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DI Interview: Rickie Smith

In addition to his multiple IHRA wins and championships and NHRA Pro Stock national-event wins, in 1997 at Bristol Dragway Smith won the first IHRA Pro Mod race he entered and followed up by winning the NHRA’s first-ever Pro Mod event in 2001 at Gainesville, Florida. Two years later he became a U.S. Nationals winner in Pro Mod at Indianapolis and in 2006 at Budds Creek, Maryland, he won the first IHRA Pro Stock event he’d entered in 13 years.

In 2007, declared Smith its All-Time Top Mountain Motor Pro Stock Racer and that same year he was named one of the four original “Legends of Thunder Valley” at Tennessee’s historic Bristol Dragway. The following year, Smith won the first Pro Mod race held in the Middle East in the Kingdom of Bahrain and would later prove instrumental in bringing the now powerhouse Al-Anabi Racing team from neighboring Qatar to NHRA and ADRL competition.

Adding to his 2013 NHRA Pro Mod championship year, in which he earned two event wins, Smith also scored a season-ending ADRL Pro Mod Battle for the Belts win at Rockingham (NC) Dragway, knocking off yet another of his racing goals for a career that saw him inducted in 2010 to the North Carolina Drag Racing Hall of Fame.

It’s been an illustrious career, one Smith can rightfully be proud of, but it’s come at a price, too. Monetarily it’s always been tough, he says, with the tight budget meaning Smith tends to work with only one or two crewmen. And since he can’t afford a dedicated truck driver, as the only commercially licensed driver on his team Smith has logged literally millions of big rig miles chasing down wins at race tracks coast to coast each year.

Racing so hard for so long invariably taxes personal relationships, too, though Smith has managed to keep his family intact, including wife Nancy, son Matt, with whom he made history this year as the first father-and-son pairing to simultaneously win NHRA world championships as Matt prevailed for the second time in Pro Stock Motorcycle, and daughters Amanda and Melissa.

And though the end of his driving career is in sight, don’t look for Smith to disappear from the race track. He already has plans to become an Al-Anabi crew chief and guide the career of a new Pro Nitrous driver under the personal wing of team owner Sheikh Khalid Al Thani, much like he did a few years ago in helping kickstart the career of current Al-Anabi Top Fuel pilot and past ADRL Pro Nitrous champ Khalid Al-Balooshi.

“With me doing my own tuning and stuff all through my career, I feel like that’s what I’ve got to back up on as a retirement,” Smith says. “I can be a crew chief now, and a good one, I hope, because I also understand what the driver is going through. So I can watch the car run and apply what I see on different levels.

“And maybe the next two to three years or something, if I need to get in one just make a testing run, if I need to get into it to feel what’s going on, I can do that. But that’s the only time you’ll see me in a car after next year. I will not be in competition no more. Once I get out, I’m out.”

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

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