An ignition failure in his qualifying race forced Mike Smith, riding a Valvoline Suzuki, to start from the back of the field in the 1990 Interstate Batteries Formula USA race at Willow springs Raceway. Smith was charging through the field from his 23rd-row grid start, and by the eighth lap had moved around Donny Greene, Phil Kress and Wes Cooley (whose 1989-spec Dunlop rear tire had already chunked off much of tread off its right-hand shoulder) to take over sixth.
Oliver followed Smith around and was shadowing him. It was the first time Smith and Oliver had raced together and Oliver was impressed with the new kid. “He has a really neat riding style,” Oliver observed. “First he leans his upper body over going into the turn, then he moves his head way over to the side. All the while he’s not really hanging off the bike much. If he stuck his foot out he would be flat-tracking.”
Smith’s charge to the front put him on the tail of fourth-place rider Barry Burke on the final lap, but he ran out of time and had to settle for fifth. Scott Gray won the race over Vance & Hines teammates David Sadowski and Thomas Stevens.
Smith, who was racing nationally for the first time, was full of confidence. “It would have been real interesting if I had been able to start from the front. I’ll be ready for Seattle,” said Smith. “I just hope Scott Gray comes out to more of these because it won’t be quite so easy for him on other tracks and I want a shot at him”
Smith’s confidence was warranted. He went on to win that year’s Formula USA Championship.