This weekend’s three-way world championship battle isn’t seven-time champion Rickie Smith’s first rodeo.
Smith, who races a nitrous-injected, EFI Pro Modified Camaro in NHRA competition, entered this weekend’s NHRA Big O Tires Nationals needing to outlast both Mike Castellana and Troy Coughlin to win the title. Coughlin and Castellana meet in the second round.
Saturday’s first round victory only exemplified the weekend he’s had at The Strip at Las Vegas. Smith scored a massive holeshot on the starting line against tardy Donald Martin but as he crossed the finish line, exploded the engine in a ball of flames and launched the hood scoop into the air.
Smith recorded a 6.048 run at 232.87 as his IDG-sponsored Camaro limped off the end of the strip.
“The stress of this wouldn’t be so bad if we had a consistent car,” admitted Smith. “We’ve tested everywhere but we are struggling. Some of the problems have been electrical and others have been other things. Just seems like the last three races, and on Friday, we were plum out in left field. Up until this race, it has been stuff outside of our control.”
Smith tested last week in Las Vegas in conditions vastly different from what he faced on Friday. Last week, he ran in an adjusted altitude of nearly 4,000 feet above sea level but this weekend, the conditions improved to the point, the high-altitude track has measured at 2,800 feet. The major atmospheric turn has thrown the cagey veteran a curve ball.
“This motor, when it gets in cool air, with the fuel injection, for some reason, it just gets stupid good on the starting line,” explained Smith. “It’s blowing through low gear so fast that it is crazy. I’ve been taking out gear ratio and timing from it. I’ve been detuning this thing so hard to get through low gear this has me stressed out more than battling for the championship.”
Smith, whose past titles came in IHRA Pro Stock and their sportsman Super Modified division, has maintained a simple philosophy over the years.
“You just have to go out there and race hard … let the chips fall where they may,” said Smith. “When things go on that I cannot control is when I tend to get stressed out.
“To have a chance to win, you just have to make yourself go up there and race. It’s hard to do sometimes but it’s what you have to do. You cannot give it away. You can’t go up there trying to do the impossible. Most of the times this is when problems happen.”
In the past, I have always liked to be in control of my Sunday destiny.
“I’ve always known where the car is,” said Smith. “I always knew if I needed to I could get after it a little harder. These last two races, it’s almost as if I don’t know where I am at with the car. I am totally lost and I don’t know why.”
And, while this aspect for Smith is a different kind of rodeo than he’s accustomed to, he still feels he can overcome it.
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