Rickie Smith has a message for the rulesmakers of NHRA Pro Modified.
“They say the rules are fine,” Smith said. “Ned Walliser (NHRA’s Technical Director) told me at the end of the year, the rules are fine. He said he didn’t see but four-to-five thousandths of a second difference, not hundredths between these cars. He said he didn’t foresee any rule changes. Those were his exact words to me at the end of the year.
“As I see it, then don’t change the rules for a year. Leave them alone. Let’s see what happens.”
What has already happened for Smith is a change of monstrous proportion, the likes of which doorslammer drag racing’s winningest driver hasn’t exhibited since 1989 when he abandoned a Ford program for a GM back when he was a Pro Stock racer.
Come March in Gainesville, Florida, Smith said he’s going full steam ahead with a turbocharged combination.
Smith has flirted with a switch to a turbo combination before, much like he has announced retirement. Neither move lasted long-term.
This time, Smith said adamantly, he’s going turbocharger come hell or high water.
“I got a brand new car that’ll be done, should be picking it up the first of next month and I’ve got two brand new motors done at Pro Line and I’ve got two brand new transmissions done at Mark Micke, so I’d say there’s been a lot of money spent,” Smith said.
Smith said it wasn’t what he wanted to do, but rather what he felt he had to do.
“I don’t even know how to express how disappointing it is,” Smith said. “I’ve done everything I can do talking to NHRA. I guess they think I’m a damn joke or something. I was honest with them last year about what I thought we’d pick up if they’d give us an automatic, and I actually told them we’d pick up more than we did.
“I told them we’d pick up three to five and I don’t think we picked up about two and they saw it. It ain’t like I’m trying to lie to them. And I told them we’re behind again right now three to four, and they think we’re within five and eight-thousandths of each other.
“How can you be this uneducated is the way I put it. How can you be this uneducated?”
It’s not that Smith doesn’t think the NHRA’s technical department isn’t capable of maintaining realistic parity in drag racing. He just believes doing it in Pro Modified isn’t their strong suit.
“If the people that’s in there right now don’t have enough education to look out to even give Pro Mod equal how in the world are they keeping the nitro cars or Stock Eliminator cars?” Smith asked. “All I got’s a high school education, okay? So it don’t take nothing no more than a high school education to get all these cars to run within a couple hundredths of each other.
“You can make these cars run within two-hundredths of each other or less. Easy, but they don’t want to do it. So I’m not going to go out there and f’ing run three and five hundredths behind and qualify eleventh and twelfth and fourteenth and all that bs.”
Smith said he saw the writing on the wall for the nitrous combination, the only one (except a brief turbo flirtation once before), he’s run since he jumped from Pro Stock to Pro Modified in 1997.
“You watch what I’m telling you,” Smith declared. “If they do not make a change there won’t be a nitrous car that qualifies in the top half of the field.”
Smith and others have long alleged the turbo cars have sandbagged since their inclusion into Pro Modified a little over a decade ago.
“Actually what I told [Steve] Petty, and Petty’s going to tune this car. I’m not going to tune it,” Smith explained. “This is the first year ever in my life I’ll probably not tune my own car. I’m not going to tune this car. All I want to do is help with the chassis and drive the thing. All I told him is, ‘You run this car just like you run with Troy [Coughlin].”
“He just looked at me and grinned. That’s the way I told him to do. You run this car just like you run it with Troy. Do I have to say any more?”
Those who know Smith, and his headstrong approach to drag racing, appear to be more intrigued with not how fast his car will run but rather how he will handle the hands-off approach.
“It’s stupid hard, you know?” Smith said. “It’s stupid hard. But I don’t have a choice, Bobby. That’s the problem. If I had any kind of choice, I’d do something. But I don’t have a choice. I may not win a race next year, okay? That can happen very easily in twelve races. But I tell you one thing, I will run d*** good next year.
“I don’t think I can take a nitrous car and qualify in the top half of the field next year. Period. I think you’d be real lucky to qualify eleventh or twelfth to be honest.”
Smith might not run a nitrous car next year, but this doesn’t mean he’s divested himself of all things nitrous.
“I kept the car I run last year, my newest car and I kept a big motor,” Smith admitted. “I just built a big motor at the end of the year. I never have had a big motor, period. I’ve never had nothing but a 903. I kept one of my 903’s and I kept a big motor.”
Smith hopes nitrous doesn’t become a viable option.
“I hope I don’t have to because I really want to run with Petty,” Smith said. “That’s my deal is to run with Petty all year and that’s what I want to stick to is me and him run together a whole year and run for the championship.”
Smith said in the meantime he’s a turbo lover, and his budget supports this newfound passion.
“I’m in line right now at Bickel’s to build another car,” Smith said. “He’ll probably start on it in a couple months and I told him to build me another turbo car is what I have in mind to build.”
Smith said his mindset isn’t based solely on NHRA. It’s about the current state of all other Pro Modified venues.
“With a nitrous car the way NMCA’s got the rules, the way this Orlando’s got the rules, the way the U.S. Nationals down in Bradenton’s got the rules, the way all these cars got the rules, these classes, the nitrous car ain’t no good nowhere except really going to f’ing PDRA and run nitrous on nitrous,” Smith said.
“I just figured hell, I might as well go learn this turbo car and have somewhere else to race because you can’t go nowhere else and even run a nitrous car and think you’re going to win. You ain’t going to NMCA and running against a blower car over there the way they’ve got the rules. I mean, that’s worse than NHRA is.”
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019