NASCAR driver Regan Smith will have a familiar voice in his ear when he makes his television booth debut Saturday for FS1s live coverage of the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Iowa Speedway (8:00 PM ET). While Mark Smith (no relation) isnt Regans crew chief, he just might be the next best thing.
Mark Smith, FOX Sports NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race producer, will hang around Iowa Speedway an extra day this weekend to produce the NASCAR XFINITY Series race, for which Regan is serving as a driver analyst for the first time.
The two, friends for 29 years, grew up in neighboring small towns in upstate New York, initially meeting when Regans family began frequenting Happy Days, a drive-through restaurant owned and operated by Marks family in Cato. Smiths family, hailing from Cato, made a tradition of celebrating their special occasions at Happy Days, beginning when Regan was four years old.
Ive watched Regan grow up since he was about two feet tall, said Mark, who grew up minutes from Cato in Baldwinsville. Hed come by for ice cream with his trophy after his Little League team won or anytime he won a Microd race. The first couple of times, Regan insisted on ordering. Id go to the window, flip up the screen and look out. I didnt think anyone was there. I had to lean out and look down to find him. He was a short little thing. I remember he always got a small soft vanilla ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles.
While Mark, 14 years Regans senior, has a more vivid memory of the early days of their friendship, Regan has a more nostalgic perspective.
When I go back to Cato, I still drive past the restaurant every time, Regan said. It has changed a little over the years through different owners, but it still looks like the same Happy Days. Every time wed have a Little League game or event like that, everyone went there. That was where youd go. It holds a special place in my heart. Ive taken my wife there, if that tells you anything.
When the time came for Mark to head south for a NASCAR production career in North Carolina, the pair stayed in touch, although Regans family remained in the Empire State for approximately another year.
Regardless of where we were geographically, we'd always keep in touch, Mark recalled. He wanted to know how things were going in NASCAR, and I'd reach out to see where he was in his racing career. Our paths began crossing again on a regular basis when he began competing in the XFINITY Series.
This weekend wont be the first time the two have worked together. Mark was the long-time producer of Trackside on SPEED, on which Regan served as a driver guest a couple of times. He noticed Regans innate ability in front of the camera early on and has closely followed his progression to a regular stint on FS1s NASCAR Race Hub much as a proud big brother would.
When I first heard his name mentioned for the Iowa TV booth, I knew it would be a great fit because he does such a nice job on Race Hub, Mark explained. Regan brings the perspective of someone who still is driving and has that hands-on knowledge that you cant trade for anything.
I just want Regan to be himself on Saturday, he continued. Hes a lot of fun, like the rest of this group. I think drivers who come up to the TV booth benefit from being on this side of the sport. They learn why we ask certain questions, but at the same time, they pick up on things from atop the TV booth they can relay to viewers -- such as why and where a driver is beating another through the corner. Thats the kind of thing Id like to get from Regan.
Regan, who is undergoing a TV crash course with a dual role as a pit reporter for FS1s live coverage of NASCAR XFINITY Series practice on Friday and qualifying on Saturday, began preparing for his analyst debut several weeks ago.
Ive been taking as many notes as I can and watching tapes of previous Iowa races so I know the flow of the event, Regan stated. The biggest thing is getting to the track and talking to the crew chiefs and drivers. Once I get there, Ill be able to really start preparing on little details. The past six or seven weeks when I knew this was a possibility, I really paid attention to the races and started taking mental notes and notes on paper.
One of his mental notes and overall goals involves censoring himself in the FS1 booth.
One way Ill measure success for myself is if I dont cuss, Regan joked. No FCC violations. If the race comes across to the viewer in a way that they feel they learned something, that will be a success. When I watch racing, I like learning something and feeling like I walked away knowing something I didnt prior to the event.
Regan expects the familiarity he has with Mark, who will be in his ear throughout the evening, and play-by-play announcer Adam Alexander, with whom he works on NASCAR Race Hub, to bolster his comfort level.
Its good for me to have Mark producing this race, he said. Plus, both Adam (Alexander) and Phil (Parsons, analyst) are seasoned veterans. I have a really good relationship with Adam and also know and greatly respect Phil. Adam has a special ability -- when he asks a question or when hes talking about something -- he makes it easy for the person alongside him.
Making it easy for Regan is one of Marks goals for the weekend.
Its the least I can do for a fellow New Yorker whose family helped pay my college tuition with regular trips to our drive-through window, Mark joked. But seriously, I cannot wait for Saturday. Its going to be a blast to watch our lives and career paths come full circle. A little family reunion in the TV booth. How often do two guys from a map dot end up working in the same industry and on the same event? Its something pretty special.