PORT ROYAL, Pa. – After a year and a half ride with Heffner Racing Enterprises, Ryan Smith is entering the next chapter of his racing career with Greg Denochick and longtime friend Jeremy Bitner at BJD Motorsports.
Smith, who took over for the late Greg Hodnett at the beginning of 2019, mutually parted with Heffner Racing during the first week of August, and will now run on a limited basis in the No. 6 BJD Motorsports entry across central Pennsylvania.
Bitner, a longtime friend and Smith’s former crew chief, helped Smith into this new deal. He connected the 32-year-old driver with Henochick, who had been dabbling in lower winged sprint car classes with his son, Tyler, before growing the desire to race in the 410 division.
While Henochick owns BJD Motorsports – which honors his late son Brandon J. Denochick, who died of cancer at the age of 17 in 2012 – Bitner has full reign of the race operations.
“He wants to have fun now,” Smith said. “If it ain’t fun, we aren’t doing it. We want to go back to having fun again.”
Smith scored one win in 88 starts in a 410 with Heffner Racing across 2019 and 2020, with the lone victory coming at Lincoln Speedway last September.
This year, before he and Heffner mutually parted, Smith had just two podium finishes in 31 central Pennsylvania races. The Kunkletown, Pa. driver filled a weighty void left by Hodnett, who died in a racing accident on Sept. 20, 2018, at BAPS Motor Speedway.
“We ended on good terms,” Smith said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But I couldn’t turn it down. What if I lived the rest of my life and said, ‘I turned one of the best rides down in Pennsylvania?’ I couldn’t do that.”
Now, after taking a month off, Smith wants to get back to the enjoyment of sprint car racing without the burdening spotlight, and feels refreshed as marquee events in the area near.
“That’s putting it mildly,” Smith said when asked if he’s feeling renewed in his new role.
Smith and Bitner aren’t planning to run a high volume of races to finish out 2020. Instead, they’ll focus on the higher-paying shows, preferably with a time trial format.
“Everything is wide open,” Bitner said. “We’re going into it with an open mind. We’ve already talked about building some engines for next year. We’re just kind of going into it one step at a time here.”\
Bitner and Smith currently have two race-ready cars at their disposal. Most of the equipment, Smith said, is what he raced through years, providing a much-needed level of assurance and comfortability.
“There’s no learning curve,” Smith said.
Smith believes he can compete for wins from the onset though he’s essentially starting from scratch in the big month of September, based on his rapport with Bitner alone.
“He’s like an older brother to me,” Smith said. “Trust factor, you don’t have to worry about that. I’m going to get in that thing and go as hard as I can. I shouldn’t say I haven’t had that, but I’m more rested, just to show up here with my bag, focus on driving, and not worry about something falling off. It’s going to be more of a low pressure, more fun kind of deal. We just want to have fun.”
Smith finished sixth in his debut with BJD Motorsports on Saturday at Port Royal and plans to race Monday in the Labor Day Classic at the track in preparation for this coming week’s Tuscarora 50 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
“Win, lose, or draw, at the end of the day, we’re going to smile and probably have a beer,” Smith said. “And have a good time about it.”