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Hall of Fame Latest Honor for Five-Time IHRA Champion Rickie Smith

Thursday, 08 July 2021

Rickie Smith is glad to be known with the company he keeps.


The North Carolina drag racing legend is honored as a Pro driver in the inaugural International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) Hall of Fame class. Being part of another inaugural class helped Smith know he had made it as a drag racer.

“I’ve won 11 world championships and a lot of races,” he said. ”But, the biggest honor I had in drag racing was when they put my name on the Bristol Dragway tower. I went in as one of the first four (Legends of Thunder Valley). The first four were (IHRA founder) Larry Carrier, (NHRA founder) Wally Parks, (17-time world champion) Don Garlits and me. When you go in beside those three people, there aren’t any bigger names.”

Smith has made a big name for himself with five IHRA championships and 33 career professional wins (second on the all-time list).

He was a good athlete in school, a wrestler and a high school football player with scholarship offers from several college. But coming from a blue-collar background and being mechanically inclined, it was no surprise that racing won out over other sports.

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“I was raised up working on bulldozers and piddling on heavy equipment,” he said. “When I got out of school, I got a car and started running some local tracks like East Bend and Farmington.”

His first street car was a 1967 Pontiac Firebird and the first race car, a 1972 Chevy Nova. King was a racing fan growing up, but more of the circle track variety. His uncle would take him and his cousin to the legendary Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem to watch NASCAR short-track action.

While he first dreamed of trading paint on the round track, drag racing better suited his racing budget.

“I got the racing fever when I was 13, 14 or 15 years old,” King recalled. “The races at Bowman-Gray got me hooked, but I couldn’t afford to work on a car like that and tear it up. So I took my car and started racing at the drag strip.”

It wasn’t long until he was racing on the IHRA national tour. He won back-to-back Super Modified championships in 1976-77, beating the likes of John Lingenfelter and J.R. Gray.

When Smith stepped up in Pro Stock in 1979, he found the competition even tougher, counting Ronnie Sox and Warren Johnson as his fiercest rivals. After Johnson won titles in 1979-80, Sox followed in 1981. Smith broke through in 1982 with his first Pro Stock championship.

Lee Shepherd and Bruce Allen combined to win the next three titles before Smith put together a streak of four straight from 1986-89. He even tried his hand at NASCAR, running three races in the Busch Series (now Xfinity Series) in 1988 with a best finish of 16th at Myrtle Beach.

Smith ran a STP paint scheme on his Pro Stock car in the early 90s, similar to the one his longtime friend Richard Petty ran on the NASCAR circuit.

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Making his mark in both IHRA and NHRA competition, Smith is a three-time NHRA Pro Mod World Champion. But, his best memory comes from his days racing with the IHRA Pro Stock class.

It was a big step up from the Super Modifieds where he set the record with a 10-plus second run to the Pro Stocks, which ran eight seconds in the quarter-mile. Thanks to Smith, the Pro Stock times got even lower.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to set a lot of records and be the first one doing stuff,” he said. “My favorite memory was when I was the first guy to run in the seven’s in Pro Stock. It was at Rockingham in the early rounds of eliminations and they stopped the whole race and brought me across the scales.

”I didn’t know what was going on until we got to the starting line. They stopped the race and presented me an award since it was a really big deal at the time.”

Beyond the records, few racers can match his longevity and toughness. In his first race after emergency back surgery in 2020, Smith won the Pro Mod race at the NHRA Gatornationals.

Still going strong at 68, Smith has no plans to hang up his helmet.

“I’ve been doing it for 47 years and doing it for a living 40 years,” he said. ”A lot of people have done it 20 or 25 years, but I’ve been able to do it 40-some years at a fast, competitive level. If I’m not at the race track, I don’t know how to act. It will be hard to walk away from one day.”

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Last modified on Thursday, 08 July 2021