Enthusiast Spotlights

Spotlight: Track, Mountain And Photography Enthusiast Charlie Smith

We had a chance to sit down and talk with Charlie Smith about his love of driving on track, mountain runs and photography. As we started asking about everything he was into, we realized Charlie may be the busiest man in the Atlanta car scene. From promoter and advocate for Jzilla Track Days to mountain driving enthusiast to amateur photographer – Charlie seems to be everywhere. There aren’t many significant events in the Atlanta car scene you won’t find Charlie at. And yet, all that barely scratches the surfaces of his story.

Tell Us How You Got Started As A Car Enthusiast

That’s a question I don’t really have a “fun” answer for. I suppose I was in high school and was drawn to cars. I had a 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier and bought an eBay intake for it. Thought I had the hottest car in all of Charlestown Indiana. The things we convince ourselves of when we’re young, am I right? From there on I was always wanting to spend my hard earned Taco Bell minimum wage money on silly car things. Poorly done projector headlight retrofits, “JDM” tail lights.

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I also focused a lot on autocross. Back then, it was all I really had in the way of motorsports within my budget. Roughly 13 years of autocross, including winning a regional championship, as well as a ton of time chasing cones eventually led me to the track.

Talk To Us About Your Supra.  It’s pretty recognizable.

Image courtesy of Charlie Smith

I made the purchase in November 2022, venturing all the way to Cleveland, Ohio, despite the less-than-thrilling winter weather. The dealership, in a slight pricing error, offered me a fantastic deal, covering my flight expenses as well. This acquisition was intended to replace my recently totaled BRZ, a casualty of an incident at the Tail of the Dragon. Over the past year, I’ve enthusiastically pushed the limits of my new vehicle on the track, embarking on over 20 trips to the Tail of the Dragon and accumulating 30,000 miles of pure enjoyment and excitement. 

Talk To Us About The New Wrap And Why You Went Away From “Mango”?

The journey commenced during a Jzilla Track Days event named “Exofest” at AMP. Despite the typical track day setting, the rain added a unique dimension. Amidst a fleet of monochromatic race cars, my vivid yellow vehicle stood out, “skillfully” (term being used loosely here) navigating the wet conditions through T4.

As fate would have it, I encountered a pair of Exocets engaged in mutual filming, inadvertently joining their activity while seeking a point-by. It turned out that one of the Exocets was piloted by the esteemed Jzilla stunt driver, Kevin Waterman. Kevin, commissioned by a production company in search of a yellow car for a car insurance commercial, facilitated a meet-and-greet arranged by Rick Stengard.

Following negotiations with the production company, my car was chosen for the commercial, albeit with the condition of toning down its “Supra” visibility. Despite the irony of selecting the most conspicuous color, the initial choice was to wrap the car in a flat army green reminiscent of older military vehicles. While I wasn’t enthused about the color, I remained open to the idea. However, a change of plans occurred within hours, with the new preference being silver, my least favorite hue.

Seeking a middle ground, I proposed selecting the specific shade of silver from the Avery Dennison swatchbook, a compromise that the production company accepted. In summary, my car was chosen for the commercial, underwent the requested wrapping process, and is slated to make a vibrant return in 2024, reclaiming its distinctive mango color.

Editors Note: It has in fact reclaimed it’s distinctive mango color by the time this article was published.

Talk To Us About Your Involvement With Jzilla

Image courtesy of Charlie Smith

My involvement with Jzilla Track Days has been nothing short of transformative, marking a pivotal chapter in my personal and professional journey throughout 2023. In a time when I sought purpose, James presented an opportunity that not only aligned with my skills but also contributed to a socially-positive narrative.

I eagerly took on the challenge of spearheading social media and marketing campaigns, a role that demanded a refined perspective and heightened awareness of my personal interactions—both in person and across various digital platforms. This experience catalyzed a significant shift in my approach, compelling me to shed the reputation of being a mere “keyboard warrior.” Recognizing the intrinsic value of my contributions to Jzilla, I found renewed motivation to present myself as a positive force within the community.

As the designated ambassador for Jzilla, my responsibilities extend to representing the organization at prominent car events, including the esteemed Caffeine & Octane’s monthly show and select Lanier Raceway events. In this capacity, I am actively engaged in fostering the next generation of drivers, playing a vital role in the expansion and evolution of Jzilla Track Days. This endeavor is not merely a job; it is a passion-fueled commitment to propel both myself and Jzilla to new heights in the dynamic world of high-performance driving.

