NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Rickie Smith’s latest trick might just be his most impressive one

As legend has it, Rickie Smith’s parents didn’t give him the nickname “Trickie Rickie” so it must have been earned elsewhere. To that end, Smith’s latest trick might just be his most impressive one.
29 Apr 2024
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor
Rickie Smith

As legend has it, Rickie Smith’s parents didn’t name him “Trickie Rickie” so that handle must have been earned elsewhere. To that end, Smith’s latest trick might just be his most impressive one. In a shocking episode of “familiar faces in unfamiliar places” Smith won the Comp Eliminator title at last week’s NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway, and he won it behind the wheel of his 5-second, 250-mph nitrous-fed Pro Mod Mustang.

To call the win shocking would be an understatement.

There was no Pro Mod class contested in Charlotte, so Smith entered the event largely because it’s two hours from his base in King, N.C., and it also affords an opportunity to test his car on a national event track surface. Smith also noted it was an opportunity to “put on a show” for longtime sponsor Parkway Ford.

He did just that.

What ultimately transpired was one of the most impressive performances in the history of the Comp class as Smith not only made the quickest runs in the history of NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series sportsman racing, but also walked away with the Wally after defeating Joel Warren in a thrilling final round.

“I can't believe this is happening,” said Smith, during his animated post-race interview with NHRA’s Joe Castello. "I'm more excited doing this than racing Pro Modified. That [Comp] is some bad ass racing.”

Racing in the A/Pro Mod class, which features an admittedly soft 6.67 index, Smith was the low qualifier by a country mile with a 5.76 blast, more than nine-tenths under the standard. While he enjoyed a huge performance advantage over the rest of the field, Smith still had to manage a few variables before claiming the trophy including an often-fickle  4,000-plus horsepower race car, and an unfamiliar full five-tenths Christmas Tree that's used in Comp.

Smith noted that he hadn’t staged on a full tree since his IHRA Super Modified days in 1974, and even though noted drag racing historian Bret Kepner was able to unearth a photo of Smith running Comp at the ’76 U.S. Nationals, it had obviously been a while. Regardless of the timing, Smith was solid on the starting line for the most part. He was late in his round one win against David Billingsley, but quickly rallied with lights of .035, .032, and a very competitive .028 in the final.

“I knew I could beat [Billingsley] pretty bad, but I was way late,” said Smith, who had to spot Billingsley a two-second head-start. “When you let someone go that far, you have to just watch your Tree. He was already at the eighth mile, and I said, 'There ain't no way in hell I am going to catch him.’  I caught him; I don't know how.”

By the time he got to the final, Smith had taken a wrecking ball to the A/Pro Mod index, lowering it from 6.67 to 6.34. Warren, the son of Hall of Famer Bobby Warren, had lost just 12-hundredths, going from 9.22 to 9.10. With a handicap of nearly three seconds, Smith somehow kept his composure in the final and ran down Warren’s fleeing H/AA Pontiac with a thundering 5.78 at 249 mph. Warren, who was nearly 100-mph slower than his opponent, made a race of it with an 8.61.

Pro Mod cars can be unpredictable, and they require a bit more between rounds maintenance than your average Comp car. That was true for Smith, who tore into the engine a couple of times during qualifying, and also swapped transmissions, a job made easier thanks to help from Stanfield Racing’s Tim Sniveley.

Smith also admitted he wasn’t sure he completely understood the intricate rules of Comp, which is often jokingly referred to as “Complicated Eliminator.”  But, Smith does, however, know his way around a Pro Mod race car, and he’s well known for his ability to adapt to any starting line routine, even an unfamiliar one. That part doesn’t bother him at all.

Smith, who kicked off the 2024 season by being inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in Gainesville, ultimately prevailed, and has now won NHRA events in Pro Stock, Pro Mod, and Comp to go with his many achievements in IHRA and other series.

While Smith threatens to retire about once every six months, thankfully, he hasn't done it yet. Now, will he ever run Comp again? That remains to be seen, but if he does, it will certainly be worth watching.