He Proves Money Can't Buy Success

TIMES STAFF WRITER

His main sponsor is his father's airline, so Mark Smith, a 21-year-old newcomer on the American Racing Series circuit, does not have the money problems most other young drivers have.

He even gives half his earnings to charity.

Smith was the third-fastest qualifier, at 83.48 m.p.h., in an ARS field of 24 at the Long Beach Grand Prix Friday.

His competitors, though envious of Smith's finances, praise his ability.

"He has a huge advantage over us because he can do so much (racing)," ARS driver Johnny O'Connell said. "He has seven or eight guys with him. Most guys have two or three. Shoot, if he cracks a car up, he has another one in the truck."

O'Connell was sitting in an area next to Smith's in the garage.

"Look at all those tires he has," O'Connell said. "But he's good, you can't take that away from him."

Smith, in his fourth year as a professional driver, was last year's Super Vee champion. His success has advanced him to the ARS, a proving ground for those who aspire to be Indy car drivers.

Smith does not flaunt his resources and gives no hint of greed.

He finished second in his recent ARS debut at Phoenix, winning $9,000. As he will with all his purses this year, he gave half to The Seeing Eye, Inc., an organization in Morristown, N.J., that provides dog guides for the blind.

He doesn't do that merely because he can afford to.

"I don't take any of my faculties for granted," Smith said after his qualifying run. "Without my vision I wouldn't be able to do what I do."

Smith grew up in Oregon, admiring Mario Andretti and other great drivers, but now reserves much of his respect for the blind.

"Those guys have more guts than any of us out here," he said.

Smith's father, Del Smith, is an entrepreneur who was born an orphan. A pilot, he was a crop-duster before owning the Oregon-based Evergreen International Airlines. He taught his son to fly helicopters and fixed-wing planes.

Mark Smith said that it is a long shadow his father casts, but one he believes he is emerging from because of racing.

"This is something I can work hard at and do on my own," said Smith, a member of the Torrance-based RALT racing team. "I'd be real miserable without it. The only time I feel really alive is when I'm in a race car."

Smith's dream is a bit different than the dream most of the other ARS drivers have.

"Everybody my age has their mind set on getting into Indy car racing, but I want to get into Formula One and race in Europe," he said.

Long Beach Notes

Dorsey Schroeder of St. Louis, winner of the Trans-Am sedan series last season, scared himself a bit but won the pole Friday for today's Chevron GTO/GTU Challenge, set for 11 a.m. Schroeder, driving a Mercury Cougar, turned his fast lap, 80.342 m.p.h., late in the session, after Mazda driver Pete Halsmer of Anaheim had beaten Schroeder's earlier best lap. "I went out early on soft tires and the car responded well," Schroeder said. "It looked like the time would hold up, so I came back in and took the soft tires off and put on our race tires, just to scuff them in. Then my crew chief told me Pete had just bettered my time and asked if I could do better. "I didn't like that. You aren't supposed to do that on hard tires. But he asked me if I could do just one fast lap. That lap had to come from within."

To nobody's great surprise, Bobby Rahal, 1986 Indy 500 winner and CART national champion in '85 and '86, qualified fastest for the Toyota pro-celebrity race today at 1 p.m. Rahal drove his Toyota Celica--everyone drives a Celica in this event--at 59.296 m.p.h., nosing out former motocross star Bob Hannah, who turned 59.045. Hydroplane racer Chip Hanauer was third at 58.964, and Johnny Rutherford, the semi-retired three-time Indy winner, was fourth-fastest at 58.842. Fastest celebrity qualifier was Joey Gian, Tom Ryan on "Knot's Landing," who turned a lap at 58.189 and will start on the pole. The pros will give the celebrities a 30-second handicap.

Car owner Dick Simon, the former driver from San Juan Capistrano, has a three-driver international Indy car team, although only two of his drivers are entered here. Scott Brayton of Coldwater, Mich., drives the lead car, a Lola-Cosworth, and Hiro Matsushita of Japan has a similar car. At Indianapolis, they will be joined by Tero Palmroth of Finland.

Times assistant sports editor Mike Kupper contributed to this story.

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