DARLINGTON, S.C. – From the moment that NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series owner Mike Mittler passed away in May, Garrett Smithley had a purpose for Darlington Raceway’s throwback weekend.
He wanted to keep alive the memories and legacy that Mittler built throughout a 24-year Truck Series career, one that touched countless lives – including Smithley’s own.
Smithley is doing just that this weekend at the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval, donning a white-and-red livery aboard his JD Motorsports No. 0 Chevrolet reminiscent of the familiar white-bodied, red-numbered trucks that Mittler fielded throughout his Trucks Series tenure. It carries a ghosted No. 63 – Mittler’s familiar car number – on the rear quarter panels.
Why is making such a gesture so important to the 27-year-old Peachtree City, Ga., native?
Because Smithley, like several others before him in the NASCAR garage area, made his national-level racing debut in a Mittler-prepared truck. He’s part of a list that includes Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, Justin Allgaier and others who all credit Mittler with launching their NASCAR careers.
Had it not been for Mittler, Smithley admitted he might never have gotten to where he is now, doing double-duty at Darlington this weekend for the first time in his still-young career.
“It’s really special,” Smithley told SPEED SPORT of running a tribute scheme to Mittler this weekend. “Obviously, Mike meant so much to me and worked to get my career off the ground, but he meant so much to a lot of people in the garage area, you know? He just helped people. He helped on the driver’s side, helped on the crew side, and helped just as a person. He was just an awesome person.
“He gave me my first start in the Truck Series in NASCAR, and without that, maybe none of this happens that’s happening now … so I’ll always, no matter what happens, be grateful for that,” Smithley added. “I knew after he passed away that I wanted to do something, and it didn’t work out to do something for my next race after … which would have been Charlotte, because we had some sponsorship stuff that we needed to honor. So I said, ‘You know what? I’m just gonna go ahead and make sure to do it at Darlington, and that’s what we did. It turned out fantastic. Leighton (Sibille) did a really good job on the design; it turned out better than I could’ve imagined.
“I’m really excited for this weekend, just because of that.”
Notably, Smithley is running in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this weekend for Rick Ware Racing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a Mittler-related tie-in to that appearance as well.
“Funny enough, I’m running for Rick (on the Cup side), and Rick is the one who first got me in touch with Mike Mittler, all the way back at the beginning of this journey. It’s just crazy how all this stuff has kind of come full circle.”