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Driver Shake-Up Sends Pro Mod’s Von Smith Searching for New Ride

In Von Smith’s eyes, the veteran Pro Mod standout was excited about gearing up for a run at a possible second NHRA Pro Mod world championship in 2017. Instead, he’s facing a tremendous amount of uncertainty that he simply didn’t see coming. 

After spending the last eight seasons driving for Al-Anabi Racing, Smith was recently informed that he would no longer be driving for the racing organization. Following another successful year in 2016, this past one driving a Frank Manzo-tuned ’69 Camaro, Smith admits he was surprised and shocked by the news, but is ready to move forward. One of Pro Mod’s original hired guns, Smith is already actively pursuing opportunities of all kinds to remain in the driver’s seat in 2017.

“I’m ready for anything,” said Smith, a 6-time NHRA Pro Mod winner and 2010 world champion. “I don’t care if it’s a turbo, blower or nitrous car. If somebody wants to go fast, I want to race.

“There’s a couple people I’ve talked to so we’ll see how it turns out. It comes down to who’s testing and when, so for the next two months it’s about finding a position or testing for that position. I hope I have the opportunity to be in Gainesville. We’ll just wait and see.”

Gainesville marks the first race of the now 12-race NHRA Pro Mod season and takes place March 16-19. The two additional races added to the schedule are two more reasons why Smith wants to be behind the wheel next season. Smith has had no problem rolling with the punches in the sometimes-unforgiving sport, evidenced once again last year.

He didn’t get confirmation he would race last season until Valentine’s Day, but the Oak Ridge, Tennessee native didn’t fret. He worked hard with Manzo and the rest of the team to have the car ready for Gainesville and after early struggles, things came together in impressive fashion. The team didn’t qualify at Gainesville – understandable considering the late start – and suffered first-round exits at each of the next two races. From there, things picked up as Smith earned round wins at each of the next three events, including qualifying second at Norwalk. But the ultimate capper to his 2016 season came at the U.S. Nationals when Smith picked up his first victory at the prestigious race in what also ended up as the quickest field in NHRA Pro Mod history.

Despite missing the final event of the year, Smith finished sixth in the highly-competitive field, leading him to believe the best was yet to come.

“Let me tell you something, we really gelled and everything was going right,” Smith said. “I thought we had a chance of winning (a championship) for sure. I thought it was in the cards. I knew for sure it would have been a great year.”

As far as what is ahead, Smith has no problem adapting to a new scenario or situation, a byproduct of working with esteemed crew chief Howard Moon for two decades. The end result has been multiple victories and championships, also giving Smith a distinct quality as a driver.

“I revel in that very thing,” Smith said. “I’ve been able to adapt to whatever Howard has thrown at me. I will drive whatever. If I had some type of motto, I think that would be it. I just want to race and you just adapt yourself to whatever you’re racing.”

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Smith has repeatedly proven his own driving merits over his banner Pro Mod career. The only question now is if he’ll have a chance to showcase them in 2017.

“This class is like no other,” Smith said. “It’s something everyone can follow and understand. This class has just been a great way for everyone to enjoy drag racing. The competition is great and with so many combinations you have, it enables some of the lesser-funded teams to get the most for their buck. You can compete pretty well if you can drive pretty decent.”

This story was originally published on January 6, 2017. Drag Illustrated

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