Veteran racer Rickie Smith took advantage of several early exits by most of his series challengers and captured the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series world championship title at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis.
Smith claimed his first season championship title in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series when he took the semifinal victory over event top qualifier Jim Laurita. He was ultimately denied the race victory in the final round as Mike Castellana pulled away for the win.
Smith, who says he may retire from the cockpit after this season, was emotional in the media center after being declared the champion with one race remaining on the Pro Mod season schedule. Smith leads second-place Castellana by 142 points and a maximum of 138 points is available to a single racer at each event.
“It’s been a long time since we won a championship, we won seven titles [IHRA Pro Stock and Super Modified] but the last one was in 1989,” said the 59-year-old Smith from King, N.C. “I’ve been doing this for 40 solid years. I drive my own truck and put my own awning up and it’s time to back off, be a crew chief and let these young guys do it. I am tickled to death to pull this deal off. I want to thank IDG for giving me this time to finish my career out. I want to walk away from this thing a champion.”
Smith’s road to the series crown was opened when title challengers Mike Janis, Von Smith, Kenny Lang and Danny Rowe all lost in the first round and defending world champ Troy Coughlin lost to Laurita in the second round.
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The first time Rickie Smith did something significant as a professional drag racer at Rockingham Dragway, he was afraid that he had gotten in trouble. In May 1980, Smith made a quick run during the IHRA Pro Am Nationals and at the end of the track was summoned back to the starting line by a race official.
Little did Smith know he had made drag racing history by becoming the first Pro Stock driver into the seven-second zone and the summons was nothing more than a matter of recognizing his achievement?
Friday, during the ADRL Dragstock event, the seven-time world champion made a quick run and was summoned to the starting line again. This time, Smith knew he had done something significant.
Smith covered the eighth-mile in 4.039 seconds at 185.10 to defeat Kevin Rivenbark and capture his first Pro Modified Battle for the Belts title.
“I really wanted to get a Battle for the Belts crown,” said Smith. “I’m close to retiring and I don’t know what else I can do in my career. I’ve won everything I could win and I’m so tickled. God has blessed me and my family so much that it ain’t even funny. My whole family is blessed. I just praise the Lord and there’s no way with all of the stuff I’ve done in life and the roads I have been down that I could have done this by myself. The Lord rode with me today.”
Smith has numerous trophies, but on Friday night he added a new and very special piece of hardware to his awards case.
“Back in the IHRA Winston days, we got big belt buckles,” said Smith. “But they were never anything this big. This is like a rasslin’ belt buckle. This is impressive; to win that big belt … I never figured I’d get another chance to win one of these. I’m just glad we could pull it off.”
Smith entered Friday’s competition fourth in ADRL points and leading the NHRA.
“This is our year and I hope we can hang in there,” said Smith. “I don’t want to use all of our luck up quite yet.”
Smith’s victory came courtesy of a strong performance and he reached the finals by scoring low elapsed time of all three rounds. He used a 3.887 to beat Jimmy Keen and then a 3.847 to beat a red-lighting Raymond Matos.
--Article and Pictures courtesty of competitionplus.com
RICKIE SMITH LEADS THE NHRA PRO MODIFIED CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS WITH THREE RACES REMAINING ON THE SCHEDULE
Rickie Smith went into the NHRA Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals as your point’s leader and came out still atop the standings. Extending his Championship points lead to 98 points.
Smith and his nitrous-injected IDG Chevrolet Camaro qualified No. 1 at the prestigious Indianapolis event. Round after round on Sunday Smith showed everyone why he was the points leader. Putting down the fastest elapse time each pass.
Advancing to the finals, Smith would come up just a tad short of the win light. Running a 5.955 et at 241.37 mph to Mike Janis’s winning 5.952 et at 241.41 mph.
“We ran well all weekend,” said Rickie Smith. “Janis just stepped it up a notch in the finals and we were right there together all the way down the track. It was a great drag race. With only three races left I just have to keep going rounds and looking for the Win light. This Championship is going to be close. There are a lot of tough cars out there to beat. We just have to stay focused and keep doing our job on raceday.”
Smith and the rest of the NHRA Pro Modified Drag Racing Series will head to zMax Dragway in Concord, NC (Smith’s home track) the weekend of September 13-15.-------------------------------