every time he pulled through the racer gates.
“Several years back, probably around 2000, I was running 4.03s with a ’94 Camaro and that was a pretty decent number back then,” Smith says. “So it’s kind of hard to explain, but we never really had to go any faster because we were the fastest around here and we were competitive with that. Everyone else felt like they had to keep up with us.
“Now the guys with the ADRL have raised the bar so much higher, and it’s to the point now where you’re not really racing them so much as you’re racing yourself because they just don’t make a lot of mistakes. So you have to go just as fast if you have any idea to beat them.”
That mindset applies in the opposite direction, too, a fact not lost on Smith after he finished runner-up for the second time this year in the ADRL race at Gateway International Raceway, near St. Louis. That’s where Smith overheard Chris Duncan, crew chief for winner Alex Hossler, say he’d given Hossler a tune-up “that would either get him the win, blow up, or put him in the wall.” That kind of talk makes Smith feel a lot better.
“I don’t really know those guys very well, but they seem like good people, and I know they’re good racers. They’ve won a couple of races and just to know that they took us serious enough to go out and run that hard makes me feel like we’re doing something right.”
Of course, going deep in Pro Extreme eliminations presents its own set of challenges, and Smith freely admits his team wasn’t quite ready for everything when it first happened. “We ran out of food and drinks because we weren’t used to racing that long,” he laughs.
Smith also reached the final of the rain-postponed ADRL season opener from Houston and qualified number one with a career-best 3.68 seconds blast at Martin, Michigan, earlier this summer. He credits the addition of Crew Chief Brandon Pesz last year and the arrival of a new Tim McAmis-built ’57 Chevy late in the ‘09 season for much of his team’s success in 2010; that, and a ramped up testing program with the automatic Lencodrive transmission they switched to this year.
“We hooked on to this converter deal and we knew it would be a challenge while we swung back and forth until we found a happy medium. And the engine combination, the cam that we started running, the pistons we have now, it’s all working pretty good. And now we supply that same stuff to [Pro Extreme elapsed time record holder] Frankie Taylor and [speed record holder] Wes Johnston, and we all know how fast they’re going, so we’ve stumbled on to some good stuff here in the shop,” Smith says.
“I don’t know if they’re ever going to let us win one, but we’re sure going to try,” he adds. “We go out there trying to win every time. We don’t usually go for track records or anything like that, but it’s kind of neat for us to be out there racing with people like Jason Scruggs and Quain Stott and one of my heroes that I’ve been watching for years, ol’ Todd Tutterow [current ADRL Pro Extreme world champion]. Just getting to run with those guys, it gets you to back up a little bit and gives you a decent outlook at what you’re doing. You know, maybe we are doing something a little right because I know they’re not messing up and we’re right there with them.”
Smith is a life-long drag racer who followed in the footsteps of his father Charles after cutting his mechanic’s teeth working in his dad’s general auto repair shop in DeSoto, Texas. He was still there early in 2006 when he met Texas House of Hot Rods owner Mark Eddins and within a couple of months the two combined to form LenMar Motorsports, which now operates out of a gleaming 18,000-square-foot facility on a 9-acre complex near Smith’s home in Mansfield, Texas.
In addition to Pesz, the tight-knit LenMar crew includes only Smith’s wife Celeste and the two Davids, Reeves and Bellomy.
“We’ve always taken our racing very seriously, but we’ve always enjoyed it, too, and that’s why we’re still out here. We’ve also always kept it simple, kept it small, because that’s what’s worked best for us, win or lose,” Smith explains. “Of course, all losses are bad, but I’ve got a 10-minute whining rule in the pits. After we whine about whatever didn’t go right for 10 minutes, for the rest of the day and until the next race we have to figure out how to step up and beat whoever we just lost to; we have to get ready for whatever they’re going to throw at us.”
In Pro Extreme that means being ready for E.T.s dipping into the low 3.60s and speeds topping 210 mph to come, too.
“I don’t know how fast these cars are going to go, but I think a handful of them have got 3.50s in them, it’s just a matter of getting a combination of the right air, the right track and the right crew chief to get them there,” he says.
Regardless, Smith claims he isn’t concerned with being the quickest and the fastest, as long as he makes consistently solid laps under all conditions.
“If the track will hold high-.60s, then that’s what we want to run; if it’ll hold low-.60s, well, we want to get there, too, but we don’t see any reason to try and set the world on fire,” he insists. “Being number-one qualifier is nice; it was awesome to get that up in Michigan and that’s definitely a tough plaque to win in the ADRL, but it’s not our main focus.
“You know, I love gambling, but you can’t get me to bet anything on this deal,” Smith says of his ADRL experience. “It’s just too unpredictable. I mean, who would have believed you could go out and run a .60 and still get beat? But that’s already happened to us a couple of times this year and I don’t care who you are, you’ve got to respect that.”
Text by Ian Tocher
Photos Courtesy of ADRL Communications