The back surgery that caused reigning world champion Rickie Smith to miss four consecutive races might have knocked him out of the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series championship race in 2017. But as he showed last weekend in Englishtown, the longtime Pro Mod standout is still a force to be reckoned with.
Smith, a three-time NHRA Pro Mod world champion, made his first appearance since the season-opening race in March, grabbing the Englishtown victory with a thrilling final-round win against Troy Coughlin. Returning to action as part of this weekend’s 17th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, Smith hopes he can keep this good stretch going in his IDG ’15 Camaro at one of his favorite tracks on the NHRA Pro Mod tour.
“My goal each year is to win at least one race and if you can win one of these in this class, that’s a heck of a deal,” said Smith, who has 11 career NHRA Pro Mod wins. “We got that out of the way, so now I can race with a little more ease. It was a heck of a deal after being out, but everything seems okay. It was pretty awesome to win, almost like a fairy-tale story.”
The race, which is presented by the Real Pro Mod Association (RPM), is the seventh of 12 events during the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series season and will be shown on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) and Fox Sports 2 (FS2). Mike Castellana, a two-time winner in 2017 and the current points leader, is the defending race winner.
Sitting 381 points back of Castellana makes it unlikely Smith can garner a fourth world championship, but he hopes to continue to make life difficult for the loaded NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series class. That means trying to race to more victories, but also helping Jonathan Gray and Khalid alBalooshi get to the winner’s circle. Smith is again making the tuning calls on alBalooshi’s car in 2017, while Gray drove Smith’s Camaro in his absence and will be driving a separate car the rest of this season.
“Jonathan is real excited and he wants to race the rest of the year, so the goal is to get through the year with all three of us,” said Smith, who will be making the tuning calls for Gray as well. “I want to see them do well and see my car continue to run well. I would like to get these guys a win and I know they can do it. It’s not about cutting a light all the time. It’s about getting one end to the other and being consistent so I can be consistent in making the tune-up. The driver plays an important part and all of that is getting better and better.”
A three-time NHRA Pro Mod winner in Bristol (2015, 2013, 2012), Smith has had tremendous success at the track throughout his career, so much so that he was named one of the Legends of Thunder Valley in 2007. Getting another win there will be difficult in a loaded class that also features 2017 winners Steven Whiteley, Stevie Jackson and Steve Matusek, but it doesn’t take much for Smith to get motivated about racing at Bristol Dragway.
“When you see your name up there, it doesn’t get any better,” Smith said. “That’s a pretty neat deal. It makes you want to go back and do well. There’s nothing like Bristol and it’s one of those place where we’ve had pretty good success through the years, and we’ve got a lot of fans up there. It’s a neat place and there’s no other place like it.”
Featuring the world’s fastest and most unique doorslammer race cars, the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series offers something for every kind of hot-rodding enthusiast. The class is highlighted by historic muscle cars, like ’67 Mustangs, ’68 Firebirds and ’69 Camaros, as well as a variety of late model American muscle cars. With more than 3,000 horsepower, the suspended door pro mod cars travel the quarter-mile in less than six seconds at speeds exceeding 250 mph.
NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, June 16 with qualifying sessions at 4:15 p.m. and 6:45 p.m., continuing with the final qualifying session on Saturday, June 17 at 12:15 p.m. Round one of eliminations takes place on Saturday at 2:45 p.m. and continues on Sunday, June 18 at 1:15 p.m.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Bristol Dragway at (423) 989-6900. Tickets also are available online at www.bristoldragway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult on Sunday. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.