MOORESVILLE, N.C. — TriStar Motorsports team owner Mark Smith passed away peacefully in his home on Saturday at the age of 63, after a long and private battle with cancer.
Smith’s first love and priority was his family, but racing was his passion. He began his racing career building engines for his brother Jack’s drag car in the 1970s. Later on, Smith moved his family from the west coast to pursue a career in NASCAR.
As owner of TriStar Motorsports and Pro Motor Engines, Smith was known for being a hands-on owner, always willing to help where needed and provide a story or laugh. Having spent nearly three decades in NASCAR, his impact was wide-reaching throughout the garage area and racing community.
Opening in 1989, TriStar Motorsports debuted at the Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, with Ron Esau driving the No. 18 Pontiac but crashing out of the team’s debut. Among their early highlights was Bobby Hamilton’s full-time drive during the 1991 season, in which he captured four top-10 finishes and earned Cup Rookie of the Year honors for Smith in the Country Time Lemonade No. 68 entry.
An additional high point was the team’s pole effort for the 1994 Daytona 500, behind the prowess of young rookie Loy Allen.
Following a nine-year hiatus from NASCAR racing and focus on Pro Motor Engines as a business, Smith returned TriStar to action in 2010 when he broke into what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Since that time, the TriStar operation has made 687 starts at the XFINITY level, with a best finish of fourth by Jason Keller at Talladega in 2010.
After signing Cole Whitt to drive the No. 72 and securing a leased charter from Front Row Motorsports, Smith came back to full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series action this season as an owner for the first time since 2012.
Whitt’s season-best finish of 12th came during Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Smith is survived by his high school sweetheart and wife of 43 years Kathy; their three children Amy, Bryan, and Kevin; his mother Shirley Smith; brothers Jack and Matt; stepdad Jack Gundlach; stepsister Suzanne Harsha; and stepbrother Jack Gundlach.
He was preceded in death by his father John H. Smith and sister Sharla Mattox.
TriStar Motorsports, which currently fields the No. 14 Toyota in the XFINITY Series and the No. 72 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, will continue operations under the leadership and management of Smith’s son Bryan.
“It was dad’s dream to own and operate a NASCAR team,” said Bryan Smith. “He devoted his life to that dream and his family plans to honor his wishes by continuing our efforts in his memory.”
CREDIT: TriStar Motorsports, with additional reporting by managing editor Jacob Seelman.