Although he was born in Hialeah, Florida, it was on the ovals of Pennsylvania that Steve Smith became a sprint car legend. He enjoyed a Hall of Fame career, earning wins at roughly 30 race tracks, mostly in his black No. 19, 119 or 66 that earned him the nickname “The Black Bandit.”
Smith’s introduction to auto racing took place in the late ‘50s, when he began taking part in illegal drag races behind the wheel of his cousin’s ‘57 Chevy on the streets near his home on the southern tip of the Sunshine State. After friend and fellow-racer Richard Lupo introduced him to another future NSCHoF inductee, Bobby Allen, Steve was introduced to legal racing activities at nearby Hialeah Speedway, a paved third-mile that was in operation for over 50 years before its destruction in 2006.
Allen was a regular at the Florida oval, who – like many Florida-based drivers making a career in auto racing – made the trek north each summer drawn by the more active race schedules and larger payouts. After befriending Allen, Smith became fascinated with the potential of racing for a living. He, wife Barb, and young son Stevie packed up and moved to Hanover, Pennsylvania in the late ‘60s (eventually settling in New Oxford) and his sprint car career began in earnest.
It was in a car owned by Allen that Smith claimed his first Pennsylvania feature win, taking the checkers in a “bug” at Susquehanna Speedway (now BAPS Motor Speedway) on August 24, 1969.
In 1970, Smith began competing in mid-week, high-paying shows with Bud Miller’s newly-formed All Star Circuit of Champions, while racing at Pennsylvania tracks near the family’s new home on the weekends. The closest of those ovals, Abbottstown, Pennsylvania’s Lincoln Speedway, became his home track, and it was at that oval that he would begin realizing some of his greatest success, earning 10 feature wins in the 1971 season.
In 1973 he earned his first Lincoln Speedway sprint car championship. It would be the first of six consecutive titles at Lincoln Speedway, and nine total, with championships earned in 1985, ‘87 and ‘91 as well.
Smith’s first All Stars feature win would also come in 1973, at Franklin, Pennsylvania’s Tri-City Raceway Park.
In 1974, Steve would earn his first Williams Grove National Open victory. He would top the Open two more times – in 1976 and 1981 – to become a three-time winner.
In the meantime, Barb gave birth to the couple’s daughter, Summer. Although Summer never expressed an interest in driving, she was a lifelong race fan, and budding model. The attractive blonde earned the Miss Grandview Speedway title in 1992, the Miss Hagerstown title in 1993, and was crowned Ms. Motorsports in 1994. Tragically, Summer was brutally murdered shortly before Christmas of 2008 at the age of 36 by her fiancée and an accomplice, leaving her two-year-old son Cole without a mother.
In the late ‘70s, Steve and Barb divorced. He would later marry JoAnn Rife, a relative of Lincoln Speedway promoter “Hilly” Rife.
In the meantime, young Stevie had begun chasing a sprint car career of his own under the tutelage of Steve and was soon achieving his own string of racing successes.
As the mid ‘90s approached, Steve began to wind down his own driving career in order to concentrate on advancing his son’s. He won his final two features in 1996 – winning an All Stars feature on May 4 at Lincoln and a World of Outlaws race at Hagerstown Speedway on August 3. In 1997 his driving career had ended, as he took on a
fulltime support role for Stevie.
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