Rickie Smith still has trouble believing what he seen now for three events. He never thought he’d see the Mountain Motor Pro Stocks racing under the NHRA sanction.
Smith, a five-time world champion drag racer with the hefty displacement factory hot rods, remembers a day when he couldn’t imagine himself behind the wheel of anything but a large displacement Ford-powered Pro Stocker. Those days are distant memories it appears.
Friday, as he watched the Mountain Motor Pro Stock cars make their initial runs down the zMax Dragway quarter-mile during the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, Smith realized how much drag racing has erased what used to be rigid thinking.
” I never figured they’d let them big motors come in over here,” said Smith, a 31-time IHRA Mountain Motor Pro Stock event winner. “It’s a good deal. It’s just more exposure for everybody.”
Indirectly, Smith helped to bring NHRA Pro Stock to 500-inch displacement. Smith, on a sunny spring day in April 1980, made drag racing history when he became the first Pro Stock driver into the seven-second zone with his Oak Ridge Boys-sponsored Mustang II in Rockingham, NC.
Smith’s monumental run shined a major media spotlight on the large displacement Pro Stockers of the IHRA, and their seven-second exploits while the NHRA’s rigid pounds-per-cubic inch format was producing runs barely into the 8.3-second zone.
Eventually, the NHRA relented and adopted their brand of mountain motor Pro Stock; capping their peaks at 500-cubic inches. This still made the gesture look like molehills compared to the IHRA machines which were expanding to almost 700-inches at the start of the 1982 season.
Smith by default became the poster child for the Mountain Motor Pro Stock, a status which didn’t endear him much with the NHRA. The NHRA/IHRA rivalry was very much at the forefront of drag racing.
“It took me 10-12 years over here before they halfway accepted me and they still ain’t accepted me just because I was a champion so much over in IHRA,” Smith admitted. “When I come over here, they honestly absolutely wore me out tech wise, everything. It finally got alright, but it took 10-12 years for me to be accepted over here.”
In the interest of fair reporting, one incident at Suffolk Raceway added fuel to the fire. Apparently, Smith, known for his dedication to winning, used an NHRA sanctioned race in the height of the mountain motor propaganda era to commit an unpardonable sin of the time.
Smith ended up with a big engine in his Pro Stocker, which was clearly against the rules in the pounds per cubic inch era.
“For the record, I never showed up there with one, might have left there with one in,” Smith said with a guilty grimace on his face.
The statute of limitations now enables Smith to discuss the 1980 incident.
“It wasn’t even an NHRA race, points or nothing, but it was policed NHRA rules,” Smith said. We broke our only good NHRA motor so I slid the big motor in and made a qualifying run. They didn’t like that.”
Smith didn’t go to No. 1, but he did run a lot better than he had ever, raising eyebrows throughout the tech department onsite.
“I think I was sixth or seventh,” Smith recalled.
Smith enjoys reminiscing of the days gone by, and for him, he’s moved on from one of the most colorful chapters of his life; a chapter which made him legendary in this style of racing. He was a five-time IHRA Mountain Motor Pro Stock champion, who appeared in 53 final rounds from 1979 – 1989.
The past is a nice place to visit, but not somewhere he prefers to live.
“Now that I’ve run this Pro Modified thing, these cars are fast and aggravating to drive and a lot of fun to drive sometimes, but I don’t want to slow up,” Smith said. “When I got to go backwards, it’s time to retire for sure.”
Smith isn’t envious he didn’t get to race on the big stage during this time of his carer.
“This Pro Mod thing is bigger and better anyway, so I’m happy where I’m at, I’m happy with what I’ve done in life, You know, how much longer I’ll stay out here, I don’t know.”
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019