Crew Chief, Waterford Native Seth Smith Focused On Driver Development With K&N East Series

Seth Smith (left) and K&N Pro Series East rookie Tanner Gray (Photo: NASCAR/Nigel Kinrade Photography)

DGR Crosley has been a perennial championship organization since their recent inception. Although owner David Gilliland and various drivers may be the faces of the organization, there’s one individual who’s been at the helm for all the recent success.

Crew chief Seth Smith moved from New England (Waterford, Connecticut) to North Carolina 13 years ago at the age of 17 after working on modifieds, late models and street stocks for as long as he can remember. After getting his foot in the door with a couple teams, he helped with the Bassett brothers (Dillon and Ronnie Jr.) before David Gilliland came calling.

“David was on me when he wanted me to start his program of DGR before it was DGR Crosley,” Smith said. “I came over to David’s as a crew chief on any driver development stuff he had, basically. And we grew from there. I had done a handful of ARCA and K&N races for a couple random different people throughout my time, but David and I have become real close friends. I think he just wanted to keep me in that role rather than move me up to some of the Truck stuff.”

Smith, 30, now oversees all things K&N and ARCA at DGR Crosley, but will be at every K&N Pro Series East race this season calling the shots atop the pit box for Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Tanner Gray.

But one can’t tell his story without mentioning the magical year he had last year with Tyler Ankrum. In Ankrum’s rookie season and Smith’s first full-time season calling the shots since 2014, they won four races and coasted to the series championship.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said of 2018. “It really was. He was very timid to start with. Very unsure of his abilities. To see where he started and where he progressed to throughout the year with our help as a whole with DGR was really really cool and made it a lot of fun. It’s fun to win races and all that, but it’s really fun to develop someone. And I feel like we did a significant amount of that with Tyler last year.”

Racing-Reference: Seth Smith Crew Chief Statistics

This year, Smith turns his focus to winning races with the No. 15 team. But more importantly, further developing Gray as a stock car driver.

“He’s been good,” he said of the youngest ever NHRA Pro Stock champion. “He’s very hard on himself because he wants to succeed at a very fast rate, so he puts a lot of pressure on himself. I’ve enjoyed it and I think I’ll continue to. He does a tremendous job for his experience level. We’re still working on putting all the pieces together. But he has speed, he has car control and he has ability. Just honing in on everything and just giving it a little time. We’ll see his face in Victory Lane.”

RELATED: Tanner Gray Learning On The Fly In Rookie Season With DGR

Gray has results of 12th at New Smyrna and 10th at Bristol to start his K&N Pro Series East season. But he opened many eyes out West at Irwindale Speedway, where he finished a nose behind Trevor Huddleston, barely missing out on his first career win in his second start.

“He’s ahead of the curve from what my initial thought of where he would be,” Smith said. “I think we have, in my opinion, the best program in the garage area. To be able to develop someone without a ton of experience, we have a lot of resources to fall back on for that. I feel like he’s a little ahead of where I anticipated and I think as a whole, people will see his growth continue at a fast pace.”

Coming off a championship season with a rookie driver (who didn’t even have a full schedule planned out at the start of the year), another title this season isn’t out of the question, especially with what he calls the best group of in the garage. But Smith is tempering expectations just a tad.

“I think everyone would say the goal is to win the championship again, but my goal personally is to get Tanner to where he’s winning races week in and week out and his confidence is at an all time high,” Smith said. “To continue his progression. That’s really what this is all about: building up the team but having the drivers be successful moving forward. That’s my main goal.”

Smith, Gray and DGR Crosley will look to earn their first career win on May 4 at South Boston Speedway in the South Boston Twin 100s. Ankrum won the second twin 100 last season.

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