Rickie Smith Keeps a Hands On Approach to Racing and Winning

PITTSBORO, N.C. May 14, 2015: Two decades ago it was commonplace for most Pro Mod champion drivers to drive their rig to the race, call the tuning shots, make many of the necessary changes in setup between rounds, tear down and drive home. Today, Pro Mod has risen to a new level of competition where many high profile teams consist of a fully staffed crew and a capable driver who has little to distract him or her from the main job of driving. For multi time Pro Mod Champion Rickie Smith, the job is as hands on today as during his first round of Championship accruing years in the Ď80s.

Smith doesnít have a large crew. In fact, itís just him and one other set of hands belonging to Chad Hester. Smith still drives his own rig to the track and tackles the pit work with Hester between rounds before suiting up again to take on the next opponent, round after round after round. Itís a combination heís been using to race and win for many years.

ďI drive my own truck,Ē Smith elaborated. ďI do a lot of my own work. I like to see the drivers stay involved where the driver has to do some work. I am 61 years old and I still do a decent job on the tree for my age. But itís not so much my age if Iím a couple hundredths late on the tree. Itís because Iím working so hard between rounds that when I get in that car Iím just give out. Many times between rounds, especially in NHRA, Chadís got to cut the clutch and I have to change the rear end by myself. Weíre trying to get all this done in an hour. So when I get back in the car, Iím totally wore out. You donít see any, any, any drivers doing that.

Thatís what I want some of my fans to understand. Iím doing a lot of work in between rounds sometime. Thereís not hardly any drivers doing what I do. So if I get in the car and I'm a couple hundredths late, itís not because Iím 61 years old. Itís because Iím plum exhausted from the work in between rounds.Ē

Smith hasnít had problems turning on the win lights throughout the years, however. Most recently, Smith took his IDG-backed Ď69 Camaro to the winnerís circle at the PDRA Spring Nationals at Rockingham Dragway. While Smith has focused on the NHRA tour for the last few years, this PDRA event was less than two hours from his King, North Carolina home, and an open weekend in his schedule made the perfect opportunity for him to take on some of the top nitrous competitors in the country. After another decent showing at the Cajun Nationals a month later, Smith sits third in Pro Nitrous points and is looking to make a Championship run in both series. It seemed to be fate for Smith to attend PDRA events this season, as he explains:

ďThese last few races really worked out [with our travel schedule]. We ran Houston the week before Louisiana. Then I had to go to the trailer place to have my trailer worked on for two days. That was only an hour and a half from the track at Shreveport. So I said, ĎShoot, weíre just going to stay and race.í Now weíre up to third in the points. I go to Bickelís and pick up a brand new car the Tuesday before the St. Louis race, so weíll already be right there. So I told Chad weíre definitely going to run these races unless we get knocked way out of the points. My sponsor is in NHRA, but if we can keep running and have a chance to win the PDRA Championship then weíre going to keep running it.

ďI like running the PDRA. The biggest thing is I like nitrous cars running against nitrous cars. This deal we got in NHRA, they canít seem to keep the rules competitive. It seems like somebodyís always got an advantage. Itís a hassle all the time trying to outrun somebody that you donít even know if youíre capable of outrunning. Four races in a row the turbo cars could outrun all of us by four or five hundredths. Why havenít they changed the rules? It only took one race for them to change it on the nitrous cars. Thatís what weíre all ticked off about. I just like running against somebody that I'm supposed to be running against - that if they outrun me then I need to go back to work.Ē

In the three events contested so far in PDRAís sophomore season, Pro Nitrous has seen three different winners, a testament to the classí parity.

Because Smith doesnít have a large crew, he perhaps appreciates the support he does have more than most, pointing to his sponsor, Industrial Distributing Group (IDG), and Hester as keys to his success. ďI wouldnít be doing this without IDG. They are my main backer. Chadís been with me going on five years now. Itís nobody but me and him. Itís a lot of work for both of us to do all this and run both of these deals. Itís hard to find somebody that will work that much, but Chadís been a very good employee of mine for the last five years.

ďNaturally youíd like to have more help, but then it costs more money and I still think that the driver needs to have a hand in whatís going on. I won a lot of my championships back in the 80s. I did a lot of my own work then. Warren Johnson did a lot of his own work. Bob Glidden did a lot of his own work. Lee Shepherd was the same way. You get up there and win and the driver gets all the glory. The driver really ainít doing a lot of work anymore. I donít like that. Some of these drivers need to work a little harder for what they get. To be able to hold that steering wheel and get the glory, you need to do a little work.

ďIím just glad I can still hold my own,Ē Smith continued. ďItís good racing. They play some games. I play some games. Sometimes it works in my favor and sometimes it doesnít. Thatís part of it. Thatís the biggest thing I think you got to understand: youíre not going to win every time. You just have to go up there and do the best you can. When youíve won nine championships, two in the last two years, youíve got a target on your back as big as a tobacco barn. When youíve got that target on you, all they want to do is go out there and beat Rickie Smith. Iím not bitching about it. Iím just saying I have to stay on my toes every round because everybody I run wants to have the best light and make their best run. That keeps me having to pay attention all the time. Iím just thankful that God has let me do what I do.Ē

Based in Pittsboro, North Carolina, the Professional Drag Racers Association is the top sanctioning body in the United States for the sport of eighth-mile drag racing. The PDRAís professional categories include Pro Extreme, Pro Nitrous, Pro Boost, and Pro Extreme Motorcycle along with Top Sportsman, Top Dragster, Pro Jr. Dragster, and Top Jr. Dragster. The 2015 PDRA schedule consists of ten national events. For more on the worldís premier eighth mile drag racing organization visit www.pdra660.com.
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Photo: Gary Rowe / RaceWorks.com / PDRA660.com

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