Five-time IHRA Pro Stock Champion Now is the T-Rex of Pro Modified Racing


MARTIN, Mich. – The last-minute addition of drag racing legend Rickie Smith to the Pro Modified field has sent oddsmakers scrambling to adjust their predictions for this week’s IHRA Northern Nationals at US 131 Motorsports Park.


No doubt Smith will be installed as the new favorite in Pro Modified despite the presence of defending event champion Bill Lutz of Canal Fulton, Ohio, and 2016 series champion-to-be Billy Harper of Paducah, Ky.


That’s because no one in the sport has a more impressive body of work than the 62-year-old who claimed his first IHRA series championship 40 years ago (in Super Modified) and has been winning ever since.  In fact, he won NHRA Pro Modified world titles in 2013 and 2014 and is the reigning PDRA Pro Nitrous Champion.


So, while he may be considered a dinosaur in terms of his age and approach to the sport, make no mistake, he’s no plant-eating Brontosaurus; Smith is every bit the drag racing equivalent of T-Rex.


Ten overall series championships, including five IHRA Pro Stock titles, place the former high school football and wrestling star in an elite group that presently includes only Bob Glidden, John Force and Frank Manzo.


Nevertheless, the veteran from King, N.C., remains old school in every sense.  In an era of specialization, “Tricky Rickie” is the essential Renaissance Man of the Mechanical Age.


While his rivals may fly in for events like the Northern Nationals, Smith still drives his own truck-and-trailer, handles all the set-up and maintenance work on his nitrous-boosted Camaro and, most importantly, on any given weekend still provides driving lessons to his mostly younger adversaries, free of charge.


That’s because no one plays the mental game better than the most famous resident of King, N.C.


“There’s more to racing than just going up there and letting the clutch out,” he told Susan Wade of Dragzine.  “You’ve got to have some excitement in it. You’ve got to have some controversy in it.


“The first year I went into Pro Stock, we could run pretty fast (but) I was getting kind of wore out. They knew how to play it,” he said of rivals Warren Johnson, Ronnie Sox and “General Lee” Edwards.  “I had run Super Modified and won two championships but when I went into the pros, it was a little bit meaner crowd up there.


“I knew I either I had to get mean or get out,” he said.  “I figured with my background of high-school football and everything else, I wasn’t about to lay down. So I just got mean with ‘em.”


After winning Pro Stock and Pro Modified races in both the IHRA and NHRA series, after winning in the PDRA and the Arabian Drag Racing Series, after becoming, with son Matt, the first father-and-son champions in the same season, Smith has contemplated retirement, but his competitive nature still prevails.


“The last race you win could be your last one,” he said. “It’s that tough.  Things have got to line up for you on race day. There’s a lot of good-running cars out there that hardly ever win.”


Smith will begin his latest quest with qualifying sessions Friday at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.  A final pro qualifier is set for 2 p.m. Saturday with eliminations in Pro Modified, Nitro Funny Car, Nitro Harley and Mountain Motor Pro Stock at 5, 7 and 8:30 p.m.


In addition to the pro titles, champions also will be crowned in Hot Rod, Stock, Quick Rod, Super Stock, Super Rod, Top Dragster, Top Sportsman and three Jr. Dragster classes.


Adult admission at the gate is $25 Friday and $30 Saturday but a $5 discount is available each day to those who purchase in advance.  Children 12 and under are free when accompanied by a ticketed adult.