Rickie Smith is quick never to say never, but for drag racing’s most decorated doorslammer pilot, he’s as close to declaring he’s done racing with a nitrous-injected Pro Modified.
Last month’s NHRA Gatornationals debut of a new turbocharged combination was just a small sample size of what he’s been fighting for almost a decade. He won’t come out and say if you can’t beat them, join them because he did beat the turbocharged combination many times with his nitrous car. He will adamantly say the turbocharged combination spearheaded by Steve Petty provides him with the best chance to win.
“I only got to test one time before Gainesville, and I’m to do some testing before Gainesville, mainly just for me to get coordinated in the car better with bumping in,” Smith said. “The car’s fine, the car runs. The track was so good down there, and what was happening, we were stopping the tire too hard and then it would shake. We worked on that.
“Steve actually went and tested the day after with Jose’s car and kind of figured out a little better deal so when it gets hot and crappy; he’s got a lot of tuneups for that. He never had run this tire that we’re running right now on a real tight track like it was at Gainesville. It just stayed cool and cloudy. Everything’s good. I’m happy with it. I mean it’s doing what I thought it was going to do. Run a couple hundredths quicker with it than I have a nitrous car and that’s just the beginning.”
Once Smith gets the staging end of the battle mastered he could be hell to deal with; at least that’s his goal.
“The problem is I jumped right in at testing and staged it fine, done everything just fine and had good lights when I tested,” Smith said. “But twice, once in testing and the first round of eliminations at Gainesville, normally I was hitting the button about three times, and it would be staged. Once at Orlando I hit it eight or nine times before it staged. First round on Sunday, I hit the button nine times before it finally jumped in. I had done kind of give up on getting staged. I was still hitting the button I guess with my thumb, but in my mind I done figured I was going red because I didn’t think the car was going to stage and it jumped in, and then I was just dead late. That was nobody’s fault but my own.
“You can’t be that frustrated and think you’re going to get red lighted and really have a decent light. We just got to get that better and we will. Actually, I did a little testing in a driveway, so I think we’ve solved that problem hopefully. Other than that, I’m tickled to death with what I see with the car.”
And just like, the champion of the nitrous combination official, in no uncertain terms admitted he was divorced from racing the bottle rockets.
“Without NHRA making some kind of major change I’m not going back and running bottom half of the field,” Smith said. “That’s what’s coming. It’s just a matter of another race or two. Just a couple more people are getting their junk together. I mean the nitrous car’s going to really struggle to be a top half qualifying car.”
All three nitrous cars entered for the NHRA Gatornationals qualified for the sixteen-car field, two of those were at the bottom half of the first eight qualifiers. The quickest of the trio, driven by Khalid alBalooshi, is a car Smith manages.
Smith saw the handwriting on the wall; if you want to be one of the growing list of contenders, you had better grab a car capable of generating a performance advantage.
“It used to just be kind of two to four good racers out there over the years; basically me and Troy were winning the championship,” Smith said. “Now you’ve got eight or nine really good racers out there. You’re not going to hardly qualify in the bottom half of the field much and expect to win a round or two. The thing is, there are just other places to run this car rather than NHRA. So that’s kind of a few things I’m looking at too.”
So Smith would come back to nitrous with the right kind of rule change?
“Well, I’m not even going to do down that road no more, because I went down that road so many times,” Smith said. “Right now as far as I’m concerned, the rules are fine. I’m not going to bitch. I done spent all this money to change over; leave it alone.”
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019