For over 30 years, Cook Out Summer Shootout has been a renowned racing event bringing the best grassroots racers together on the famed quarter-mile at Charlotte Motor Speedway. NASCAR talents such as Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and more, all made their marks behind the wheel at Summer Shootout before becoming household names. 

This summer, drivers from over 20 states as far as California and both Mexico and Canada converged on the Charlotte area to take on the fiercest competition at the Cook Out Summer Shootout. Driven by their dreams of racing glory and summer nights at the track, several families have made the decision to move to North Carolina seeking closer proximity to America’s Home for Racing. 

A few families who now call Charlotte home include:

Joel Smith, 14, UNC-Charlotte Pro Division

Joel Smith, who learned to walk and race simultaneously, now drives in the top Legends Car division each week. From quarter midgets to Bandoleros and Legend Cars – with aspirations of racing late models in the near future, Smith said being able to share the garage with his parents and 11-year-old brother Jack, has made racing more memorable for the whole family. 

The Smith family’s journey through the Cook Out Summer Shootout began in 2018 after learning about the event from a friend. For the next three years, the Smiths made their 10-hour trek from Michigan to North Carolina each Sunday for Tuesday’s races, before turning around on Wednesday to head back home. It wasn’t until 2021 that the Smiths decided to permanently relocate from Temperance to Mooresville, to be closer to the competition. 

“The move was hard,” Smith said. “But I knew I wanted to pursue my dream of NASCAR and each week I work as hard as I do to make it all worth it for my parents and family that has supported me in that decision.” 

Now in his seventh year of Cook Out Summer Shootout action, building each year, Smith has continued to improve and show that the move was worth it. Earlier this summer as Joel earned his first win of the season, the family’s eyes filled with tears of joy, as they watched him continue to succeed in the sport that strengthens the Smith family bond.

“Hundreds of NASCAR drivers have come through here, so it means a lot to me,” Smith said. “I believe this is where I have learned and will learn the most to get me to where I want to be.”

Gracie, 16, VP Fuels Semi-Pro Division and Makenna Crocker, 18, Chargers Division

Sisters Gracie and MaKenna Crocker are third-generation racers with an undeniable need for speed. In July 2021 the Crocker family moved from Denver, Colorado to North Carolina to chase just that need. 

Racing runs deep in the Crocker family’s blood between their grandfather, Dave Crocker, a 2013 Colorado Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee and their dad Darren Crocker, a seasoned late model racer. After growing up hearing stories of their grandfather racing and watching their dad and brother compete, the sisters’ passion for racing was inevitable. 

VP Fuels Semi-Pro driver Gracie, who pilots the No. 78 Legend Car picked up her first-ever Legend Car victory at the Las Vegas Bullring this past September. After experiencing a multitude of different tracks across the country in both her Bandolero and Legend Car, Gracie says there is still nothing like racing at the Cook Out Summer Shootout. 

“The competition here is crazy, there is nothing like it,” Gracie said. “Being here at the speedway in Charlotte has taught me I’ll always want racing in my life in whatever capacity that may be,” said Gracie.

Big sister Makenna, who drives the No. 75 Legend Car in the Chargers series, initially had no interest in racing but once moving to North Carolina, found her love for the sport too. 

“It was just Gracie who wanted me to get in her backup car for a weekend just to see if I would like it or not,” Makenna said. “It’s hard not to love it [racing] being here in Charlotte. Now you can’t get me out of the seat, it has made us closer as sisters and as a family.”

Looking to continue the Crocker legacy, both girls are eager to bring their cars to Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Victory Lane this summer.

Jhett Johnson, 17, Chargers Division

Originally from Grand Island, Nebraska, Jhett Johnson is in Charlotte to cut his teeth at Cook Out Summer Shootout in his first full Legend Car season. 

Johnson got his first taste of racing from watching go-karts at Millbridge Speedway while visiting family in North Carolina, sparking his desire to get behind the wheel. After getting his go-kart start in Nebraska, Johnson finally made the bold move to North Carolina in 2021, driven by his dreams of racing. 

With just a trailer, two cats and a dog, Johnson embarked on an 18-hour road trip from Nebraska, determined to do whatever it took to get behind the wheel and pursue his passion of racing in North Carolina.

Originally racing go-karts throughout North Carolina, Johnson got his first Legend Car opportunity in 2023 at a tire test in Hickory Motor Speedway with his now team 510 Racing. Recognizing that Legend Cars were the next step in furthering his career, Johnson eagerly joined the competition at Cook Out Summer Shootout to measure himself against the best. 

“I heard it is one of the most challenging quarter-miles out there, so I just want to gain the seat time and learn,” said Johnson. “Charlotte has endless opportunities in the racing community so for someone like me trying to get started in it, this was the best place for that opportunity.”

Getting his best Charlotte Motor Speedway finish of sixth place in Round 4, Johnson hopes to continue to learn and eventually make a trip to Victory Lane in Charlotte, similar to his NASCAR idols, Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon.

“Gordon and Edwards are actually where my number 94 comes from,” Johnson explained. “With Carl Edwards’ No. 99 and Jeff Gordon’s 24, I made the 94. They’ve both been extremely influential to me in chasing my dream of racing.”

ABOUT COOK OUT SUMMER SHOOTOUT:

Cook Out Summer Shootout is a 10-race showcase of speed among eight different divisions of Legend Cars and Bandoleros. Races are held each Tuesday night, with drivers accumulating points throughout the summer towards a season-ending championship.

TICKETS:

Come on down to Night of Games on Tuesday, July 9. The 100th guest gets a GRAND PRIZE. Score $2 off your ticket purchase with a canned food donation. Tickets are just $10; kids 12 and under get in FREE. For tickets, schedules and more details about all the happenings at Charlotte Motor Speedway, visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.

KEEP TRACK:

Follow all the thrilling Cook Out Summer Shootout action at Charlotte Motor Speedway on X, Facebook and Instagram.

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