When Bristol Dragway introduced its inaugural class of the Legends of Thunder Valley in 2007, North Carolina drag racing great Rickie Smith was emotional when learned that he was one of the four inductees.
Smith, who was dominant at the old Bristol Dragway in the 1980s during his IHRA Pro Stock career, joined Larry Carrier, Wally Parks, and “Big Daddy” Don Garlits as the first members of the Legends of Thunder Valley, the track’s hall of fame.
“To be one of the first inducted alongside those three was really, really special,” Smith said. “I couldn’t believe it. There’s a lot of racers who’ve run there over the years, and for them to pick me, it was a real honor, probably bigger than any championship I ever won.”
Track historians will point out that Smith was a major attraction then and for local fans in the Tri-Cities region continues to be one of the most popular drivers to pull through the gates for any race.
Once a legend, always a legend.
Smith will be among the NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series drivers racing for victory June 18-20 during the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at the scenic northeast Tennessee dragstrip.
“It’s a special place,” said Smith, a native of King, N.C. “It’s tucked in between those two mountains, and you can sit out there and listen to the cars run and hear them echo for two or three times after a run is over, and that’s pretty cool. I still have a lot of fans that come out to see me there. It’s like a home track to me.”
Featuring the world’s fastest and most unique doorslammer cars with an extremely diverse collection of vehicles, including ’63 Corvettes, ’68 Camaros, ’67 Mustangs, ’68 Firebirds as well as late-model cars, the Pro Mod Series offers something for every kind of hot-rodding enthusiast.
Smith, who won races in NHRA Pro Stock competition in the 1990s, is hoping to tap into some of his past magic at Bristol Dragway as he sets his sights on winning his first Wally in the NHRA’s newest touring series.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit lately,” said Smith, who drives a flashy, bright red ’68 Camaro with nitrous injection. “We need to win a race, and I guess that would be a great place to do it in front of all of our family and friends.”
Smith enters his home race fresh off of a near upset of No. 1 qualifier Ray Commisso at the NHRA SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown. He got the jump at the start (.050 to .093 reaction times) and still led at 660 feet before being overtaken by the No. 1 qualifier’s R2B2/ProCare Rx Camaro.
In addition to Smith, other pre-race favorites in the category include early-season winners Von Smith, from nearby Oak Ridge, Tenn., Californian Danny Rowe, and Canada’s Kenny Lang. Veteran racers Jay Payne, Troy Coughlin, and Melanie Troxel also will be in the hunt. Others to watch include Roger Burgess, Commisso, Burton Auxier, Mike Knowles, and Ed Hoover.
• SCHEDULE: Pro Mod qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:30 and 7 p.m. June 18, and the final qualifying session is set for 2:15 p.m. June 19. The first round of eliminations will be June 19 at 4:30 p.m. Eliminations will continue Sunday, June 20, beginning at approximately 2 p.m.
• TICKETS: Tickets are available for the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. Call Bristol Dragway, 423-989-6900, or log on to www.bristoldragway.com to purchase tickets online.
• ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise 30 minutes of racing highlights from the Pro Mod portion of the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals Sunday, June 27, at 1:30 p.m. ET.