After a stretch of back-to-back first-round losses threatened to end his run for a fourth E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service world championship, Rickie Smith at least avoided making it a third early exit last weekend in Dallas.
Smith won his first round since June, staying within striking distance of points leader Mike Janis, who lost in the opening round. That puts the three-time world champ just 25 points out of first heading to this weekend’s E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series race, which takes place as part of this weekend’s 11th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway. It’s the home track for Smith, who will look to make another late-season charge in his RSR Chevrolet Camaro at the penultimate race of the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series season.
“All we can do is hope we can do well and give ourselves a chance going into Vegas,” said Smith, who has 14 career wins in the class. “We were running decent, we just had some stupid bad luck. The car went up there and was lazy first round at (Indy and St. Louis). Charlotte is a little over an hour from us and I love it, but it’s been an aggravating place for me. I’ve been fortunate enough to win at a lot of racetracks, but Charlotte is not one of them. It would be nice to get one there.”
The race, which is presented by Mr. Race Oil, is the 11th of 12 events during the 2018 E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series season and will be shown on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) and Fox Sports 2 (FS2). Jonathan Gray is the defending winner of the race, which could bode well for Smith considering he tuned that car to the winner’s circle a year ago.
It was the first time he was close to success at state-of-the-art zMAX Dragway, but Smith will need a big result this weekend if a fourth championship in his future. Janis has been impressive most of the year as he looks for his first title, while Stevie “Fast” Jackson, who won back-to-back races before Dallas, and Mike Castellana sit 88 and 90 points, respectively, behind Janis. It makes for an intense final two-race stretch in the loaded class, but that’s often been where Smith shines.
“I’m here to try to win races and championships, and that’s why I do it,” Smith said. “I do not like to lose. I’m a sore loser, but that’s also kept me where I am today, paying attention and dedicating a lot of hard work all the time to be competitive. Until I get out of the driver’s seat I’m always going to be this way. It’s been awfully stressful, but I’m proud to be in these positions.”
Of course, with a field approaching 30 standout cars, Smith will have a lot more to deal with than just Janis, Jackson and Castellana. Jeremy Ray won his first race in the class last weekend, while other season winners include Jim Whiteley, Jose Gonzalez and Khalid AlBalooshi. But Smith’s chief objective is getting the most out of his nitrous-powered Camaro this weekend against what will surely be another blistering qualifying field at Charlotte.
“Any of the four of us can win a championship and the class just keeps getting better racers coming in,” Smith said. “If you really care about what you’re doing, it’s tough mentally, but you keep pushing. I’ll go prepare like I always have and do all the work we can to prevent any breakage.”
Mr. Race Oil is the presenting sponsor for the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series race in Charlotte, as the class has just two races remaining in its highly-competitive 2018 season. Featuring the world’s fastest doorslammer race cars, the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service 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.
Located in Randolph, N.J., Mr. Race Oil is a division of Cam-shield® Lubricants, producing professional race oils for drag racing, as well as a full range of engine assembly products for the sport, including its innovative Engine Assembly Gel and High-Performance Roller Bearing Lube.
“We are excited to partner with the Real Pro Mod Association this year and sponsor the Charlotte event with Pro Mod championship still very much up for grabs,” said Timothy Miranda, President of Mr. Race Oil and Cam-shield® Lubricants. “The Pro Mod series, with its unique mix of race engines, is a perfect fit for our line of Mr. Race Oil race oils and engine building lubricants. Our line of Drag Racing oils, which are specifically designed and formulated for alcohol, nitromethane or gasoline engine applications, provide that maximum protection from wear while releasing maximum power. We feel the Pro Mod class is the fastest-growing NHRA racing segment and we are the fastest growing race oil brand, and we look forward to an exciting event at zMAX!”
The first of four E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service qualifying sessions takes place at 2:00 and 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12, and the final two rounds of qualifying take place on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 12:00 and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 1:45 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-455-FANS (3267). Tickets also are available online at www.zmaxdragway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.