It ’ s the people that keep Kinston Drag Strip ’ s Bobby Smith coming back
By Van Abernethy of excitement with his announcing ,” Smith says .
Aside from that , Waters is a multi-time IHRA world champion who connects with the needs of the racers . Since he grew up racing at Kinston , he was hardly viewed as an outsider attempting to fill the position .
Alongside Smith , the two have struck gold in their racing program , particularly with their 10.5 events they refer to as a “ 252 race ,” which mimics the Street Outlaws format when determining an invitation list .
“ Our area code is 252 , so that was how we named the event and it has exploded in popularity ,” Smith says . “ We do it every other Thursday night , and a couple weeks ago we had to close the gates at 8:30 p . m . because we couldn ’ t take another car or another person . I ’ ve never had to do that in my life !”
Kinston ’ s bracket racing program is also thriving with 12 points races on the schedule , with the season opener held on April 10 , along with a special appearance from the Carolina Class Racers Association . The marquee Winterfest event is among the most celebrated events at Kinston , which has been a staple attraction since 1987 and is held on the second weekend of January .
While most events are contested on the eighth mile , Kinston still utilizes the full quarter mile for test and tune night , and many grudge races are also arranged on the 1,320 . “ We ’ ve got some
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DELL PURIFOY AND VAN ABERNETHY
Bobby Smith first visited Kinston Drag Strip in 1960 , shortly after the quarter-mile strip opened in his hometown of Kinston , North Carolina . Drag racing was still very much in its infancy and Smith developed a fast love for the sport and its people .
Early on , Smith enjoyed racing a variety of Plymouths during his high school years . Like most every other teenager that frequented the drag strip in those days , Smith also had the opportunity to work at the track , and that ’ s where he excelled tremendously , basically learning the entire process of drag strip operations .
“ This track was started by four men , and by 1977 one had died and the other three were starting to age out , so they gave me the opportunity to buy the track , so I did . I was 31 years old in 1977 and I never imagined that 44 years later I ’ d still be here running the track ,” laughs Smith , who turned 75 on his most recent birthday .
Anything Smith involves himself with he typically does it for life . Take his “ other ” job for example . “ My uncle and I founded Carolina Paint Company , which is a commercial and industrial paint contractor , close to 50 years ago ... and it ’ s still my full-time job ,” says Smith , who is also at the drag strip every time the gates are open . “ It requires a lot of time and attention .”
Over the course of his involvement Smith has witnessed the state of drag racing go through
Danny Waters Jr . ( left ) and Bobby Smith numerous trends , economic booms and near busts , not to mention mind-blowing evolutions in horsepower and chassis development .
“ I ’ ll never forget the time a boy showed up with a 5-speed transmission and a Reher-Morrison motor – I had never heard of either ,” Smith remembers . “ I was standing there watching him make his first pass and I told someone standing beside me , ‘ He shifted that thing four times !’ That was impossible , I thought ... he must have missed a gear !”
Decades later , Smith was equally floored when he was walking through the pits and saw a kid tuning a Subaru with a laptop computer ! “ Back in my day we used screw drivers and wrenches !” he laughs .
While Smith admits he ’ s witnessed the sport grow exponentially at times , there ’ s been other occasions he ’ s seen it almost die . Most recently , the COVID-19 pandemic initially brought uncertainly at every level , but eventually gave way to robust crowds returning to the track . “ I think people realized the value of outdoor entertainment again ,” Smith speculates .
Another shot of enthusiasm came in the form of his lifelong friend , Danny Waters Jr ., who came onboard as track manager a few years back and has rejuvenated the track tremendously . Smith says Waters brought another dimension that the track was lacking . “ He goes live on Facebook when we have our heads-up races and he brings a lot
locals who bring their Mustangs and Hellcats out here on TNT night and run in the 9-second zone at 150 mph !” Smith says .
Through the endless changes Smith has experienced throughout his involvement , it ’ s the relationships he ’ s maintained in racing that he treasures most .
“ It ’ s really a job that ’ s hard to walk away from , and sometimes I wonder if I ’ m gonna know when it ’ s time to walk away ,” Smith offers . “ I can ’ t think of anything that would have rewarded me more than the people I ’ ve met in racing and it ’ s the people that make me want to keep coming back .” DI
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