Article and Picture courtesy of dragracecentral.com
Article and Picture from Competitionplus.com
RICKIE SMITH GOES WIRE TO WIRE TO EARN 15th CAREER WIN
Aiello spent his final years confined to a wheelchair after a workplace injury. Despite physical hardship and severe mobility limitations, he not only attended drag races but made dozens of friends among racers, crew members, and media with his positive outlook and unselfish behavior. Aiello passed away December 29, 2006, at age 39, at Santa Monica, California.
Smith, 66, is a seven-time International Hot Rod Association Pro Stock and Super Modified champion. His first championship since 1989 came in 2013, when he earned his first of three NHRA Pro Modified titles. He also won the ADRL Battle of the Belts in 2013 and the 2015 PDRA Pro Mod crown.
He has shared his success with Pro Stock Motorcycle-racing son Matt Smith. In 2013, they won titles in their respective classes, becoming the NHRA’s only father/son duo to win a series championship in the same season. Earlier that year, in a race at Norwalk, Ohio, they shared the winners circle.
He has overcome financial obstacles in an era when big budgets seem to rule.
“I know what hard work is. I know how it is to be broke. I was that way for a long time, and I’m scared to go back that way. I just worked hard. It was juts hard work that won them championships. I’ve done it the best I can with the money I had,” Smith said.
He has overcome what he contends were unfavorable rules changes through the years and proved himself competitive in spite of sometimes costly changes he had to make on his car.
“Rickie Smith has been out here a long time,” he said, referring to himself in third person, “and been through a ton of rule changes . . . NHRA, IHRA, whatever. And I’ve won 11 championships.”
He has overcome back surgery that forced him to miss four NHRA Pro Mod races in 2017. Upon his return to the dragstrip, at Englishtown, N.J., that year, Smith won the race. And that season, as he tuned the race cars of Khalid Al-Balooshi and Jonathan Gray, all three finished in the top 10 in the final standings.
Years ago, as an ultra-competitive high-school athlete, he even overcame the vicious punch of a nasty sideshow monkey that broke his jaw. He went back and defeated the monkey in a rematch.
And this man who won the first NHRA Pro Modified race in 2001 at Gainesville, Fla., has overcome the physical wear and tear of time.
“Since the 10th grade, I’ve been competitive. It’s a stress to be No. 1. When you’ve done it since the 10th grade of school, it’s tough to keep that going.
“It takes every nickel and dime to do this stuff. It’s a lot of hard work,” he said. “[It’s] lot of thinking, a lot of nights laying and just rolling in the bed, you know what I mean? I live and breathe and eat this stuff, and I have for 40-some years.”
However, Smith said, “I’m one in a million who has made a living for 30 years and won  championships.” It has come with a price, too, he said: “I’m gone from my family. I’m gone from my wife [Nancy]. I didn’t get to raise my kids; my wife had to do that. I missed a lot of time back then. But I’m blessed to still be able to do what I do and get myself fired up to do this stuff. It’s tough.”
Smith has been recognized for his on-track achievements. He was one of the original four – along with NHRA founder Wally Parks, IHRA giant Larry Carrier, and Top Fuel icon “Big Daddy” Don Garlits as one of the original four Legends of Thunder Valley at Bristol Dragway. He was inducted into the NHRA Southeast Division and North Carolina halls of fame. In 2007, Smith was chosen the No. 1 Mountain Motor Pro Stock Racer of All-Time.
He said he wants fans to remember him as “a hard-ass racer” and “somebody who helped the other racer when he needed help.”
Smith, who said every statement and action “comes from the heart,” joins a prestigious list of Mike Aiello Award recipients.
Crew chief John Medlen received the inaugural Mike Aiello Award in 2007, followed by Funny Car driver Tim Wilkerson (2008), Pro Stock's Mike Edwards (2009), International Hot Rod Association racer and journalist Michael Beard (2010), NHRA Funny Car racer Jack Beckman (2011), and former IHRA President Aaron Polburn (2012). Top Fuel racer Antron Brown and Top Alcohol Dragster’s Shawn Cowie shared the 2013 honor. Steve Johnson was honored in 2014, Don Schumacher in 2015, Leah Pritchett in 2016, brothers Bobby and Dom Lagana in 2017, and Top Fuel’s Terry McMillen in 2018.
Rickie Smith finished up an impressive weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway with his first victory of the season in E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service action, beating points leader Stevie "Fast" Jackson in the final round on Sunday.
The series was presented by the Real Pro Mod Association (RPM) in St. Louis and marked the 10th of 12 races in 2019.
Smith, a three-time world champion in the class, was on top in his nitrous-powered Bahrain1 Racing Camaro all weekend, qualifying No. 1 for the second straight race and going 5.768-seconds at 252.19 mph to beat Jackson in the final round. It also is Smith's class-best 15th career victory.
"It's pretty awesome, at my age, to be fighting like this with these young cats," Smith said. "I saw Stevie run a 5.77 and thought there's no way I can run that, and then I run 5.76. Then he runs a 5.74 and I run a 5.72, so it was pretty exciting this weekend. I've got three awesome kids and wife that stand behind me."
Smith, who qualified No. 1 with a 5.724 at 252.43, beat Alex Laughlin, Michael Biehle and Mike Castellana, who beat Smith in the Indy finals, to reach the championship round.
Jackson, who was the defending event winner and qualified second this weekend, advanced to his fifth final round in 2019 and 12th in his career thanks to wins against Carl Stevens Jr., defending world champ Mike Janis and Todd Tutterow. He also stretched his commanding points lead to 156 points heading into the final two events of the 2019 season.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service continues at the NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte. It will be the 11th of 12 races during the 2019 season.
