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DI Interview: Rickie Smith

Is it fair to say you’re very adaptable in your racing, that you’ll go with what’s quickest, fastest, the best thing for you at the time, whether it’s a Ford or a Chevy, a blower or a nitrous car or whatever?

Oh, yeah, that’s been the deal, especially now. Ford is not helping us do anything with Pro Mod; Chevrolet’s not helping us do anything, so I have no ties to have to stay to any (car) body. Which in a way is good. Moneywise, maybe it would have been better, but I don’t know. When you don’t commit yourself to something like that too much, then you can go with what you think is the best. It wouldn’t have mattered if it had been a Ford body or a GM body; if I wanted to run a blower I would; if I wanted to run nitrous I would, whatever I thought would win.

But I like the GM stuff; and I love the Ford cars. The problem is the Ford thing. I won all these championships, done all this with Ford. And back then there was nobody could win much with a Ford but me and Glidden through the years, and still hasn’t to this day. Yes, you’ve got Force, but that’s a Funny Car; that ain’t a Ford.

I’ve known Eli Patrick forever and he’s helped me out with a little help over the years and I still help Robert Patrick some off and on; I helped him get in his Pro Mod thing and we won a race together when I was crew chiefing his car last year. So I like the Ford deal and Robert and them have been asking me to build a Ford. But the problem is with the Ford, and like I explained to Robert, I have two cars a year. I’ve had two cars a year for 20 years now at least. If I done a Ford, when you get ready to sell it there’s not that many Ford racers out there that can afford to buy this car. If I’d have done a Ford and let’s say two cars a year, after 10 years that’s 20 cars. I done saturated the market by myself. There ain’t enough people out there to buy 20 good Pro Mod Ford cars.

But whether it goes to Top Sportsman or whether they keep it Pro Mod, there’s a lot of good GM guys out there that can afford to buy these cars. So that’s the way it went down. And Robert’s seeing that now. You go to try to sell a Ford, it’s no different than a Dodge. Whether it’s a Dodge or a Ford, it’s just so hard.

Drag racing has been good to you, but it’s also required a life of sacrifice, hasn’t it?

Oh, it’s been a big sacrifice. I probably was lucky if I made it to two of anything for Matthew and probably same thing for the girls. I was just racing all the time. I started going on the road when Matthew was probably about three and then I was doing it for a living by the time the girls come along.

Did you feel guilty about that sometimes?

Oh yeah, it was tough. But IHRA or NHRA are not going to stop having a race because you’ve got to go to a ball game or a school play. You’ve got to go to the race if that’s your job. Luckily, all my kids were actually born when I didn’t have to be at the race track. So it just turned out I was there for all their births. Matthew was born in November, Amanda was born in October and Melissa was born in February, so that was a good thing.

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It must have been difficult being apart from Nancy so often, too—for both of you.

Oh yeah, it was. It’s been a long deal, but she’s a very strong Christian woman. Involved in church, sings in the choir. When we got out of school, she was smart, made straight As, all that stuff. She was a basketball player and a cheerleader, so she was athletic, too. She’s not one that’s going to sit around. So when we got out, she wanted to go back, once Matthew was born and kind of got up, she wanted to go back to school out here to a little college. So she went and got her nursing degree, took two or three years to get that. And she worked in a grocery store when she was going there. We were still struggling, trying to make a living. But she got her degree and all, went to be a nurse. And she’s been at it, this is either 37 or 38 years she’s been at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital out here. She works in the pediatrics department.

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

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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.