THE GAS MAN, MONTE SMITH
As an official representative for Holley and NOS, Monte Smith is a familiar face in the pits wherever nitrous racers gather. But as an accomplished nitrous tuner he also calls the shots on as many as 20 cars on any given weekend at the track.
“It works out good because Holley is 100 percent behind me. Basically what happens is that everybody associates me with NOS and Holley. They know that I have my own business, but they also know I’m associated with NOS. Holley pays me to be at the track and I cultivate business for Monte Smith Performance, but I use Holley and NOS parts on all the work that I do. So it’s really a win-win for everybody. I get business, but I sell their parts and both names get exposed.”
Regardless, Smith stresses that honesty and fairness have always been the cornerstones of his method in dealing with multiple clients at the track.
“I’m probably best known for my work lately with guys like Chad Henderson on his Outlaw Drag Radial car and Chris Rini’s NMCA Pro Street Camaro, but when I’m at the track with them I might be consulting on several other cars—some of them even in the same classes,” Smith explains.
“It can be a difficult situation, but I make it clear with all my customers; I say, ‘So-and-so’s my customer; you’re my customer; I’m going to do my best to make your car go down the track as fast as I can, but I’m also going to do my best to make his car go down the track as fast as I can. So it’s in your hands to do the driving and get the job done.’”
Though he does sometimes have to deal with disgruntled runners-up (the winners never complain), Smith feels that practically everyone he works with appreciates the straightforward approach. In contrast, he points out some of his tuning and nitrous system rivals deliberately hold back the best parts or advice, and make no apologies about it.
“They’ll pretty much tell you upfront that you’re not going to get the same tune-up as their number-one guy,” he says. “But to me that seems like a really bad way to do business and I just refuse to do that. It doesn’t matter if you’re a guy that spends $2,000 or $20,000 with me; you’re both going to get my very best effort. That’s just the right way to do it and it’s the only way I know how to do it.”
Smith’s way certainly paid off in 2011 for Rini, who last October made the first five-second pass in NMCA Pro Street history with a 5.988-seconds effort at 236.40 mph in qualifying number one for the NMCA World Street Finals at Indianapolis. Perhaps even more significantly, it also marked the first time a nitrous car ran in the fives with a Powerglide transmission.
“We’re pretty proud of that; I think it’s a pretty big accomplishment,” says Smith, who plans to attend all eight NMCA national events with Rini again this year. In addition, he hopes to get back on the ADRL trail again after sitting it out in 2011.
“The year before (2010) I went to 32 events, total, and I sat down at the end of the year and thought, ‘Wow! No wonder I feel like I’m never home; because I’m not!’ So last year, I cut it down and didn’t go to a single ADRL race. I didn’t go to nearly as many events, but I still went to over 20 and I’m going to try to keep it around the 20 range again this year,” Smith says.
“I’ll probably try to take in a few ADRL races again, too, because NOS is paying a contingency in Top Sportsman and Pro Mod and also since Extreme Pro Stock’s allowing fuel injection we’re paying contingency in that, so I need to at least try to go to a few of their races.”
After more than 30 years of working with nitrous-boosted powerplants, Smith is a true veteran of the genre, but his experience in drag racing dates back to childhood.
“My dad, Bill Smith, he actually bought a Dodge Challenger brand new in 1970 and right away turned it into a G/Automatic Super Stocker. The whole time I was growing up, even before my dad started racing regularly, there was a GTO and all that kind of stuff sitting in the driveway at my house so I grew up around hot rods,” Smith recalls.
He also has taken plenty of turns behind the wheel in every class from Stock Eliminator to Alcohol Funny Car.
“I love to drive, especially Pro Modified cars and stuff like that. In fact, the last regular run I had was in a blown alcohol Pro Mod car. I still make runs occasionally at the track, especially if somebody brings me a car to work on, to straighten the suspension out or whatever. I’m liable to load it up and take it to the track and make a few runs, just to get it sorted out. I’ve been known to climb in something in the track that somebody couldn’t get down there, just to see if it was them or the car.”
Smith even admits he wasn’t so sure he was ready to give up the driver’s seat about six years ago when he started Monte Smith Performance, which he continues to run out of his home in Moulton, Alabama.
“I do miss the driving, I can’t deny that, and I didn’t really know how I would react going to the track all the time and not driving, but I have to say that it’s been very rewarding from the tuning aspect to go to the track, tune these guys’ cars and improve their performance and see them winning the race, or whatever,” he says. “It’s very satisfying from that side.”
And contrary to so many businesses in the current economic climate, Smith obviously is pleased to see the demand for his tuning services continue.
“My customer base is constantly expanding. I pick up new customers it seems like on a daily basis,” he says. “I think that’s really good, because I really don’t do any advertising. It’s all just word of mouth, talking to people at the track, giving out T-shirts, putting my stickers on cars. I really don’t try to advertise a whole lot, but my business is really good and steadily picking up.
“And it’s hard to argue with doing something every day that you love. Sometimes it gets hectic and it’s tough to keep going, but it’s always a whole lot better than pushing papers around on a desk all day.”