Venturini Motorsports Weekend Rewind: Chandler Smith Shines Again in Dominating Performance at Salem Speedway; VMS Records Seventh Victory of the Season

Sixteen-year-old Chandler Smith chalked up a dominating win in Saturday night’s ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards event at Salem Speedway. After qualifying second, the Talking Rock, GA native drove his Craftsman Tools backed Toyota to the point of leading 199 of 200 laps enroute to earning his second career series victory of the season.

“This car was absolutely on rails tonight,” Smith said. “The guys on this team are the reason why. They busted their butts on pit road and got us out of the pits first every time. All the action was behind us. In a perfect world, they would all be like this. I can’t thank everyone enough for this opportunity – Toyota, Venturini Motorsports and Craftsman. It’s a total team effort.”

Already a winner at Madison International Speedway, Smith’s win Saturday night under the lights at Salem delivered VMS its seventh team win of the season, setting a new team high in season victories – previous season best was six victories set in 2013. The victory also marked the seventh all-time at the Southern Indiana race track.

Living up to his pre-signing hype, the young member of Toyota Racing’s TD2 program continues to impress leading 765-laps (48% of all eligible laps) during his first eight career starts driving for Venturini Motorsports. Smith, who made his first ARCA Series start in April at Nashville, began his career setting a new series record with four consecutive General Tire pole awards.

Defending Salem race winner Christian Eckes rolled into Salem Speedway Saturday night looking to continue his success in the ARCA Racing Series.

After topping the practice speed chart earlier in the day, Eckes qualified fourth for the main event. Running solidly inside the top-5 during the first half of the 200-lap event, the two-time series winner gave up track position after a series of pit stops intended to move him forward. The 17-year old driver of the No.15 JBL Audio Toyota finished seventh.

“We took a swing with some changes in the pits but just missed,” said Eckes. “I think if we had ten more laps you would’ve seen a better outcome. Proud of my guys for working their butts off on a hot day. Tonight just wasn’t our day. We’ll be back at Lucas Oil Raceway in a couple weeks looking to finish our ARCA season on a strong note.”

Eckes will make his final ARCA start of the season with Venturini Motorsports on Saturday, October 6 in Indianapolis. After that he’ll rejoin Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for two more starts in the No.46 Toyota Tundra at Martinsville and Phoenix.

Natalie Decker, making her second career start on Salem’s high banks, qualified 13th and scored her eighth top-10 of the season Saturday night finishing eighth behind the wheel of her familiar No.25 N29 Capital Partners – Yamaha Power Products Toyota.

With only two races remaining on the season the 21-year old rookie looks to finish the season strong. “We had a pretty good race tonight,” said Decker. “Salem is really rough on equipment, especially tires. We fell off a bit during the first half of the race but fought hard all night long. I’m happy with the finish but I’m still learning so much every time out. Frank (Kimmel) continues to help me in so many ways. He’s been a great crew chief – we’ve only got a couple races left this season and I’m focused on finishing strong the final two races of the season.”

Competing in her first full season, Decker has turned in very respectable rookie numbers. After starting the season earning the General Tire Pole Award at Daytona, the Wisconsin native has posted two top-5’s and eight top-10’s in 18 starts. She’ll make her final two starts of the season next month when the series returns to action at Lucas Oil Raceway on October 6 and the series finale at Kansas Speedway on October 19.

Michael Self, in his first ever start at Salem Speedway, qualified his eye appealing No.55 Sinclair Oil Toyota in the third position and ran inside the top-5 all night long. Looking to challenge his teammate for the win late in the race, Self’s successful night ended in controversial fashion after being intentionally wrecked by driver Zane Smith while running in the third position inside the final 20-laps.

Common with short track racing, Self and Zane Smith (No.41) each with solid race cars, battled the entire night circling the half-mile bullring. Throughout the night the two drivers were involved in several incidents – both at times spinning out due to contact.

On lap-103, Zane Smith turned Self coming out of turn four, Self repaid the favor on lap-142. But the seemingly typical short track action turned for the worse when Zane Smith returned to the track (53-laps off the lead lap) after pulling behind the wall with mechanical issues only to target Self with the obvious intention of ending his night.

Zane Smith returned to the track on lap-182. Riding at half speed, Smith waited to for Self to emerge before pulling up on his bumper entering turn-2. After a failed attempt along the back stretch to spin Self’s car, Zane Smith stomped on the gas again crashing hard into the back of Self’s Sinclair machine catapulting the Venturini Motorsports’ driver hard into the outside wall exiting turn four. Self’s car was destroyed from the contact – he would walk away unhurt and credited with a 16th place finish.

“I guess some drivers don’t like to be raced hard,” Self said after the incident. “I’ve worked hard for everything I have. I am racing the last two so we’ll see how it works out.”

Less than impressed with the actions of Zane Smith, Self later took time to reflect on the incident.

“I race really hard. I understand that, and I also understand why other competitors and some fans don’t like it. I work extremely hard to have the opportunity to race in the first place and I feel like it would be a disservice to myself, my team and my sponsors if I didn’t fight for every position in every race. Last night (Saturday), there was a lot of hard racing at a track that’s known for just that. Unfortunately, the hard racing and emotions that came with it led to an end result of two nice race cars being destroyed unnecessarily. Now my guys at Venturini Motorsports, and my friends at MDM Motorsports have to spend their days, and tens of thousands of dollars repairing equipment that worth was disregarded because of someone’s temper. I’m absolutely willing to accept some blame, because I’m aware of how hard I was racing and know that it caused the initial frustrations, and I’m sorry to everyone at Venturini Motorsports and MDM Motorsports who are ultimately paying for the incident.”

The next event for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards is the rescheduled Shore Lunch 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Indiana on Saturday, October 6. Practice is set for 2 pm ET, General Tire Pole Qualifying is set for 4:15 pm ET, and the race will go green at 7 pm ET. will have free live timing & scoring, track updates, and scanner audio for registered users.