Rickie Smith knew it was time for a change. The 11-time series champion felt it after the NHRA Carolina Nationals in Concord, NC. Then, at the PRI show in December, he announced a big change.
Smith announced that Strutmasters.com would become his new major sponsor heading into the 2020 season. Along with the announcement, he showed off his brand new Camaro, built by Jerry Bickel.
The story of Rickie Smith and Strutmasters
Until this point, Strutmasters founder and owner Chip Lofton has been known as “the champion of drag racing’s little guy”. However, he landed a racing legend in Smith.
Lofton is completely aware of the magnitude of this signing. In an interview with CompetitionPlus, he explained that his status as a lifetime racing fan was a big motivator.
"Growing up in the Carolinas and being a Pro Stock fan and a Pro Mod fan, I never thought I could reach this place where I could sponsor him," said Lofton. "He lives to race and races to live. He's been one of those guys that have figured out a way to do it."
Not one to miss an opportunity, Lofton called his fellow Tar Heel and made a plan for him to visit his strut-building facility in Roxboro, about two hours away.
In addition to being the location of Strutmasters’ headquarters, Roxboro is a town with a serious racing history. It’s the place where “Trickie Rickie” cut his teeth as a Modified racer and later became a legend in the Mountain Motor class.
Two racing fans working together
But it was Lofton’s love of racing and cars that convinced Smith to get on board.
"He's just a down to earth person," said Smith of Lofton. "I had no idea what I was getting into as far as knowing what he'd done and what he loved when I first met. It wasn't hard to see his love for the sport. It was like hitting three home runs in one game to find a sponsor who loves racing as I do."
Following a visit to the Strutmasters Museum, where Lofton keeps his personal collection of classic automobiles, Smith and Lofton reached an agreement.
"You always want to be involved with somebody who really likes racing, and I didn't have to talk him into loving racing," Smith said. "That's a 200% start right off the bat when the people that you are dealing with love racing. It just makes everything go a lot smoother.”
After spending a day together, the two were left wondering why they hadn’t done this sooner.
"Rickie came and talked to me," said Lofton. "I just thought it legitimizes my other teams as well, to have somebody successful like that part of our team. Rickie gets television time because he's a character.”
Strutmasters and Smith a winning combination
As his career starts to draw down, Smith is happy with the decision to partner with Strutmasters, and not just because of Lofton’s credentials as a drag racing die-hard.
"I've had some really good sponsors, but I feel excited about this deal with Chip,” said Smtih. “He owns the company and doesn't have to call anybody or go get a board meeting or whatever to say, 'Yeah, we're going to do this."
"He's got the power to make the moves,” said Smith of Lofton. “And that's the way he likes to deal with things. In automobile racing, you've got to make that move at that time. If you wait too long, people pass you up. Chip can make the moves when he wants to make them."
Smith’s long-held reputation as a bona-fide winner was also a major part of the equation, admitted Lofton.
"It doesn't hurt that on any given Sunday; he can bring the Wally home.”