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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