The youth movement in motorsports can be traced back to the mid-1980s when a young – then 13-year-old – Jeff Gordon made a splash driving winged sprint cars. He found early success and made the transition to stock car racing at the end of the 1990 season, and when he started winning in what is how the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 1992 the die was cast and team owners have been forever looking for the next young superstar in the making.
The development of young drivers has been a mixed bag since then. Dirt tracks or pavement? Stock cars or open wheel cars? Off-road racing? Road racing? Go-karts? The options are seemingly infinite and somewhat confusing.
It was with this in mind that the ARCA Menards Series instituted the Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge in 2015. ARCA allows drivers as young as 15 to race on the short tracks but prohibit anyone younger than 18 from racing on the majority of the series’ superspeedways. It’s with that in mind that the series created a championship-within-a-championship for short tracks which, in theory, those young drivers could compete for.
In 2015, 17-year-old Kyle Weatherman won the first Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge title. Series champions Chase Briscoe, Austin Theriault, and Sheldon Creed followed from 2016 through 2018, but the battle for the short track crown in 2019 has taken an interesting twist with two youngsters separated by just 10 points at the front of the standings.
Last year’s Madison winner 16-year-old Chandler Smith (No. 20 Craftsman/828 Logistics Toyota) shows the way with 870 points. Smith won the last short track round at Toledo Speedway, finishing just ahead of 15-year-old Ty Gibbs (No. 18 Monster Energy/ORCA Coolers/Terrible Herbst/Advance Auto Parts Toyota) who also sits second in the standings with 860 points.
Smith, from Talking Rock, Georgia, has been a dominant force in his nine previous ARCA Menards Series starts. He has three wins, has never finished outside of the top ten, and has led 1,020 of 2,457 career laps, nearly half the laps he’s completed. Gibbs, grandson of legendary NFL Hall of Fame coach and newly elected NASCAR Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs, has been just as solid. In four previous starts, he has finished second three times (Pensacola, Nashville, and Toledo) and has finished no lower than sixth (Salem).
Gibbs has been tantalizingly close to victory but remains fairly good natured on his improbable streak of runner-up finishes to start his ARCA career.
“We’ve got a lot of second-place finishes this season which is good in some ways and bad in some ways,” said Gibbs. “I want to win so bad but finishing second has proven that we have the equipment to run up front and compete for wins, we just need all the pieces to fall in to place and work perfectly to get to victory lane.”
While he’s able to smile about those second-place finishes, that’s not to say he’s happy about being that close to winning and not celebrating in victory lane. His team owner, grandfather Joe, has a record of success that is virtually unmatched in stock car racing – in fact, he’s one win short of tying Roush Fenway Racing for all-time NASCAR wins – so the younger Gibbs knows he has the equipment that can get it done. But he also knows the goal every week, in addition to winning, is to gain experience.
“Since I can’t really run any series full time this year and contend for championships besides the Short Track Challenge in the ARCA Series, I want to get as my wins this season as I can,” continued Gibbs. “At the same time, we started the season with the goal to win as many races as possible and gain as much experience as possible.”
Gibbs will be making his first career appearance at the half-mile Madison International Speedway in Friday night’s Shore Lunch 200.
“I’m so ready to get to Madison,” said Gibbs. “I’ve been really excited for Madison since I left Toledo. It’s just a real short track that takes a lot of tires. You’ll definitely have to conserve too so you can have enough brakes to be around at the end, but I’m ready to move on to Madison and hopefully get our first win of the season.”
Practice for the Shore Lunch 200 at Madison International Speedway is scheduled for 2:15 pm CT/1:15 pm CT on Friday, June 14, with General Tire Pole Qualifying set for 6 pm ET/5 pm CT, and the 200-lap main event slated for 9 pm ET/8 pm CT. The race will be broadcast live flag-to-flag on MAVTV. ARCA for Me members can access free live timing & scoring, track updates, and live chat at ARCARacing.com. New users can register for free with a valid email address at ARCARacing.com/login. Fans can buy discounted tickets to the Shore Lunch 200 at Madison-area Menards locations for just $20, a savings of $10 per adult general admission ticket. For more information, visit MISRacing.com.