NHRA: Rickie Smith’s ‘retirement plan’ — Keep winning championships

(Photos courtesy NHRA)

He may be 63 years old, but drag racer Rickie Smith is a Mod kind of guy.

As in Pro Modified, the NHRA class that he has dominated over much of the last several years, including capturing his third championship last weekend at Las Vegas.

Born on Dec. 25, 1953, the King, North Carolina resident gave himself an early Christmas present by capturing the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series crown in convincing fashion.

In fact, he didn’t even need to even win a round at Las Vegas. All he had to do was qualify to seal the title deal in the series’ final race of 2016, which he did in his IDG Chevrolet Camaro.

Rickie Smith
Rickie Smith

This year’s NHRA Pro Mod championship makes it three for Smith in the last four seasons: 2013, 2014 and 2016.

That’s even better than Top Fuel driver Antron Brown, who has won three championships – but in the last five seasons.

The key to Smith’s championship this season was simple: he went for the jugular right from the start.

He earned a win in the season-opening Pro Mod race at Gainesville, Florida, then was runner-up at Houston and won again at Atlanta in the following two races.

He added another runner-up finish last month at St. Louis. He also was No. 1 qualifier at two events in the 10-race Pro Mod schedule.

“We only have 10 races (on the NHRA Pro Mod schedule) and when you only have 10 races you can’t get behind as it is hard to catch up,” said Smith, who is also the father of two-time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Matt Smith. “Luckily, we got off to a heck of a run this year.

“We went to three finals and won two of them and that got us a good cushion. We kept making rounds and just trying to be consistent on Sunday.”

Ironically, Smith was going to retire after he won the title in 2013. But something made him rethink his “retirement plan.”

“I was going to retire three years ago because I was ready,” said Smith, who has 10 career NHRA Pro Mod wins, the first coming back in 2001 at Gainesville, Florida. “But you hate to quit when you are winning and doing this good. I know I’m going to have to quit one day but you can always quit, but you can’t always keep winning.

“To have three NHRA championships in four years, that would probably be among the top for me. I couldn’t be happier with my career and my performance and I’m proud of what I’ve been able to do this year. It just couldn’t be better.”

But don’t think that Smith’s third championship in the last four seasons is all that he’s accomplished in his career:

* He won the Super Modified championship in 1976 and 1977 in the International Hot Rod Association.

* He won five IHRA Pro Stock championships (1982 and 1986-89).

* Won the prestigious 2004 U.S. Nationals in Pro Mod.

“I’ve always made my own calls and that has been one of my big advantages I think,” Smith said. “I have a good feel for the car and I’m able adapt to that, and that’s helped me.

“The year before (2015), I came out trying to do stuff the car couldn’t do. This year I came out like I normally do and ran the car the best I could. That was a big advantage to jump out like that and we didn’t falter those first few races. I’m proud of the year we’ve had.”

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Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.