Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


DI Interview: Rickie Smith

Smith began his racing career in 1972 with a brand-new, street-driven Chevy Nova, initially competing at the nearby, but now long-gone East Bend Drag Strip before venturing a little farther afield to Farmington and later Piedmont Dragway. His first ride in a “real” race car came two years later in a Super Stock ’69 Camaro owned by local friend Robbie Fowler, whose father, Keith, was a well-known country music promoter of the day with an all-star client list that included the likes of Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn and the Oak Ridge Boys.

Smith describes the elder Fowler as “a good guy” and “kind of a comedian,” but above all else, “a diehard Ford man”—regardless of his son’s car of choice. (“You didn’t even want to show up in his driveway in anything but a Ford.”) He also says Fowler had a hard time understanding the break-out rule in Super Stock and got very frustrated whenever the quicker car didn’t win. That’s when Smith sensed an opportunity.

“In 1975 I knew that IHRA decided to do this class called Super Modified, which was like a miniature Pro Stock class—single four-barrel, heads up, no break out, 10 pounds per cubic inch—and it was right up Keith’s alley. So we got to talking and I said, ‘Keith, there’s a class coming next year that I think a Ford would dominate, where they would be the ticket.’ And after that I just let it lay,” Smith says.

Within a few weeks, Fowler came back to Smith with a request to accompany him to a meeting in Michigan with Jack Rousch and Wayne Gapp, who at the time were enjoying considerable success with their four-door “Tijuana Taxi” Maverick in NHRA Pro Stock.

“I was still just a punk kid then and I really thought he was joking with me, but Keith obviously had more connections and was more powerful than I thought he was back then,” Smith says.

“I said, ‘Man, you know I want to go,’ so he said be ready to leave Friday afternoon about 1:00 or 2:00 and we’ll drive on up there and spend the night and get up and go. Now, this was the middle of the week, so I had to go to Dad and my grandfather and tell them. They didn’t want me to leave work early, but I said I’m leaving here at noon on Friday; I’m going with Keith.

“So we took off up there. And sure enough, we sat down with them and Jack looked it over, told Keith what he thought he could do and put this deal together. And at that time, Ford didn’t even have a single four-barrel manifold, an aluminum manifold, that would fit a small-block 302 or whatever. So Jack got all that done, actually got Ford to make one; he gave them a part number, had them cast it, and got all that stuff done. And then they went and got the car built, a two-door Maverick. We missed the first race of the season with IHRA, but then we got tested and got to the second race.”

Smith says he and Fowler went on to win a dozen or so of the 18 Super Mod races they entered in 1976 along the way to his career-first championship. He then earned a second title after winning 16 times in 18 races the following year. That’s when Fowler suggested making the jump up to IHRA Pro Stock, which Smith readily agreed was the right move.

Though they missed the entire 1978 season while building the car in which Smith eventually finished 10th overall in his 1979 rookie season, the next two years he posted top-three points finishes before taking the top spot in 1982 for the first time.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

“That’s when Keith decided he was going to get out, so I bought the motor and all out of the car,” Smith recalls. “I was hooked pretty heavy by then, but I was still working. I had actually ventured out and owned two Shell service stations, one here in King, and one in Winston-Salem. But finally in 1983, Ford stepped up and gave me a sponsorship and from that point on I started racing for a living.”

Smith finished second in each of the first two years out on his own and third in ’85 before starting his incredible string of four consecutive championships the following season. By the end of the ‘80s he felt ready to take on the NHRA full time.

“When I left the IHRA deal in ’89, to be honest I figured I was going to win me an NHRA championship in the next three or four years,” Smith admits. “I got STP as my sponsor and I was young, cocky and winning races against guys that had a lot more money than I did in IHRA. But I just never could get it all put together. And then it got to where I couldn’t get sponsorship in the mid- and late-‘90s.

“So I worked with Jim Yates as a crew chief; I worked with Ron Krisher as a crew chief; I worked with V. Gaines and a few others. I just had to work some of those years, but I kept all my stuff. I always kept my cars and trucks. I had them paid for, so I was running five or six local races a year, or maybe got to go run the odd Pro Mod race,” he continues. “That’s kind of how I got into Pro Mod; the Pro Stock stuff got so far out of hand, technology wise and the engines were costing so much. I couldn’t afford it anymore.

“I’d been helping some of the Pro Mod guys and saw it was a lot cheaper deal to run. You could kind of do your own stuff, buy the cylinder heads and put the motors together yourself so it was just more about the tune up and the chassis than it was how much actual power you had.

“Also, when this Pro Mod thing come along, it just took over the match race stuff. Didn’t nobody want to see the Pro Stock cars no more. They wanted to see these wild Pro Mod cars that were wrecking and blowing up and catching on fire and blowing the hood scoops off. That’s what they wanted to see. So that’s where you had to go and it worked out to be a pretty good deal.”

This story was originally published on April 25, 2014. Drag Illustrated

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


You May Also Like


The star-studded STREET OUTLAWS: No Prep Kings series is set to return for its 6th season in the summer of 2023. Fans can expect to...


Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings star and renowned engine builder Pat Musi joined the recent episode of The Wes Buck Show and provided an update...


Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings star Lizzy Musi announced today that she has been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer via her Youtube channel....


Tony Christian, one of the pioneering drivers of the Pro Street movement, passed away Thursday, June 9. Christian was infamous for his battles with...

Since 2005, DI has informed, inspired and educated drag racers from every walk of the racing life - weekend warrior and street/strip enthusiasts to pro-level doorslammer and Top Fuel racers. From award-winning writing and photography to binge-worthy videos to electric live events, DI meets hundreds of thousands of racers where they live, creating the moments that create conversations.