Rickie Smith will be making the switch to a ProCharger in 2021 and he’s headed to Elite Motorsports to do it.
The legendary three-time NHRA Pro Mod world champ dropped the bombshell on Friday, revealing he will move away from his traditional nitrous set-up and will look to Elite Motorsports’ in-house engine shop – Elite Performance – for horsepower moving forward.
Elite Performance will build the ProCharger-powered engines and Smith will join a talented Pro Mod team that already includes Alex Laughlin and Lyle Barnett, who’s set to make his NHRA Pro Mod debut next year as well.
Smith is in line to receive a new car later in spring of 2021, but he hopes to get a car in the interim and be ready to test in January. He’ll have his own sponsors on the car, and will work with Justin Elkes on the tuning side, forming an impressive duo. With the recent rule changes to manual shifting and the impressive debut of ProCharger-powered cars during the 2020 NHRA Pro Mod season, Smith felt it was a necessary move and he’s eager to get moving.
“I”m really excited for this opportunity. I’m over running behind with a nitrous car and my decision is made,” Smith said. “I’m not going to keep running from behind. If you want to win, you have to be ready to make decisions and make moves. I’m hoping it will be good and I think it will be. I’ve got a lot to learn and some got a head start on us, but that’s okay. Why not go with something that’s proven to run this good? I think we can come out and run well.”
It’s a major move for Smith, NHRA Pro Mod’s winningest driver and arguably one of the best drivers in drag racing history, and certainly bolsters Elite Motorsports’ Pro Mod operation as well.
“We’re excited to bring Rickie Smith into our program,” said Richard Freeman, owner of Elite Motorsports and Elite Performance – amongst the world’s most successful drag racing teams. “Rickie has a rich history in the sport of drag racing and his accomplishments speak for themselves. Based on what we accomplished late last season and thus far in testing, we’re confident our Pro Mod program is headed in the right direction. We’re out here to win races and win championships and I believe with the people we have we’re in position to do exactly that.”
Smith foresees a relationship with Elite and Elkes as something with unlimited potential.
He’s an hour from Elkes’ Modern Racing shop, giving the duo an abundance of testing options, as well as the facility’s in-house hub dyno.
Additionally, Smith is excited to share ideas about the ProCharger combination and believes working with a talented tuner like Elkes will be extremely beneficial.
“Justin is really smart with all the electronics and the ins and outs of the car, and I feel like I’m good with reading the racetrack and making those calls,” Smith said. “I’ve always had to make all my own calls, and now we can bounce stuff off each other.
“I think it’s a real good combination and it’s just a real good opportunity for me to have somebody to lean on. I can throw something at Justin and he can tell me it’s a good idea or why it won’t work. This could end up being a really good thing.”
Elkes envisions a lot of positives as well, relishing the chance to work with a legend like Smith. They’ve traded ideas and worked together some in different capacities over the years, but 2021 represents an opportunity for even more.
Elkes is excited about that possibility and said he was flattered to work with a racer like Smith, whose career accomplishments are second to none.
“He’s an icon of the sport and any chance I get to work with someone like that I gravitate towards it,” Elkes said. “It’s an honor to work with him and I’m very excited about it. With my hub dyno and the unlimited testing options, that’s going to be pretty powerful.
“The biggest change is just getting used to how to run a blower car and the differences from a nitrous car, but it’s going to be really exciting. With what we have going on with Lyle, Alex and now Rickie, that’s a pretty strong lineup for 2021. It’s definitely going to be really exciting.”
Smith finished seventh in NHRA Pro Mod points a year ago, winning in Gainesville to give him 16 career victories and 25 final round appearances.
It’s an incredible resume, but Smith didn’t believe he could continue to keep up in a nitrous car. ProCharger was the top qualifying car in the class this year and with the move to manual shifting — a change Smith said is more difficult in a nitrous car — it didn’t take long for Smith to make the move to Elite. Now, he’s only looking ahead for what he sees as an excellent chance to race for wins and a championship in 2021.
“I’m over fighting about the nitrous car,” Smith said. “Richard is excited about it; he’s as excited as I am. He’s like me, he wants to win, and I think we can do that. Whether I can win, or Alex or Lyle, we’ll have three runs to look at and that’s going to be big.”