David Smith received a second chance at life.
At least, that’s how the Langford native felt after learning he would survive the aggressive prostate cancer that had spread to his lymph nodes and between his lungs and back.
But Smith, now 70, didn’t slow down after having cancer. Instead, he started moving faster – roughly 130 km/h faster.
He started racing cars and on Sept. 6 competed in the Canada 200, earning 12th place among 24 competitors – most of whom were half his age or younger.
A few days before the race, with an unusually hot early September sun beating down on Western Speedway and the smell of oil and tar in the air, Smith took a break from practice while his crew – he sings their praises and credits them with his success – made adjustments to his car, still hot from a few rounds around the track.
“I decided we’re going to do this and we’re going to change the way people think of old people,” he said. “One of my favourite sayings is, ‘if it’s hard to do, you need to do it.’ Too many people get old and start taking the easy way out.”
Smith describes growing up in Langford and calls his younger self a “scaredy cat” who would jump at his own shadow.
It’s hard to believe that person would hop into a race car and speed around the track in excess of 130 km/h, but overcoming the odds after his diagnosis changed everything, he said.
Smith’s odds were so low, he recalled, that doctors were ready to put him in palliative care. He credits a controversial and pricey treatment in the U.S. for saving his life. But with a second chance came a new question – what would he do with all the years before him?
“You’re kind of at a point of, ‘what have I got to lose and what do I want to do?’ Well, I don’t like gardening, I don’t like golf. I liked cars.”
That early passion saw Smith building chassis for race cars in the NASCAR circuit in the 1970s, a job that lasted more than 20 years. He racked up a few amateur road race driving wins, then three years committed to taking the seat behind the wheel. He’s since participated in the Trans Am racing series, the Keg Drivers Challenge and the Canada 200. In 2011, he was inducted into the Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame.
He lives in Sidney and works full time as owner and operator of Shockwave Motorsports, a marine suspension seating company.
His current goal is to be the oldest person named rookie of the year in the ARCA race series. “I don’t want to go through my life being afraid of stuff. I don’t want to be on my deathbed and go, ‘Jeez I wish I had done those laps around the speedway … or I sure wish I could have been a better person,” he said. “I think that’s what’s first and foremost for me.”
David Smith’s journey was detailed in a Victoria-produced documentary titled ‘Before I am Gone.’ The film was produced by M1 Films Inc. and aired Sept. 6 on motorsports network REV TV to raise awareness for Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.
– With files from Sean McIntyre.
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