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With three NHRA Pro Modified championship titles, one in PDRA, and seven in IHRA, 11x champion “Trickie” Rickie Smith has undeniably proven himself as one of the winningest drivers in the history of the category. Also inducted into the IHRA Hall of Fame in 2021, Smith knows what it takes to play the game—even if that means giving up his lifelong power adder of choice and going from nitrous oxide to a supercharged setup with his all-new 2021 Chevrolet Camaro doorslammer.
The North Carolina native’s decision to part ways with his nitrous was spurred by his frustration with the status quo and an “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude.
“As soon as I would run even just two-hundredths quicker than the rest of the field, NHRA would knock me down within 24-hours—just look at the results and the rule books, it’s all there,” asserted Smith, who was feeling spicy and tired of qualifying no better than third or fourth in the field on the bottle. “I should’ve given up two years ago, but I tried a turbo car and didn’t like that… too many electronics.”
Driving and tuning his own car made the turbocharged setup difficult for Smith to manage, as he was constantly “fixing electronics and wastegates and this and that.” He quickly dismissed that project and pondered a ProCharged combination, but wasn’t keen on that either as “they break, too, and tear up motors.”
Relying on sponsors and his own personal funding to keep his privateer Pro Mod program rolling, Smith sought advice from his friend of 40+ years and supercharger specialist, “King Tut” Todd Tutterow—and Tutterow agreed to help Smith get up to speed with a blown combination and a new car.
“I’ll still race at NHRA, but I’m not going to chase their rules or a championship there anymore. They should’ve jumped on the ProCharger combination for parity last year. It’s disrespectful to the racer to let a new combination dominate for so long. They’re killing the class with the rules,” lamented Smith, who commissioned Jerry Bickel Race Cars to build a new, 25.1 SFI certified 2021 Chevy Camaro to be able to run in non-NHRA series, as well as at several Outlaw-style events and big-money races. “If NHRA doesn’t figure something out soon, they might as well shut the door because this is what happened to Pro Stock fifteen years ago… and Pro Mod might not come back.”
Smith’s new Camaro is powered by a 526ci Hemi that Tutterow built using a Noonan Race Engineering block and matching heads. VP Racing’s M1 methanol fuels the bullet via a Rage system, and Lucas Oil products provide all the necessary lubrication throughout. In NHRA trim, the blower will be a Mike Janis Superchargers roots-style unit while a screw blower will be installed for other events.
Having always run a Lenco transmission and Browell bellhousing with his nitrous combinations, Smith’s latest ride also sticks with the lever action, although a Ty-Drive converter drive has been added as well.
Out back, the Camaro is equipped with a Bickel-built rearend housing and center section from Lazarus Race Cars. For NHRA use, Smith will set it with a 4.57 rear gear, while a 5.29 rear gear will be in play for Outlaw races. Meanwhile, JRi shocks in the front and Penskes in the rear round out the no-nonsense setup.
“I do want to run NHRA in 2022, but I’m smart enough to realize I won’t be up front right away. It’ll take me a while to learn this combination, even with Todd [Tutterow] there to help,” he affirmed of his plans. Smith hopes to be able to make one NHRA Pro Mod event in 2021 with his new Camaro, though, if only to get data prior to the start of the following season. “You can test all you want, but it’s hard to simulate an NHRA track. The only way to do that is to be there.”
Smith is in no hurry to make waves, though, as he expects to take his time and see where the supercharged setup takes him. Having a blower car means he has more avenues to race and be competitive, however, and he is feeling positive about the opportunities ahead.
His current primary sponsor, Sokal Digital, is sticking with Smith for the new venture as well and he has been enjoying the multi-year partnership. “I got hooked up with them through my friend Junie Michael who owns Parkway Ford in Winston-Salem, North Carolina,” Smith explained, grateful for the partnerships that have helped him continue his successful racing career. “Parkway Ford was on my Pro Stock cars in the late ‘80s when I was winning championships there, too.”
Smith’s relationship with Michael over the years has meant that the driver always had a Ford truck in his fleet, although he’s also backed by Capital Chevrolet in North Carolina.
“Well, Junie [Michael] is a Ford man, and I have another car on order…” hinted Smith, who noted that an announcement should be coming towards the end of 2021. “I’ll have two blower cars next year—one will be from GM and one will be ‘something else.’”