By Dana Rowe
“I don’t want to take dance lessons,” five-year-old Sammy D told her father, Jason Dell, “I want to become a racecar driver.” It was the beginning of a career that continues to this day. Fast Fridays fans now know her as the driver who won her first Seekonk race in early July this year (her sophomore year in the Bandolero Outlaw division) and then went on to win the rest of the races in July! Three in a row during her second year as an Outlaw! Suddenly, she was leading the division’s points competition.
Her three interviews in Victory Lane with Speedway announcer Kevin Boucher showed her to be extremely well-spoken and thoughtful. And that feature was revealed again when she fell afoul of some typical race goblins. Three wins mean nothing to these gremlins, and she pushed a little too hard and spun out twice, ending up in the pits instead of at Victory lane. Four-in-a-row wasn’t in the goblins’ books.
She demonstrated some real introspective thinking as she commented about that race on her SRD Motorsports site on Facebook: “I messed up, I tried to win the race in the first few laps. I pushed my way towards the front, spun and almost took a few cars out in my spin. Couple laps later I drove too hard into the corner, drove into the berm and spun myself out. Track rule is 2 spins and you’re out. I was credited with a 12th place finish.
“Thank you to everyone that came out last night and thanks to everyone that supports me.
“On to next Friday.”
Samantha Dell is a third-generation racer: Her grandfather, Phil Dell, competed in Seekonk Speedway’s Charger division in the 1970s. He followed that up by working on Ted Marsh’s modified driven by Ken Bouchard. Then her Dad competed in “somewhere around 15” demo derbies, but retired from that just after she was born.
He went to work for Mertz racing on the number16 Pro Four modified for six years. Sammy liked to sit in the stroller, watching the shop activity. As she got a bit older, she helped out, pulling off the lug nuts for a tire change after Jason had loosened them with the impact wrench, and then replacing them. You might call it her initiation to racing.
In 2011, Samantha got her first taste of driving a racecar. Little T held a promotional day and she joined others in test-drivng a quarter midget. “I was able to drive a quarter midget race car around the track for 15 laps,” she told Motorhead Magazine for an article about her in their March-April 2013 issue. “During my laps, my line was great. It felt like I was going faster than a cheetah. I was doing really well until the checkered flag came out. I didn’t want to stop, but I had to. Unfortunately, I missed the pit entrance and hit the wall with the right front tire, breaking the spindle and a few other parts.” Jason rushed up and asked her if she was all right. It was then that she told her Dad that she would rather race cars than be a dancer. She wasn’t at all intimidated by the crash.
Sammy took the introductory driving course the track required and started racing. Along the way, she encountered people she would be racing with in Bandoleros, including Riley Caron and RJ Marcotte.
She ran quarter midgets for five years, gaining skills and moving up through the classifications. Along the way, she set the track speed record, But after five years of open-wheeling, she wanted something more. “Riley and RJ had jumped,” she says. “I wasn’t happy . . . wasn’t having fun. So, I decided to move up.”
Bandoleros lured her away from open-wheeling, and she arrived at Seekonk last season in the Bandolero Outlaw division, which caters to kids through high school age. She picked up some sponsorship to keep the wheels turning. Folks like: Top Rung Inspection & Testing, Mertz Racing (where she had been introduced to the sport, 124 Welding & Fabrication, GraffitiWorks.com, Hopkins Bros Auto Repair, RJs Plumbing & Heating and JustGetDirtyGarage.com
The day dawned that she would go out on the legendary bullring for the first time. “I was extremely nervous,” she says. “I wasn’t too intimidated. I had raced before so I jumped in and tried it.” She survived the introduction. “I felt pretty good because I had successfully made it through driving a new car.”
She spent her first year going faster, but more speed isn’t always better. “It was a little tough switching,” she says. “It took a little while to adjust.” On that first season, she admits, “I just had to go week by week. You never know what’s going to happen.”
The speed factor: it was observable that she was forced to run wide by centrifugal force in the turns – allowing her opponents to victimize her by ducking underneath.
And she also had her share of spins coming through corners. But she did have the experience to deal with it: “I used to get wrecked a lot in quarter midgets. We’re so close together, but it helps in the bigger cars.” And she recognized the disadvantages of going too fast for the venue: “You can get caught by that in the bigger cars – you spin out.”
Samantha found that the larger cars and longer track (1/3 of a mile as opposed to Little T’s 1/20th) presented new challenges: “I had to tighten the corners.” That would prevent her opponents from stealing spots underneath. It was something her Dad told her about, but she needed to discover that on her own. It seems to be what happened in the current season. Except for the last race, she had not finished outside the top four and had added two runner-ups to the wins. It could be seen that she was staying closer to the low groove.
That first Seekonk victory: she was driving as she always has . . . in the moment, watching for whatever came next. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. When I’m driving, I’m focusing on what’s happening then and there. The race was happening so fast at times.”
And right alongside and behind her, she had the two antagonists who had swept past her on the last lap as she was headed for a win two weeks earlier: Nathan Smith and Giovanni Ruggerio. There, also, were fast and persistent Isaiah Newcomb, Ethan Heilborn and Joey LeMay.
Then came restarts with five to go and three to go. Sammy was on the pole both times. Smith was outside. The duo did a lot of close racing over those final laps and there was a hungry horde close behind.
“I know who I’m battling, but I don’t really pay mind to who it is because when you’re on the track, you have to pay attention to what you’re doing.” When she got out front of Smith after the restart with three to go, she began to realize she could win. Now she knew what she had to do: “I had to keep it facing in the right direction.” Ruggerio and Smith battled over second, giving Samantha the opportunity to add some distance between herself and the dueling pair.
And then . . . she shot underneath the billowing checkered flag in the hands of starter Kyle Souza. “I was very excited. I was in my mind, saying I just couldn’t believe how I pulled off my first win.” She remembers that her Mom and Dad were as shocked as she was. Then Souza stepped down from the starter’s stand and handed her the checkered flag for her victory lap. Sammy D had arrived.
Shock is a word she uses a good deal. About getting her second win a week later: “I was more shocked than ever. You never know what will happen.”
But her living in the moment has its drawback: it helps you win, but, “I’m so into it when I’m racing. When someone asks what happened . . . “ nothing really sticks in her mind about the race. “It’s the win!”
“I was blown away because I never imagined myself being able to pull off a win.”
So, now what – now that she’s got that first win, with three-in-a-row as well. “It’s crazy and kind of stressful,” she says. “Now, there’s an expectation for me. I have to maintain.” It’s probably what motivated her difficulties in the race following the trio of wins.
Winning also places her in the running for the Phil’s Propane Triple Crown, a skein of three extra-length races. Winners of the first two are aligned for the Crown in the third and deciding race. That comes at the end of August. In the meantime, Samantha and her crew – Jason Dell, Shane Hopkins and RJ Marcotte – aim to keep it facing in the right direction.
And what of the future? She’s considering one more year in the Banodoleros, then going Pure Stock.
“I like the Friday Night racing.”