Terry Smith: Remembering the Racer Who Loved Mentoring

Terry Smith: Remembering the Racer Who Loved Mentoring

When the Talladega Short Track shared the news of the death of Terry Smith on Thursday, January 11, it shocked the racing community. The weekend before, at the Alabama track’s signature event, the Ice Bowl, Smith mentored three young drivers: the Thompson brothers — Parker, 17, and Brodie, 13 — and Raeann Gibbs, 10.

Terry Smith: Welcoming Newcomers

“I was a career asphalt driver,” Raeann’s father, Zach Gibbs, said. “I had never raced on dirt. Raeann is the first in our family to be a dirt racer. Terry took her under his wing. He believed in her ability.”

Gary Thompson, father of the Thompson brothers, never participated in the sport period.

“When the pandemic caused youth sports to cancel, we were looking for something for the boys to do, and we discovered racing,” Thompson, of Talladega, Alabama, said. “I knew nothing about racing. I just knew racing was taking place when other sports were not.”

Despite receiving serious injuries in a go-kart crash, Raeann still wanted to race. Zach began building her a street stock.

“Terry said let’s get her right into a late model,” said Zach Gibbs, of Weaver, Alabama. “We talked to Terry every night. He was guiding my daughter, teaching her to be a late model driver, and teaching me about racing on dirt.”

When Parker Thompson tore the rear end out of his modified at the start of the season, Gary Thompson took his sons straight from the school bus to Smith’s shop, day after day, until they fixed it.

“Terry taught us how to fabricate, how to put cars back together and how to set them up,” Thompson said. “When I built a shop for our cars, I mimicked Terry’s shop. I bought the same tools and Terry came over to recommend where the tools should be set up in my shop.”

A Loss for Racing

Terry Smith went to the emergency room on Tuesday, January 9, after having trouble breathing. He died early Thursday morning of a heart attack after contracting pneumonia. He was 62.

“Terry was probably the nicest guy in racing,” said Talladega Short Track promoter Adam Stewart. “He fixed and repaired cars for everyone, and never charged what he should have charged. He simply cannot be replaced.”

While many remembered Smith as a track champion and a fantastic fabricator, Smith’s most lasting impact on the Talladega Short Track may be through the racers he has helped.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Terry,” Thompson said. “We’re not the only ones. A lot of other racers depended upon Terry — and he loved to help them all.”

There’s no obituary for Terry Smith, nor any services announced. However, the Talladega Short Track plans to honor Smith with a memorial race during its next event, a Hunt the Front Super Dirt Series race, on March 15-16.

“Terry treated everyone like they were family,” said Gibbs. “He is an icon. He is Talladega Short Track. That’s why this is really hard to take.”