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DI Interview: Rickie Smith

So, your opponents probably shouldn’t start anything at the tree if they don’t want to get you in the game?

That’s what I would think if I knew the deal—and I’m telling my secrets here—but I’m about out of my career so I guess it don’t matter. Now, I may not ever win another starting line battle ‘til the end of my career, but I would have to say 85 percent of the time, if not 90 percent, when anybody’s ever played a staging game with me, I’ve won—especially as far as leaving first or whatever. I’ve usually won, won the game, and it’s all because they gave me some time to get in the game.

A lot of people get jacked up and they lose their focus or try too hard and red light. I get jacked up and it just helps me because I maintain my focus in the car. It just takes me something like that to get me jacked up, and it makes me better on the tree because now I got my damn heart going; I got my blood flowing. When I’m backing up anymore, sometimes I tell myself this when I’m backing up out of the burnout, I try to breathe probably a dozen times really hard, really fast, just trying to do everything I think can to get my adrenaline going. But when that one staging battle gets going, you give me an extra 30 seconds or a minute up there to get myself wired up? That’s good for me.

Where does this year’s championship stand in comparison to all the other championships and wins or other accolades and honors you’ve received throughout your career?

I said it when it happened and I still say today, I won this NHRA championship and yeah, that’s a pretty good accomplishment, but there’s a lot of guys that are going to win championships. But that deal up in Bristol? That’s been by far my biggest accomplishment in my racing, I think.

I’m not tarnishing anybody else’s name that’s up there later on, but the way I look at it, my name went up there with the first four; I was not an add-on. And like I said, I’m not downing anybody else being brought on later, because they’re good racers and all that, too. But when my name went up with Larry Carrier and Wally Parks and the only other racer was Don Garlits; I mean, who else is any bigger in drag racing than Don Garlits, Larry Carrier and Wally Parks? Who in hell can be? And my name went up there with them—not behind them—with them. Maybe I’m taking this wrong, but to me that’s the biggest honor that I’ve ever had, period, laid on me to this day. And probably ever will be. I don’t know anything else that could hardly precede that.

But I just hope in the drag racing or in the racing community, whatever it is that people look at, the fans, the racers, whatever, that they say I’ve been a good guy for the sport. I ITALICS>hope<ITALICS I’ve been a good name for the sport. I haven’t been a drug head, never done that. Yeah, I know there’s a lot of guys that don’t want to race me because I’m going to do whatever it takes to win, but I’m no different than Dale Earnhardt was. He was the ‘Intimidator’ in NASCAR and I feel like I’ve pretty much been an intimidator in drag racing. So that’s what I want to be remembered by as far as the good part.

I’m also proud that I kept my family together. I got married before I got out of high school. I’ve had all this success. I see a lot of people have success, whether it’s NASCAR, drag racing, whatever. They get married, go four or five years, 10 years, split up because they feel like they need to go on and leave their wife behind. Or their wife needs to go on and leave their husband behind. They done got better than what they married.

I feel like my deal, that’s something that I honor very, very seriously. And don’t think I didn’t have that opportunity. I had the opportunity to take off with other women, leave my wife, this and that. But my whole deal was my family, keeping them together through the years. And my kids having their real mom and daddy when they go through the younger part of their life when they really need to have someone to call ‘Dad,’ that’s my dad, not my stepdad. That stuff right there is what I really wanted to accomplish. That’s something I cherish big time. Big time.

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What is it like to see Matt now as a two-time NHRA champion and for you and him to win season titles in the same year?

That was a pretty special deal also. I mean, you know, we just had one heck of a year, both of us. To do what we’ve done here and me kind of on my way out, we just got so much stuff, some of this history stuff, done before I quit. It’s just been remarkable. For us to win at the same race (Norwalk) was something we never thought could happen and never even dreamed of it happening and then to win a championship together is just—I don’t think it’s really sunk in to either one of us really, how good that is—I don’t care who done it; that’s pretty awesome.

You mentioned in a TV interview that Matt got to where he is on his own, that you really didn’t help him much in his racing career, did you?

The only thing I done was the first Pro Stock bike he ever bought, he went up and got it from I think it was Paul Gast and I give him $10,000 to go buy it. He’d been running some bikes around home with nitrous on them and doing customer work and stuff like that. That was the way he was affording to race. But he wanted to go Pro Stock racing and we talked about it and I give him 10 grand to go do that and that’s all I’ve ever given him moneywise. I tried to help him get sponsors, but I’ve never, ever been able to afford to give him money. He’s absolutely done this all on his own and I’m really, really proud of him.

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.