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DI Interview: Rickie Smith

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Rickie Smith coverBy Ian Tocher

There is no way Rickie Smith would have—probably even could have—imagined in 1989 as he wrapped up his fourth-straight IHRA Pro Stock championship that it would be 24 years before he would again earn number-one status. Back then it still felt like things were just getting started for the hard-working son of a construction worker from tiny Walnut Cove, North Carolina.

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After all, those consecutive titles followed back-to-back IHRA championships in the sportsman ranks of 1976 and ’77, and came on the heels of a 1982 Pro Stock championship, Smith’s first in a professional class. He came close to winning it all again several times over the next couple of decades in both Pro Stock and later Pro Mod, but not until this year did Smith have to buy new number “1” window stickers for his Industrial Distribution Group (IDG) Camaro after securing the 2013 NHRA Pro Modified championship.

“I’d always been a Richard Petty fan and when I got the STP sponsorship, a three-year deal back in ’90, ’91 and ’92, we took the number 43 and just kind of stuck with it since then,” Smith explains while relaxing in his race shop office just a couple of weeks after clinching this year’s NHRA title with one race left on the schedule. “I was never interested in putting a ‘2’ or ‘3’ or whatever other number on the car; I was only going to change my number if it was going to be number one.”

Born on Christmas Day, Smith admits it wasn’t ideal as a kid as far as parties and presents went, but now it’s the perfect birth date since it means he’s always surrounded by family and friends. He’ll turn 60 this year and initially said he would retire from driving at the end of this season, but instead plans to make a retirement farewell tour out of his 2014 NHRA Pro Mod campaign.

“I’ve talked about retirement for the last two years. Mentally, I’ve been trying to prepare myself to get out of this car, because when you’ve done it as long as I’ve done it, it’s going to be a sad day, there’s no way around that,” Smith realizes.

“I want people to know this is my last year because that’s the way I went to IDG when I put this deal together with them almost three years ago. I wanted to announce it as a retirement year from driving because I want to go out in that kind of style, rather than just waiting maybe until everybody gets to saying, well, he can’t do it no more. And especially now that I’ve won the championship, how can anyone say I can’t do it no more—even if we don’t win a race all next year—which I don’t think will happen.

“If I don’t win a race next year, it won’t be because I can’t do it,” Smith insists. “The problem is the reason I want to kind of get away from it in the first place; it’s the constant trying to raise the money, trying to keep the sponsors over here to compete. It ain’t the tension, the stress, the competition; I strive on that stuff.”

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