ANDERSON — Jimmy Carter was president, a gallon of gas cost 90 cents, and “My Sharona” by The Knack was the top song in 1979, which was also the last time Danny Smith competed in the Pay Less Little 500.
Smith, 57, is returning to Anderson Speedway to drive the Mike Blake-owned sprint car in tonight’s Little 500 classic at the Anderson Speedway.
The Indianapolis driver was named rookie of the race in 1975 when he finished third. Smith started on the inside of the front row for the 1978 race, leading the first 19 laps before his night ended in an accident.
He was the co-winner in 1979 with Wayne Reutimann.
“I had run 400 laps in my car and it blew up,” Smith recalled of the 1979 race. “Wayne crashed and they hauled him to the hospital, I hopped in and finished the final 10 laps.”
Smith said that during his first year at Anderson Speedway in 1975 he was supposed to be graduating from high school.
“They threw a cap and gown on me here, so I graduated at Anderson Speedway. Still trying to learn ever since,” he said with a laugh.
After the 1979 race, Smith started racing on dirt with the World of Outlaws and All Stars tour.
“I’ve always had a special place for the 500 in my heart and every year said I was going to do it,” Smith said. “This year I did it.
“Back in the day it was the biggest race in the United States and it still is for pavement sprint car racing,” he said. “It’s still a unique event.”
Smith planned to build his own car for the Little 500, but when that wasn’t going to happen he contacted veteran car owner BIake.
“It’s a big, unique event, glad to be back and seeing people I haven’t for a long time,” he said. “This race is a big part of my history to be a co-winner and finish third. I wanted to come do it one more time before I got too old.”