NITRO RUNS IN THE FAMILY
2021 BY NATE VAN WAGNEN /// PHOTOGRAPH BY RICK BELDEN
It was all but inevitable that Megan Smith would end up behind the wheel of a nitro-burning race car . Both of her grandfathers , Virgil Hartman and Paul Smith , have been involved in nitro racing since the 1970s . Her parents , John “ Bodie ” Smith and Rhonda Hartman-Smith , raced against each other in NHRA Top Fuel competition in the early 2000s while Megan was just a toddler .
Now a 22-year-old recent college graduate , Megan is getting her own opportunity to burn nitro . She earned her Top Alcohol Dragster license earlier this season and has run two NHRA national events in the Hartman Smith Racing A / Fuel dragster .
Having grown up around the sport , Smith paid attention to all the procedures , but nothing compares to actually getting in the seat and driving .
“ I knew driving the A / Fuel car was going to be a big step up in speed , but I was surprised by how hard it pulls at the top end ,” Smith admits . “ During my license runs , it was sluggish on the takeoff but after half-track it just kept pulling to 267 mph . Even my dad , who tunes the car , was surprised how much it picked up at the top end because he ’ s used to the Top Fuel cars launching hard and almost launching again when the clutch comes in , and I think that ’ s what I was expecting as a driver .”
The collective knowledge and experience of Smith ’ s mentors in the HSR pit have made the move up to A / Fuel fairly smooth for the former Jr . Dragster driver . Megan ’ s dad still drives and tunes nitro Funny Cars , as does her uncle , Mike Smith . Both her grandfathers are also heavily involved in the operation .
“ It ’ s pretty awesome to have so many people in my family that I can go to for advice ,” says Smith , who is also joined by her younger brother , Dylan , on the team . “ Not many people can go to their mom and ask about shutdown areas at different tracks and trying to slow down a 260- plus mph dragster .”
Even Smith ’ s car has a long history in the sport . It was formerly a Top Fuel car used by grandpa Paul as a “ school car ” as he trained upstart drivers like Clay Millican in the early 2000s . “ Big Daddy ” Don Garlits also drove the car in competition at one time .
Smith is focused on making her own history in the car now , though . She hopes to start running consistently in the 5.30s by the end of the year . The plan is to run a handful of races this season while hopefully attracting sponsors to help expand to a full schedule in the next few years . Smith ’ s longterm goal is to move up to Top Fuel someday .
“ Another goal I have is to get my mom back behind the wheel either in the A / Fuel car or a Top Fueler ,” Smith says . “ I know she misses it , and it ’ s a dream of mine to race against her . How awesome would it be to have a mother-daughter team on tour ?”
Smith admits 2021 is a learning year for the team , as everyone involved is new to the nuances of injected nitro cars . But she ’ s enjoying the process , especially since it involves racing as a family .
“ It ’ s pretty funny to watch nitro whizzes like my grandfathers be dumbfounded by these A / Fuel cars ,” Smith says . “ They both joke with me that it would be easier to put a blower on it and just go Top Fuel racing – you won ’ t see me arguing with them !” DI
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