You can’t have one without the other. Like peas and carrots or peanut butter and jelly, Wayne and Wendy Smozanek of Team Tropical Thunder are the perfect pair. Even though both have some roots in New Jersey, they are settled down with their own roots in Jupiter Florida. Wayne drives a 1997 Probe with 521 blown hemi and a R980 screw blower.
The name Tropical Thunder crossed over from his monster truck driving days. Before Wayne was known for his NoPrep racing skills, he used to drive a real deal monster truck named Tropical Thunder. He was looking for a name that sounded mean, yet also fit his personality and the location he lived in. Florida is known for its storms, Tropical Thunder was an easy fit for the truck and car name.
The truck and the probe were not Wayne’s first vehicles in his life. His vehicle progression started way back at the age of 15. His first car was a 1969 Impala super sport, his brother had to pick the car up for him since he did not have his driver’s license yet. He started fixing it up and learned along the way. Wayne worked at a gas station and was a self-taught mechanic sporting up his vehicles. The list is extensive when it comes to the vehicles Wayne has had in his career. He has had the Impala, Camaro, Vega V8 and blower, El Camino, and last but not least his 1941 Willys. His Willys is his pride and joy, next to his family of course. Starting your own business and working full time, on top of having such a hobby as racing can be a real struggle. However, Wayne figured out how to do it all. Wayne began driving his monster truck for shows. It was a sport that he was doing what he loved and was getting paid to do it as well. Even though his family growing up was not into cars Wayne has a motto that is not to be ignored. When discussing his race life he states, “It’s the only thing that with the more work you put into it is what you get back out of it. You’ve got one shot to win, the hard work pays off in the end”.
When people say it’s a family thing when they talk about the race life, they have no idea to what extent some families have gone. Wayne and Wendy have been together for 32 years, 26 of them have been married to each other. They also have a son William, middle name Race better known as WILL RACE. “We’ve been through the monster truck phase and now we are in the no prep life. I love the people that we meet and have met along the way” says Wendy. Wendy is known for being the “momma” around the pits. If you need something, most likely she has it for you. She takes care of those who help take care of her family. Wendy and Wayne have a crew that is from all over that help them out from race to race and she makes sure that no one goes hungry or without. This goes to show just the type of people they are. Wayne is the guy who will help out as much as he can when someone is in need. He knows firsthand what it was like to need help and, strangers who are now dear friends of theirs helped them out in the pits. “It’s important to help out with everyone and not let the negative people affect you,” says Wayne. “The best thing that ever happened to our team was when we first went to Oklahoma for Street Outlaws and we were matched with Farmtruck and Asian, not only did we become great friends, but because of them we were viewed as much as they were in the videos.” Wayne puts No Prep racing into a great view for those who may not fully understand how it works. “There is a pecking order and you have to earn your spot. In No Prep you have to race the road, not the person. It’s a different animal every time”. “The key to No Prep is you can buy all the horsepower you want but you don’t always use it all”.
Because the Smozanek’s have been around a drag strip or two over the years, they have become well versed in their preferences for the locations of the events. If you ask Wayne, Norwalk is his favorite track location because of the Banner’s family. “They take care of everyone there, they are amazing, the track is pristine, and you can get ice cream for a dollar”. Wendy loves Firebird. “I love the way the stands are set up for the fans and everyone to see everything. It’s such a great interaction between the drivers and the spectators”. But of course, the favorite track events were a unanimous vote, NoPrep Kings! “We love the fan interaction. It’s the best to be able to give back to the fans who make it all possible for us to do what we love”. The locations of the No Prep world are all across the country, which makes it difficult for these drivers and families to make it. If it wasn’t for the support they get from others sometimes the race would not be possible. Financial struggles are also a huge player in this world of racing. “You need parts to race, the prices are going up, you have to pay for your crew and travel costs, but you also have to keep your business going as well”. There is always going to be a life off-camera that gets in the way of racing, although there is no doubt with this team that they can’t pull together to make anything work.
Wayne’s business is luckily his passion. He has a garage where he works on cars all day. It is called Performance Center Auto Repair in Jupiter Florida. His shop specializes in hot rods and muscle cars. Throughout his career, Wayne has been lucky enough to be able to meet and work alongside some amazing drivers. Through RJS Racing Equipment and NHRA he looks up to and knows Larry Morgan, Larry Dixon, and Scott Palmer. During his monster truck days, he ran with the best of the best names like Bigfoot and Gravedigger. “It helps to race the guys who are faster than you so that you can try harder and race stronger”.
When Wayne was asked what he would be doing if not racing his reply was short, “I’d be dead, it’s all I know. This is my dream job and I’m lucky to be living it. I would like to take my camper and go from coast to coast and actually see the country and relax. That’s on the bucket list. You spend so much time driving to get to a race, you miss everything that you see along the way because you have to hurry to get there and hurry back to work when you’re done”. With all the rushing around from state to state that does not mean they have not made a friend or two along the way. “I don’t think there is one state that if I truly needed something I couldn’t call someone in to help. It’s great to know that we work well with everyone and in racing, there are no prejudices and people just become family”. The dynamic between Wayne and Wendy is phenomenal. She is a bit on the louder side, while Wayne is a bit on the quieter side, but that does not mean he doesn’t have a lot to say. He is best known for his one-liners and quick comebacks, you just have to pay attention to hear them. Wendy will always be seen backing him up at a race, she wants to take that responsibility and always leaves him with words of encouragement before he waits for the light, “I love you, you got this”. Even though Tropical Thunder has been around for some time Wayne is still noted as the underdog. “I would love to earn the respect of the other drivers and fans out there, it’s a trust thing too. You as the driver have to trust that the other drivers know what they are doing and doing the best job that they can. It’s scary when you don’t know what someone else is capable of. You just do the best you can and never hurt yourself or someone else trying to win a race”.
You never know when you will run into someone famous, and this is what happened to Wayne while on a vacation with his family. Wayne was in the bathroom minding his business while “taking care of business”, when another man says, “You’re the guy who beat Farmtruck and Asian!!!” Needless to say, he was shocked but also flattered to be recognized. “Our fan base grows daily. We have an open pit at the races. It’s not just me, it’s the sport itself that welcomes them with open arms. It’s the fans that really make the sport”. The aforementioned crew that also makes the team of Tropical Thunder complete is what Wendy calls the “Ragtag group of family”. Their biggest thanks and appreciation goes to each one of them. Nick Chapman from Chapman Performance, their tuner. Don Will, Chris Carbaguh, John and Chazz Carter, they come out to the races on their own dime, just to be part of this amazing team. Jimmy Clifton of Clifton Innovators who does their G Meters, RJS Racing Equipment, Jeff and Chrissy, and Alan Pezo. Jimmy Plimpton of Plimpton Innovations, and last but definitely not least, their biggest supporter and teammate, their son William aka WILL RACE. Without Will, Wayne wouldn’t be here today. When Will was tasked to check a crack in the tank he noticed that there was a bolt that was missing from the steering rack. Had William not noticed this and remembered there was a spare bolt laying in the pits, there is a strong chance that Wayne would have hit the wall.
Every bolt counts. Every team member counts. Every person brings something different to the table that makes for the safety and love that is the racing family and community.