The game of musical cars continues for three-time NHRA Pro Mod champ Rickie Smith, who is once again racing his turbocharged Bahrain1 Mustang in this weeks’ Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties. In Richmond, the most recent stop on the 12-race E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod series tour, Smith was racing the nitrous oxide equipped Camaro that he ran last season. Smith believes the turbocharged combination will provide his best chance to win, especially after the Topeka weather forecast had temperatures in the high 80s for most of the weekend. He does however, have his nitrous car on site, just in case.
“Really, we only brought the nitrous car here because it went to Jerry Bickel’s shop [in Missouri] to get a new windshield last week. I don’t have any plans to run it unless something went really wrong.”
Earlier this year, Smith made headlines when he followed up on a longtime threat to build a turbocharged car. Smith also enlisted the help of the turbocharging specialists from ProLine engines but so far, his results have been mixed. Smith was solidly in the 5.7s during pre-season testing but after the first four events of the season, he’s ranked No. 8 in the standings, nearly 200-points behind leader Stevie Jackson. Because Smith believes he’s too far out of the points chase to make a run at the title, he has had a slight change of plans. While he’s driving the turbo Mustang this weekend in Topeka, and next week’s stop in Bristol, he plans to rent the car to Canadian Justin Bond for the Norwalk round later this month.
“If I’m not going to win the championship I might as well make some money,” Smith said. “Right now, Justin wants to race the car in Norwalk, St. Louis, and Las Vegas. If that works, we’ve talked about putting him in the car for every race next year. I’d be fine with that. Whether or not I drive just depends on if I have a sponsor.”
Smith has long been known as someone willing to keep his options open, and not afraid to provide an unsolicited opinion, so when he addressed his future plans, it should not have come as a surprise to hear him press his case for a car that currently isn’t even legal for NHRA Pro Mod competition.
“What I’d really like to build is a ProCharger car,” said Smith. The ProCharger centrifugal supercharger is popular with drivers in the Top Dragster and Top Sportsman classes and it’s reportedly being considered for competition in Pro Mod. Should that rule revision become a reality, Smith plans to be first in line to build one. “This turbo car? That’s not me. I don’t even understand it. I let [crew chief] Brad Personett make all the calls. The ProCharger has no wastegate and no boost controller or anything like that. You can tune it with fuel and timing and that’s right up my alley. Either that, or I’d built a [conventional] blown car. I’d like to have two front ends for my car, one for a ProCharger and one for a blower. Then, it would be easy to change. The bottom line is that I’m not going to come to the races with a car that’s five-hundredths slow so it all depends on how the rules are written.”
Smith couldn’t let the conversation end without allowing that of all the cars he’s driven in his career, that that includes everything from Super Stock to Modified to Pro Stock to Pro Mod, he says his favorite is a nitrous equipped Pro Mod car with a clutch pedal.
“It’s a shame everyone has an automatic now,” said Smith. “I would never have thought that would be the case out here. I always had an advantage because I knew how to tune a clutch but today the automatic is the way to go and that’s why every car here has an automatic in it. If you’d told me that ten years ago, I’d have bet every dollar I had against it, but that shows you how fast this class changes.”