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Connected to the Mission of The Piston Foundation

Mayo T. Smith, Director of Donor Relations, reflects on his path through car culture and why he connects with the mission of the Piston Foundation.

By jeff mason

May 11, 2021

My nearly three decades of racing, and the networking that has taken place at the track, combined with 30 years in finance, where I’ve been involved in business development and client services, makes me well suited to helping Piston Foundation. In my new role as director of donor relations, I’ll be putting structure around fundraising and our relationships with the generous people who want to preserve car culture.

I’ve benefited from some very good people who mentored me or helped me maintain cars over the years. The Foundation is, for me, a great way to give back and make sure there’s a future both for me and the next generation.

My Backstory

I’ve been involved in that culture for my whole life. My father was very mechanical. We didn’t have cool cars growing up, unless you count the Beetle, which was pretty cool. I also have a passion for fixing things, which came in handy when I bought my first car and money was tight. I could fix it myself. In fact, I put myself through college, working as a BMW mechanic.

I wasn’t doing so well in college and my parents asked me to come home. They suggested I attend a local college but I didn’t want that. I became a mechanic and I might well have ended up following that career path. I did return to school and discovered that paying for it on my own was enough incentive. I got straight As.

When I had some money in my pocket, working in the field where I am now, I signed up for a driver’s education event with the BMW Club at the famous Bridgehampton Race Circuit. I was hooked, and it quickly led me to racing, first in the SCCA, then Porsche Club, SVRA, HSR, and other series. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I did some professional endurance racing: the 24 Hours of Daytona, 6 Hours of Watkins Glen, and 3 Hours of Lime Rock.

Mayo on the podium at the Rolex 24 in Daytona.

I finished third in class in 2000 at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. That was a great experience, finishing on the podium at that track. It was an exercise in teamwork, determination and perseverance and I have the trophy to prove it.

Why Piston Foundation?

I connect with the mission of the Piston Academy: to help students hone their skills through apprenticeships in a program that will be nationally recognized for turning out qualified people. And, I connect with the broader Foundation mission to elevate the trades and make it easier to get a skilled trade automotive education in the first place.

I’m happy to translate my car experiences into the mission that Piston Foundation has laid out. I’d like to see us grow from the small group we are to the national presence we want to be, something that is recognized broadly through our community. I’m confident we can build support and give back by helping students to learn the trades that we need, watching them become the next generation of craftsmen and women.

I also enjoy automobiles beyond racing and own some classic cars. I’m married to my college sweetheart, together we have two kids, one in high school and one in college. An avid skier and outdoorsman, I still make time to work on my cars. That’s something I’ve always done and I get tremendous satisfaction from working with my hands and solving problems. It’s reassuring, too.

I know what it feels like to do something tangible and say, “I fixed that. It’s better now than when I started.” And cars are even better to fix because we don’t just point to them, we can drive and enjoy them when they’re working!

The Many Benefits of Car Culture

And, of course, cars have introduced me to some of the best friendships. That’s how I met Kent Bain, who is spearheading the Piston Academy. I learned about the Piston Foundation from him and raised my hand to volunteer immediately.

We met when I was leaving a firm in Rye, N.Y., to take a job in New York City. With the commute, there was less time for fun and I ended up reaching out to Kent to ask for help from Vintage Racing Services in prepping and hauling the race car. That was 15 years ago. Kent and I clicked. He’s got a tremendous sense of humor and I’m thankful to be able to call him my friend.

We were talking the other day about how people say cars are rolling art. I think that’s true, especially as the industry moves toward electric power and autonomous driving experiences. They’re coming. But, for the people who are a part of car culture, cars are more than transportation. They’re personal and a part of who you are. They reflect our personality.

Driving the Tail of the Dragon.
Driving the Tail of the Dragon on route to a race weekend at Road Atlanta.

People might like muscle cars or racing or the classic collector cars but there’s a thread that binds us and keeps us together. I think that’s one of the great things about car culture, it’s universal/unifying. When I’m out for a drive and see a pack of 10 or 15 Honda Civics out for a drive or parked with owners standing around, talking, I’m reminded that it’s a way of belonging.

I love spending time with like-minded people and look forward to doing that on behalf of the Piston Foundation. If you want to talk cars, or the future of car culture, drop me a line at

Support skilled trade education for future auto restoration technicians.


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