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DI Interview: Rickie Smith

Does she ever get to accompany you to the races?

Well, she loves the kids. That’s the reason you don’t see her much at the races with me. She’s got weeks and weeks of vacation time, but she won’t leave. She’s as dedicated to those kids as I am to my racing. She’s just not going to go and leave them. They cure a lot of kids from cancer there; they save a whole lot more than they’ve lost and she’s just been dedicated to that. And she’s raised all these kids. Whatever good is in them is what she’s put in them.

Luckily during the IHRA days when I done so much of this stuff and we were just young, married, for the first 10 or 20 years, the IHRA stuff was mainly in the South. So she got to make a lot more of them back then. Rockingham, Bristol, Atlanta, maybe; we could get back home. I could drive all night and have her back home in time to go to work on Monday. So she could make a lot of them races and it wasn’t so bad, but the older you get in life, I don’t care if you’re getting in your 40s or whatever, the older you get the harder it is to be able to stay up all night and then go in to work all day the next day. So that’s just been tough on her to do that. Plus she gives the shots, the IVs. You need to be alert and she respects that.

You always seem to work with pretty small crews, one or two guys. Is that by choice or necessity?

I’ve never had more than three people. And when I say three people, I’m counting me as one of them. Most of the time it was just one, but I never had more than two full-time employees. But it’s not so much I prefer to work that way; I would love to always have two other people besides myself, but it’s a financial deal. I just couldn’t afford it, can’t afford it. I would have loved for the last 10 years, or the last five or six at least, to been able to have another guy where he could drive that truck.

But I cannot afford it. That’s how close my budget is all the time. I’m just being honest and don’t mind telling you, on the record, the last 10 years of my life, I have not had more than $10,000 in my checking account at the end of the year. I’ve always been waiting on my sponsorship money for the next year. And I’ve always fulfilled every sponsorship I’ve ever had, from my Ford days to the Stroh’s days to today, there’s nobody, period, that ever has said, ‘Well, he quit racing too early or he didn’t go to all the races he was supposed to;’ there’s not a sponsor out there that will tell you that.

Are you a hard guy to race with as a crew member? Are you pretty demanding?

I think yes and no. As long as you do your job, you don’t make mistakes; I got no reason to get on you. Now, anybody is liable to make a mistake, but when you make it twice that’s when you got a problem with me. I’ll allow you one. When you make that second one, the same mistake twice, then we got a problem. I have a routine set up pretty much and I have a rule of thumb set up, and if you just follow them guidelines we won’t have any mistakes.

Obviously, you feel now is the time for you to quit driving, but why is that? Are you not as comfortable in the car as you maybe once were?

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The whole reason is the money. If I was a billionaire, I’d probably race ’til I was dead. If I didn’t have to worry about raising money, I’d stay right in the damn seat. I ain’t scared of the car. I respect the car. If it’s my time to go, or take me this year, next year, tomorrow. I mean when it comes my time to go, I don’t know where it’s going to be or what it’s going to be in or where it’s going to happen. But He’s had opportunities to take me in racing. I’ve totally lost a few cars through my career. I’ve had a chance to go, but He ain’t been ready to take me yet.

What’s the worst wreck you’ve had?

Well, my worst injury was in 2010 when I crashed in Bristol and broke my leg, my left leg. I went through the finish line sliding at 225 (mph) and then we hit the wall. And I had my foot on the clutch pedal and I probably braced myself and got that leg locked. And any time you’re in a seat, the seat belt will let your hips move, just that little bit of movement took this big bone (tibia) that’s bigger than your knee, so pushed the bone up through my knee and busted my knee up, broke my knee bone all up. They didn’t have to do a knee replacement, but they cut it here and it’s got a cadaver bone—it took me a while to learn that word. When the surgeon told me that when I woke up and all, I said, ‘In other words I’ve got a dead person’s bone in my body.’ He said yeah, and if that’s the way you want to call it. But they had to put some bone in and it’s got seven or eight screws in it and some pins and stuff. He fixed it nice. It’s good. I don’t have a limp. I don’t have nothing.

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.