In addition to Track Days, You Are An Avid Mountain Driver Aren’t You?

Image courtesy of Charlie Smith

I have a genuine passion for mountain driving, which stems from my upbringing in the hilly regions of Southern Indiana. Unfortunately, access to on-track driving opportunities was limited in that area, with tracks like Putnam Park and NCM being over 2 hours away. Back in 2017, I lacked the financial resources to participate in track days. Consequently, my solution was to satisfy my craving by navigating Floyds Knobs with fellow enthusiasts. While those friendships may not be current, the memories forged during those drives will forever occupy a special place in my heart.

As If All That Isn’t Enough, Let’s Talk About Your Interest In Photography

Image courtesy of Charlie Smith

Photography was a pursued interest of mine during my college years around 2009-2010. I completed a year or two of photography classes during that period. At the time, the ubiquity of cameras led to a prevalent perception that everyone possessed photographic skills. While I enjoyed the craft, I chose not to pursue it professionally due to what I perceived as impractical requirements imposed by companies offering photography positions, including notable instances such as those encountered with Amazon, who had recently opened up a warehouse in our town.

In the Louisville, KY area, where I was situated, the prevalence of amateur photographers offering $20 photoshoots was commonplace. This competitive landscape made it challenging for photography enthusiasts to secure opportunities with appropriate compensation. Specifically, within the niche of automotive photography, there was a reluctance among car enthusiasts to invest significantly in high-quality photos. Similarly, breaking into fashion photography proved to be a formidable task, given the existing market dynamics. This was only attainable through networking. It wasn’t skill, it was who you knew.

In essence, despite my initial enthusiasm for photography, the oversaturation of the market, combined with what I perceived as unrealistic demands and economic constraints, steered me away from pursuing it as a professional career.

So Are You Looking To Do More Photoshoots?

While I remain open to photographic requests communicated through personal referrals, I prioritize utilizing my skills to contribute to charitable initiatives or give-back campaigns hosted by acquaintances. An example of this commitment is demonstrated through my provision of complimentary downloads for my Tougefest photos. While tips were welcomed, it was clearly communicated that any gratuities received would be directed towards Gino Manley’s food drive in support of the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama. This approach aligns with my dedication to leveraging my desire for philanthropic endeavors, fostering a positive impact within the community.

What Kind of Camera Gear Do You Shoot With (Canon, Sony, Nikon, etc)

I currently use a Sony A7r IV that was donated by my good friend Zeel. The camera itself was ran over at one of our Jzilla events and was repaired to 80% functionality. Enough for me to make magic happen.

What’s Your Favorite Driving Road?

That’s a tough one. I’ve experienced so many good driving roads. North Georgia is littered with them. I’ll just do my favorite from three states.

Indiana – Corydon Pike loop. One of my first group drives with Kentuckiana Touge was this loop.
North Carolina – NC151. One of the scariest roads I’d ever driven on.
Georgia – Suches Loop. You can’t beat that for pure driving.

Favorite Track You’ve Driven?

Road Atlanta. The track is a harmonious blend of tight corners, exhilarating straights, and elevation changes that demand skill, precision, and strategic maneuvering from those who dare to take on its curves. Imagine the roaring sound of powerful engines echoing through the air as sleek vehicles navigate the twists and turns, reaching impressive speeds on the straightaways. Road Atlanta is a sensory experience for both spectators and drivers that captures the essence of the thrilling world of motorsports. It’s a place where speed meets skill, and each lap is a captivating journey through the heart of high-performance racing.

Bucket List Track?

Circuit of the Americas. Imagine a sprawling, meticulously crafted circuit that weaves through the Texan landscape, offering a dynamic and challenging experience for both drivers and spectators alike. The track features a a blend of high-speed straights, technical turns, and elevation changes that make it appealing to high-speed enjoyers like myself. The venue’s iconic observation tower offers panoramic views of the track and the surrounding countryside, adding to the overall allure of the experience. It’s just one of those tracks that feel so far away and yet you find yourself thinking out loud, “one day.”

What’s A Can’t Miss Event In Atlanta?

SouthrnFresh11. This is a staple to the Atlanta car show scene.

If you could wave a magic wand and change something about the Atlanta Car Scene, what would it be?

Expressing an awareness of potential pitfalls in responding to this question, given my non-native status and recent integration into the community, I approach it with caution. However, for the sake of conjecture, envisioning an ideal transformation in the car scene, I would eliminate takeovers and mitigate the undue influence of social media on the behaviors within the automotive community.

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