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DI Interview: Rickie Smith

Did you take the nickname on right away? Did you like it?

Oh yeah, Tricky Rickie, kind of let it roll. I mean, you had the Snake and you had the Mongoose, and you had “Grumpy” Jenkins. So Waller, for whatever reason that night, started calling me Tricky Rickie. “Here comes Tricky Rickie,” I can hear him now. The fans got to telling me about it; my wife got to telling me; next thing I know, they’d come up, Tricky Rickie.

But here’s something not everyone knows; it almost got changed. It had to be still in the late-‘80s, because Winston was still involved and they were doing these car shows out here in the wintertime for NASCAR with about 10 or 12 cars and they’d invite me and a couple of other drag cars down there with them.

I’m an old hillbilly, the way I look at it. I’m a redneck, just a normal damn redneck. Well, Roy Hill had the “Hillbilly” name then, but Roy had kind of backed off about this time, kind of got in some trouble so he was kind of out of the picture. So I thought I’m going to be the Hillbilly, instead. So I had a brand-new car, took it down there to that Winston deal and I had peeled the “Tricky” stickers off the windows and had “The Hillbilly” Rickie Smith on it instead.

So I was sitting there signing autographs and you could hear, mainly kids, I’m talking about kids who were 8, 10-years old, kids that I didn’t even have a clue knew me, and this was 20 years ago, but I’m hearing, ‘There’s Tricky’—and then you’d hear them stop and go, ‘The Hillbilly Rickie Smith?’ And I just listened to this enough times in the background to know it was a problem.

And my wife didn’t like it to start with anyway. So I come straight home that evening and pulled that “Hillbilly” off and put the “Tricky” back on. I realized then that I already got too many fans to change. Before that I had no idea that’s what people really knew me by. I didn’t know the power of it. Luckily, it happened and I got to hear it and change it myself before it actually got out in the public. It all happened within 24 hours.

You mentioned the games with Warren Johnson and Ronnie Sox, but overall, who was the toughest to race against back in the day?

I would say probably the toughest old goat to race back then was Warren. Warren was smart and Warren had a lot of power. Warren actually was kind of like (Bob) Glidden. Neither one of them was real sharp on suspension, but they made so much power it just overcome it. They didn’t have to run 60 foot; they could spot you two or three hundredths in the 60 and they were still going to out run you.

Nowadays, you can’t give up that two or three hundredths; you got to get it from the word go. But racing, Glidden was tough, but he didn’t run IHRA back then, so I only saw him in NHRA maybe the last year or two I run IHRA (1988-89). But Warren and Ronnie, they’d cross over like I did and run two or three (IHRA races) a year, so that was my hardest fight to beat those guys for the championship every year.

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What about now in Pro Mod? Who’s tough to race against now?

Man, I’m just going to say they’re all tough, especially ADRL. I’m telling you right now, if you qualify in an eighth mile and as fast as these cars are, every driver gets in these cars anymore is pretty good on the tree. So it’s tough.

What makes it hard for me is I’ve done this so long that when I get in that car I’m just relaxed as if I’m driving to the Pizza Hut in my street car. I’ve tried to drink some energy stuff over the years to get myself up, but it can be a problem to get my adrenaline flowing when I get in these cars.

Where you take a guy that ain’t raced a lot and he comes up and he’s going to run Tricky Rickie Smith. He’s jacked up. He don’t give a damn if he goes home or not. He’s going to beat you off that tree and if he beats you off that tree, normally they’ve got a car these days that’s good enough to beat you.

That’s what I’m saying, anybody that qualifies anymore can win these races. That’s where I have a hard time getting myself jacked up. That’s the reason I like the staging battles. I love them because that just gives me time to get me in the game.

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

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