You never get a second time to make a first impression, and for upstart Top Alcohol Dragster driver Will Smith, he’s off to a good start.

Smith, who drives the A/Fuel Dragster tuned by team owner Dave Hirata, reached the final round at the recently completed Summit NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio.

Smith proved it isn’t how you start a race, but how you finish that counts. After running a 5.33 in his first attempt, he went 0-for-3 in subsequent qualifying sessions.

“Qualifying was an absolute disaster,” Smith said. “We made that one good qualifying run Friday. Off the trailer, it went a .33. It was a good run. Looking at the computer and evaluating the run afterward, we knew there was more left in it. The last two runs we didn’t get to make because we had two reversers break on us and just little stuff go wrong. First round we got up there and crossed our fingers and hoped it went down the track. Fortunately, it did.”

Smith nailed a few personal goals en route to the personal milestone finish.

“I had a couple of personal goals when I started this deal,” Smith explained. “One was to go 280 (MPH) which we did last year and one was to go in the .20s. To finally do that was cool.

“We beat Duane Shields in the semis. He’s a past world champ, so to get past that one was awesome. It really hit me when we won the semis, Not only are we out here competing at this level - we’re going to the final round. I was so excited for my guys. Everybody has worked so hard ever since we all started working together last year, and we had so much go wrong this weekend that it was a hard fought time to get to the finals. No one gave up. We all just pulled together and made it happen. We came up a little short in the finals, but hey we’re tickled to death. We’re very fortunate and blessed we made it that far. We’ve known for a long time we could do it and could run fast. A large part was just establishing a level of consistency. Plus, we’ve just had a lot of little things plague us lately, and it seems like they just don’t stop, but I think we finally overcame a lot of that this weekend.”



Smith and Hirata have shown that perseverance and experience pay off.

“Norwalk was our fourth race of the season and our second final round. Hopefully, we can keep that round percentage going. We’re in a good position for the regional championship, which is something that I think is definitely achievable at the end of the year, but we can’t make any mistakes. That’s where our focus is. So yeah, getting a final round at Norwalk was very humbling, very rewarding. It’s great for our sponsors and our new partners that came on board this year. We’re really turning our program around, and we’re excited to move forward with them.

Smith and Hirata have two divisional events coming up the first two weekends in July. “I hope we carry this momentum there and parlay it into a win. There’s more to come.”

Additionally, during the Norwalk weekend, Smith paid tribute to Top Alcohol Dragster legend turned NHRA Top Fuel star Darrell Gwynn. Gwynn was paralyzed following a crash during an exhibition run at Santa Pod Dragway in April 1990.

Gwynn took time to have his photo taken by the car.

“That was really cool,” Smith said. “Darrell is a great guy. Dave and I - that really made our weekend. He’s a Top Fuel legend. He got his start in Top Alcohol racing, so it’s pretty dang cool to have him come by to get a picture with us.”