The higher the climb, the harder the fall. Months of preparation and victories lead to one moment that could turn into a monumental personal achievement, or could make the saying “two steps forward, one step back” look like child’s play.

For Joel Smith, a 14-year-old Legend Car Pro Division driver in real life, faced one final obstacle in April on his way to iRacing history. The track, the virtual Langley Speedway and the car was the Legend Car. His only path to meeting his goal was to win. Second place wasn’t an option.

Smith has been racing on iRacing for five years, three of which have been on a competitive level. When he started, he set a goal of obtaining an iRating in the top one percent in the world. At the time, that number was about a 7,000 rating, but that goal quickly changed.

“It started with his first big goal he set, to hit 1,000 wins before he turned 14,” said Joel’s father, Jake. After eating a cake his mother, Laura, and brother, Jack, had prepared him, he quickly realized he was no longer content. A new target had appeared on his radar.

“I realized about nine months ago that I wanted to [go for] the highest [iRating],” said Joel.

Setting the goal was an easy first step. Now Joel had to and put the work in to turn the goal into a reality. When he returned home from the 2023 Legend Car Asphalt Nationals in Las Vegas in October, he hopped back on his sim rig and started entering race after race. He wasn’t simply entering and completing races; he was winning and winning.

By early November, Joel had accumulated an iRating of approximately 10,600, about 200 points away from the top. That rating didn’t come easy either. For those unfamiliar with iRacing’s rating system, here is a simple way to understand how it functions. The higher your rating climbs, the harder it is to accumulate points, but the easier it is to lose points towards your iRating.

Joel recalled a late model stock race race at the virtual South Boston Speedway, and the end result was far less than desirable. Entering the race, he was less than 200 points away from the top. However, that race proved to be disastrous as he crashed out and lost 150 points on his iRating. Self-doubt slipped into his mind

“He’s extremely self-motivated,” said Laura. A trait that came to arguably its greatest test following that race at South Boston.

“In real life racing you have to count on so many people to run up front,” Laura added. “In iRacing, it’s more on you as the driver and the set ups you are running.”

Joel has been building iRacing setups for two years, and even works at Elite Performance Industries creating them not only for his own use but for others. A trait he has worked tirelessly to perfect and that requires a strong sense of self-motivation to master.

After the setback from the late model stock race at South Boston, Joel took time to reset and to get out of his head. He jumped back into the fight and started to click off wins to regain the iRating he’d lost. Constantly reminding himself not to be careless with his progress. Doing so could’ve led to additional poor results and loss of progress towards the ultimate goal.

Just like after the Legend Car Asphalt Nationals in 2023, Joel hunkered down and got back behind the virtual steering wheel, clicking off the wins. With his confidence back in fourth gear and the self-doubt left in the dust, not only did the wins stack up, but he found himself knocking on renowned iRacer and full-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver, Ty Majeski’s top iRating.

All the hard work came to a head on April 25 at the virtual Langley Speedway. Driving a Legend Car, Joel noticed on an overlay on his monitor as he gridded for the start, that if he won that particular race, he would eclipse Majeski’s rating and thus taking the record for himself.

“It was scary, because if I wrecked out, I would lose everything,” said Joel.

That was a legitimate concern for that race. He explained that there were several cautions and with every restart, he felt the chances of someone wrecking him increased. Noting that virtual racers are no different from their real-life counterparts. The more opportunities someone has to restart and challenge for passes, the more anxious the field collectively becomes.

“I told myself, ‘Be smart, be smooth, don’t wreck. Avoid every incident you can and just od the best you can.’”

The fears proved fruitless, the confidence reigned supreme and the countless hours of hard work paid off. Joel won, and on April 25, 2024, earned the title of the number one asphalt oval iRacer in the world with a 10,804 rating.

Following the record-breaking victory, Joel stepped out and told his parents; all sharing in the excitement and celebration.

Tears of joy filled Laura’s eyes and spared no hugs to her son. “[Joel] told us all day that he felt it was ‘the day’ that he would accomplish his goal, so I was pretty nervous all day,” she said. She watched her son grow up along this journey, believing Joel matured even faster because he was spending so much time with like-minded, older drivers who he not only strived to be like, but who pushed him to be better at his craft.

Joel’s enjoyment for the daily grind on the path to the top didn’t go unnoticed by Jake, who added that throughout each step of his son’s journey, Joel has come to realize that he can achieve anything he sets his mind to.

“It was really great as a dad to watch your son be so sure of something and achieve it,” Jake explained. “Especially knowing, unlike real life racing, 100% of the effort and results will fall only on his shoulders.”

The big question is, what’s next for Joel?

“Currently on ovals, no one has ever hit 11,000,” Joel shared.

He turns 15 in September and the new goal is to achieve an 11,000 iRating on asphalt ovals before his birthday, all while balancing a summer full of racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway, along with his weekly racing events. He is also working on building new iRacing setups for late models and dipping his feet into racing SK modifieds on iRacing.

Joel’s future iRacing adventures will likely see him driving different cars from the Legend Car. It was his go-to vehicle when he needed a confidence boost or reminder that he was more than capable of achieving his goals. Look for him to compete in more late model classes as he chases the 11,000 iRating mark. When he inevitably knocks that goal down, he’ll have another one waiting. Maybe he’ll go for 12,000? Maybe 2,000 wins?

Whatever the next objective is, Joel knows the climb only gets steeper but he has more than proved to himself, his family, and support group that he possesses the capability of rising the challenge.