Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – BAYTOWN, TX – With visions of a fourth world championship in the talent-heavy E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service season, the 2018 season couldn’t have started any better for longtime standout Rickie Smith.
The three-time world champion won the season-opening event in Gainesville, taking the early-season points lead in his nitrous-powered Bahrain 1 Racing Chevrolet Camaro. But with 11 races remaining and the class deeper than ever heading to Royal Purple Raceway as part of this weekend’s NHRA SpringNationals, Smith knows there can’t be any let-up in his approach.
“The biggest thing in Gainesville was we made four good runs in a row (during eliminations),” said Smith, who has 12 career E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service wins. “We’ve been struggling with the automatic and we haven’t figured out how to be consistent. But we got lucky and ran our own pace in Gainesville. We don’t want to go to Houston and not qualify. That can happen real quick if you struggle on a couple of runs. You would hate to go and not qualify, so we’ve got to qualify decent and get ready to race on Sunday.”
The race, which is presented by Tige Boats, is the second of 12 events during the 2018 E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service season and will be shown on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) and Fox Sports 2 (FS2). Steve Matusek is the defending Houston race winner.
Smith missed a handful of early-season races a year ago, eliminating any chance he had for a world title. He finished with a win in eight races on the season and a ninth-place point finish, but seems intent on improving on that in 2018. Even with decades of success and championships in multiple categories, Smith remains motivated for more wins and titles, in part because of the incredible competition he’s currently facing off with in the class.
“I’ve been saying it my whole life, but when you hate to lose as bad as I do, it makes you work harder,” Smith said. “This is what I love to do. The older I get, the harder it is to get yourself pumped up, but the big thing for me is just staying focused and doing my job. I like to be a robot in the car and there’s so many other things going on, that’s where I try to strive. I try to know what’s happening and really try to keep my focus right.”
It’s imperative in a loaded class that has 29 entrees this weekend at Royal Purple Raceway. The list includes 2017 race winners Mike Castellana and Stevie “Fast” Jackson, who each won two races and finished second and third, respectively, also Shane Molinari, and Sidnei Frigo. As well as other standouts like former NHRA Pro Mod world champion Khalid AlBalooshi, Todd Tutterow, class newcomer Chad Green, Jim Whiteley and two-time Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders, who makes her class debut this weekend.
That level of competition brings out the best in Smith, who also gets a tremendous thrill in trying to tackle the massive challenge of driving a Pro Mod car that traveled the quarter-mile in 5.794 seconds at 249.76 mph in his final-round win over Mike Janis in Gainesville.
“This Pro Mod thing, it’s just a bad to the bone class,” Smith said. “These are mean-handling cars. They’re on the verge of what may look like nice runs and they are, but one little move out of the groove and you can be in trouble. They are definitely a challenge.”
Featuring the world’s fastest and most unique 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. 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.
E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service qualifying begins Friday, April 20 with two qualifying session at 3:15 and 5:30 p.m., continuing with the final two qualifying session on Saturday, April 21 at 12:45 and 3:30 p.m. Round one of eliminations takes place on Sunday, April 22 at 12:15 p.m.