ROUND ONE -- Rickie Smith, Chevy Camaro, 5.771, 251.67 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.085, 248.84; Mike Castellana, Camaro, 5.809, 248.66 def. Sidnei Frigo, Camaro, 5.919, 249.81; Steve Jackson, Camaro, 5.769, 249.67 def. Carl Stevens, Camaro, Broke - No Show; Khalid alBalooshi, Camaro, 5.814, 253.66 def. Scott Oksas, Ford Mustang, 9.800, 84.49; Brandon Snider, Chevy Corvette, 5.771, 247.34 def. Steven Whiteley, Camaro, 9.677, 94.18; Todd Tutterow, Camaro, 5.820, 248.07 def. Steve Matusek, Mustang, 5.884, 246.84; Mike Janis, Camaro, 5.835, 248.25 def. Eric Latino, Camaro, 5.864, 248.66; Michael Biehle, Mustang, 5.859, 252.33 def. Bob Rahaim, Camaro, 5.817, 246.75;
QUARTERFINALS -- Jackson, 5.768, 250.27 def. Janis, 5.822, 247.38; Tutterow, 5.814, 248.75 def. alBalooshi, 5.910, 250.18; Smith, 5.788, 251.11 def. Biehle, 5.835, 252.80; Castellana, 5.789, 248.16 def. Snider, 5.796, 246.21;
SEMIFINALS -- Jackson, 5.780, 250.27 def. Tutterow, 5.800, 248.71; Smith, 5.781, 252.43 def. Castellana, 8.006, 115.78;
FINAL -- Smith, 5.768, 252.19 def. Jackson, 7.413, 113.99.
Veteran team owner-driver Rickie Smith received the 2019 Mike Aiello "Spirit of Drag Racing" Award Sunday morning before eliminations at the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.
CompetitionPlus.com owner and publisher Bobby Bennett made the surprise presentation to Smith, of King, N.C. The Mike Aiello Award recipient is someone who has persevered and remained positive in spite of hardship.
Rickie Smith left the NHRA Carolina Nationals in Concord, NC, knowing he needed a change. And for the 11-time series champion, a change has proven good.
Thursday morning, at the PRI Show, Smith announced Strutmasters.com as his newest major sponsorship for the 2020 season. He unveiled a brand new Jerry Bickel-built Camaro, the first of which to have the new NHRA-mandated safety requirements.
RICKIE SMITH BECOMES 14th RECIPIENT OF MIKE AIELLO AWARD
RICKIE SMITH REVEALS NEW MAJOR SPONSOR AT PRI
It honors the Houston native and standout college athlete at Texas Tech University who was a longtime drag-racing fan and former National Hot Rod Association Pro Stock crew member. The honor commonly is referred to as "The Spirit of Drag Racing Award.”
Article and Picture byCompetitionplus.com
The driving force behind Strutmasters.com,
Chip Lofton, has proclaimed himself as the
champion for the little guy, but with this new
association has swung for the fences.
"Growing up in the Carolinas and being a
Pro Stock fan and a Pro Mod fan, I never
thought I could reach this place where I could sponsor him," Lofton said. "He lives to race and races to live. He's been one of those guys that have figured out a way to do it."
So Lofton picked up the phone and called his fellow Tar Heel state drag racing aficionado. Before they hung up, they made a plan for Smith to drive down from King to the strut building facility in Roxboro, a place where the man drag racing calls Trickie, earned his stripes first as a Modified racer and later a Mountain Motor legend.
"He's just a down to earth person," Smith said. "I had no idea what I was getting into as far as knowing what he'd done and what he loved when I first met. It wasn't hard to see his love for the sport. It was like hitting three home runs in one game to find a sponsor who loves racing as I do."
Smith ventured into the portion of Lofton's shop where he keeps his stash of collector cars.
"You always want to be involved with somebody who really likes racing, and I didn't have to talk him into loving racing," Smith said. "That's a 200% start right off the bat when the people that you are dealing with love racing. It just makes everything go a lot smoother.
A day together left the two wondering why they hadn't done this sooner.
"Rickie came and talked to me," Lofton said. "I just thought it legitimizes my other teams as well, to have somebody successful like that part of our team. Rickie gets television time because he's a character.
"It doesn't hurt that on any given Sunday; he can bring the Wally home."
Smith doesn't brush off the notion he's been in racing a long time and has had a list of sponsors a mile long.
"From Motorcraft to Slick 50, to STP, to IDG, it sounds like a lot of sponsors, but I've been out here going on 46 years," Smith explained. "So when you're out here 46 years, and you make it, you're going to have a lot of sponsors. But most time, a lot of sponsors, three years, six years, is kind of the limit. And they go and deal with something else. And I was with Motorcraft almost eight or nine years and IDG, like five years or six."
Smith, now in the twilight of his driving career, cannot help but feel like he's got something special with Strutmasters.com.
"I've had some really good sponsors, but I feel excited about this deal with Chip he owns the company and doesn't have to call anybody or go get a board meeting or whatever to say, 'Yeah, we're going to do this," Smith said. "He's got the power to make the moves, and that's the way he like to deal with because, in automobile racing, you've got to make that move at that time. If you wait too long, people pass you up, and Chip can make the moves when he wants to make them."
Thursday, he made the move he's wanted to for a long time. And for Smith, he's glad Lofton did, the change is going to do him good.