Rickie Smith Wins E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod NHRA Series at Gatornationals
Legendary driver and crew chief Rickie Smith did what he is famous for doing in Sunday's Pro Mod final at the E3 Spark Plugs Drag Racing Series Gatornationals; he won. Not bad for a 64-year old North Carolina driver who didn't have a sponsor until the day before the first Pro Mod race of the 2018 season. That's when the multi-time doorslammer champion received an unexpected call from Sheikh Abdullah of Bahrain. Smith was informed that he would be teamed with Khalid al-Balooshi and Steve Jackson as a member of the Bahrain 1 Racing Pro Mod contingent.
Although a newcomer to the team as a driver, Smith had joined the Bahrain 1 team in 2017 as crew chief for Kahalid al-Balooshi and Johnathan Gray. After all, you wouldn't expect a grassroots racer like Smith to just sit at home and recover quietly from back surgery. Not only did both of his drivers finish in the top-10 for the Pro Mod Championship, Gray won his first career Pro Mod victory at the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte by defeating teammate Steve Jackson. When Smith returned to the driver's seat at Englishtown NJ, he won the NHRA Pro Mod event and finished the year in ninth overall.
"It was because of stories like this that we began sponsoring grassroots racing more than a decade ago," said E3 Spark Plugs president Steve Joiner. "The NHRA and dozens of racing series across the country are filled with stories just like this. At E3, we're proud to be the title sponsor for a NHRA series that provides this kind of opportunity for diehard racers like Rickie Smith."
In 2016, Smith dominated the NHRA Pro Modified Class. Winning two of the first three Pro Mod Series races at NHRA Gatornationals and NHRA Southern Nationals in Atlanta, Smith took the early season points lead all the way to the bank. Not only did he win his third NHRA Pro Mod Championship but was inducted into the NHRA SouthEastern Division Hall of Fame later that year. In Sunday's semifinals, Smith eliminated Mike Castellana with a 5.808 at 249.26 mph. Mike Janis posted a 5.806 in his semi as Chad Green lost control of his Corvette and crossed the center line. Smith saved the best for last and ran a 5.794-second pass at 249.76 mph in his Chevrolet Camaro to take down Janis in the final round. It was the 12th Wally of his career.
The race for the 12-event championship for the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service continues at the NHRA SpringNationals in Houston. See all of our E3 race fans on April 20-22 when the 3,000 horsepower Pro Mod engines fire up in Texas.
Photo courtesy of RPM: Real Pro Mod