Story By: KYLE SOUZA / NASCAR – GREENWICH, CT – Four championships, countless memories, and a career that has put him on a pedestal as one of the top car owners in the history of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
The last two decades have earned Mike Smeriglio everything he could have ever imagined as a car owner. He’s been faced with a lot of decisions in his racing career, and his life, but the one he made recently is right up there as one of the most difficult and gratifying all in one.
Smeriglio announced that he is retiring as a race car owner — just under a month after sealing his fourth championship trophy with now six-time champion Doug Coby as his driver. The decision has nothing to do with the urge to win more races and titles, and he’s bullish on the upward trajectory of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and its future.
It’s simply just come time for him to spend more time at home and enjoy all aspects of life with his family.
“It doesn’t have to do with anything in racing,” Smeriglio told NASCAR.com. “I’ve been a NASCAR owner for the last 21 years — eight years in the SK Modified level at Stafford (Motor Speedway), then the Whelen Modified Tour. It’s very emotional. But I’m glad it’s emotional — because it’s not an easy decision. My heart wants to race, but my head is saying that my other priorities mean more to me now. I want to be available to spend time with my wife of 33 years, my adult children and son in laws. Our time together is precious.”
“I’m really happy for him that he accomplished everything he set-out to accomplish in racing and I love him and his family,” Coby said. “What we accomplished as a team probably won’t be replicated anytime soon — if ever. There is a huge sense of gratitude for him picking me to drive the car and giving us everything we needed.”
Smeriglio will certainly go down as one of the top car owners in NASCAR Modified history. When Doug Coby wrapped up the 2019 title, Smeriglio became the first owner in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour to win four titles, breaking a tie he held with legendary Modified owners Bob Garbarino and Len Boehler. While the success of Garbarino and Boehler stretched also into the pre-tour era, Smeriglio’s continued success has all come in the last decade. His drive to win was hard to match, and his ability to put the right people, in the right place, stands out when you look back at the success he’s put together in a trying sport.
Smeriglio admits it might not have started off exactly how he would have liked — running in one of the most competitive weekly classes in the country, he struggled at times in the SK Modified class at Stafford. But found his passion for success running with names like Frank Wainwright, Donny Lia and Chuck Hossfeld as drivers. Before long, it was time to step up the ladder in motorsports — much like he did at different times in his life, such as when he opened his own Certified Public Accounting firm, which he still runs today with two of his children.
The motorsports step took him to the highest level of modified racing on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour — a stair that has watched him feel the exasperation of defeat and the elation of winning wrapped in one.
Winning the inaugural UNOH Battle at the Beach on the short track at Daytona International Speedway in 2013 with former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular Steve Park as his driver, following it up a year later by winning with Coby at the same historic venue, and his four championship trophies will certainly go down as the highlight moments.
There were plenty of other moments of jubilation encompassed somewhere in the middle.
Outside of all, the relationships he built with his team members, drivers, sponsors and members of the garage area might top all of the accomplishments on the race track.
Smeriglio tabbed Todd Szegedy to drive his No. 2 Modified sponsored by Wisk/Snuggle, and things took off from there in 2006. He won 10 times with Szegedy, before the pair split, and Smeriglio teamed with Coby, who was just two years off his first championship when 2014 started.
Their tenacious grip at the top of the tour won’t be matched in this era, and may not be matched down the line.
The combination won 19 races together over the last six years, and five driver championships in the stretch — taking Smeriglio and boosting him to the pinnacle of NASCAR’s grassroots short-track regional level. Add Phil Moran, the man in charge as crew chief of Smeriglio’s team for much of his tour tenure, both with Szegedy and specifically Coby in the last six years, and you have the Bill Belichick of the team.
Smeriglio, Coby and Moran have meant everything to each other. And the two of them have meant everything to Smeriglio enjoying his time at the race track, not only because of their winning success, but the relationship he’s built with them specifically, along with the rest of the No. 2 team. Unlike most, the team has mostly been able to stay together for the full run of success.
“It just clicked,” Smeriglio said. “My goal was always to win championships. I can’t put this into words. Doug and Phil challenge each other, and make each other better. I don’t have the guts to drive and I don’t have the mechanical ability to turn wrenches, but I do understand the value of people. Doug Coby’s intelligence and talent behind the wheel, it’s really second-to-none. He’s such a great wheelman. And in my opinion, Phil Moran is the best crew chief. He does it all.”
His relationship with sponsors, like Wisk, Snuggle, AJ Romano Construction, Dunleavy Truck and Trailer Repair, Reynold’s Auto Wrecking and more recently Mayhew Tools, among countless others over the years, was a major factor in his success as well. The relationship the No. 2 team has with Mayhew tools has proudly lead to Mayhew Tools becoming the pole award sponsor and created another meaningful racing partnership. Mayhew will continue their partnership with Coby in 2020, wherever he lands.
Going out on top didn’t play a factor in his eventual determination to retire, but it doesn’t hurt to know that he leaves the car owner role after putting a stamp on his career with another title.
It’s time to enjoy life outside of the race track, for now. But he will be back at the track as a dedicated fan before long.
“When I think of myself as a car owner, I think of myself as a modified fan first,” he said. “I grew up going to Danbury Race Arena at just 4-years-old, and I sat next to Randy LaJoie, when his dad was racing and my dad was part of a pit crew. It’s my desire to be part of the sport, and I’ve been blessed to have some great relationships with sponsors, team members and drivers.
“I’ve been able to live out an incredible ownership career, and it’s still overwhelming to accept all of the success that Doug and Phil have been able to award us. It’s all been crazy great.”