Larry Smith was born in Lenoir, North Carolina. A veteran of the United States Navy, he made his debut in the 1971 World 600 in the 92 Ford, finishing 22nd. He would go on to run three more races that year, acquiring one top-ten finish. In 1972, he was named the first NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year, running 23 races and posting seven top-ten finishes. The next year, he finally acquired major sponsorship, from Carling Black Label. Unfortunately the Carling Black Label Mercury struggled that year and Larry's season was cut short.
In his 38th career start, in turn one of only the 14th lap of the annual Talladega 500-mile race, he spun and smashed into a concrete restraining wall. His car suffered just minor damage, which the crew were preparing to fix, when they received word that Smith did not survive the impact. It was later speculated that his head injuries may have resulted from Larry having removed the inner lining of his helmet to accomodate his longer hair.
He was the first NASCAR driver to have been killed in a race since Friday Hassler died at Daytona Beach in February of 1972.