CONCORD, N.C. – For Lisa Smokstad, returning to the road on the No. 17 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR Xfinity Series brings her back to her early days at Hendrick Motorsports.
Memories from the past return as she spent time on the original No. 17 team with a young Ricky Hendrick behind the wheel in the series now known as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
"Walking into the garage for the first Xfinity race that I did this year (at Darlington Raceway), it was with the same paint scheme," Smokstad noted. "Even that brought back a million memories. I remembered doing the same things with Ricky (Hendrick) and Jack (Sprague)."
In 1999, she joined Hendrick Motorsports and worked with Jack Sprague’s No. 24 Truck Series entry. Smokstad would go to serve as a tire specialist for both Sprague's team and the newly-formed No. 17 team. Hendrick drove on part-time basis in 2000 before going full time in 2001. At Kansas Speedway, Hendrick piloted the No. 17 to victory lane for his lone Truck Series victory in 2001. The win made the Charlotte, North Carolina, native the youngest winner in series history at the time.
Smokstad is part of the No. 17 Xfinity Series road crew made up mostly of veteran Hendrick Motorsports personnel. In June, the organization announced that they would field the No. 17 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro for three races this season in an effort to get its NASCAR Cup Series drivers more seat time on road courses.
When Kyle Larson made the season debut for the No. 17 team (and the organization's first Xfinity start in 13 years) at Road America over the Fourth of July weekend, it was Smokstad in the pits in the same role she occupied for the original No. 17 team. Even with all of the changes, she has enjoyed getting to relive her memories from her time in the Truck Series.
"It's been fun to gather everyone at the track, but it was a little hard," Smokstad shared. "Honestly, I was surprised at all the memories that rushed in. It's not that I forgot anything that happened, but its been fun remembering everything that was involved."
From 1999 to 2009, Smokstad was a traveling crew member. Her work on the road paid championship dividends for the organization as she has been part of crews that won titles across all three national series: The Camping World Truck Series in 1999 and 2001 with Sprague, the Xfinity Series in 2003 with Brian Vickers and she spent part of the season on the crew for one of Jimmie Johnson's five consecutive NASCAR Cup Series titles. In 2007, her life took on a new role when she welcomed daughter RaElla into the world.
When Smokstad is on the road with the No. 17 Xfinity Series team, her job revolves around making sure that all four Goodyear Eagles are working properly. From checking air pressures to gathering data after a run, the job provides crucial measurements used by crew chiefs to match the car’s balance with the driver’s preferences behind the wheel.
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When she is in the shop, Smokstad oversees all tires and wheels at Hendrick Motorsports. This includes putting together post-race reports depicting tire performance and assisting the current tire specialists across all teams. In the event that one of the tire specialists cannot attend a race, she will travel as a substitute. Over the years, Smokstad has worked with all four race teams.
This season, Smokstad has also worked a mechanic on the road crew of the part-time No. 88 JR Motorsports entry in the Xfinity Series. She has traveled with the team in the races where a Hendrick Motorsports driver has been piloting the ride.
Working on the Xfinity side of things has been an adjustment given the difference in tires as most of her work is done on the Cup Series side of things. The Xfinity Series still uses the traditional 15-inch wheels with five lug nuts while the Cup Series uses an 18-inch wheel with a single lug nut design.
"I had to reset." said Smokstad. "There’s a lot more to check but it was kind of exciting; I felt like it kept me on my toes a little bit more. I need that check every once in a while."
This weekend, the No. 17 Xfinity Series Chevrolet Camaro is back in action with Alex Bowman behind the wheel at the road course of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Smokstad and the crew will look to position Bowman to capture Hendrick Motorsports' 27th win in the series and the organization's first since 2009. You can catch all the action on Saturday, July 30, at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC, IMS Radio Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (channel 90).