Pro Mod: Von Smith Gainesville preview

Von Smith begins quest for championship as NHRA AMS Staff Leasing Pro Mod Challenge opens season. GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 15, 2004) - In the final four events of the 2003 season, Von Smith was the hottest driver on the NHRA AMS Staff ...

Von Smith begins quest for championship as NHRA AMS Staff Leasing Pro Mod Challenge opens season.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 15, 2004) - In the final four events of the 2003 season, Von Smith was the hottest driver on the NHRA AMS Staff Leasing Pro Mod Challenge, an NHRA exhibition class. This weekend, as the AMS Staff Leasing Pro Mod Challenge opens its season at the NHRA Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway, the 40-year-old Smith begins his quest for the 2004 championship.

Smith, who assumed the driving duties of the Lipar Racing-owned supercharged, methanol injected, 2003 Ford Mustang GT at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in September of last year, went to the final round in all four events he raced, winning the final two -- the NHRA O'Reilly Auto Parts Fall Nationals in Dallas and the NHRA AC Delco Las Vegas Nationals.

The Oak Ridge, Tenn., driver's performance in those four races earned him an eighth place finish in the final 2003 DRO/NMM Pro Mod Cup point standings. This despite the fact that he didn't earn any points at the Dallas event. Smith entered the event as an alternate and AMS Staff Leasing Pro Mod Challenge rules stipulate that a driver who competes from an alternate position does not earn championship points.

Nevertheless, Smith accumulated enough points and showed enough potential in 2003 to make him a front-runner for the 2004 DRO/NMM Pro Mod Cup.

Smith cut his teeth on Top Alcohol Funny Cars (TAFC) on both the IHRA and NHRA circuits. In 1995, with veteran engine builder and crew chief Howard Moon by his side, Smith began his assault on the IHRA TAFC class. Smith gained a top ten finish that first year but was already looking to 1996.

In 1996, he served notice that he had found a place in Top Alcohol Funny Car, advancing to nine semifinals, five final rounds, winning two of the 10 national events contested that season. His consistent performance won him the first of three IHRA TAFC championships. He dropped to second in points in 1997 before claiming back-to-back championships in 1998 and '99.

One can mark 1998 and 1999 as two years of domination in TAFC on the IHRA circuit for Smith. In '98, he set several elapsed time national records and ended the year with a new standard in total wins with five. 1999 turned out even better as he rewrote the IHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car record book. Of 11 IHRA events contested in '99, Smith competed in nine final rounds winning seven. For his outstanding performance, Smith was named the 1999 IHRA Driver of the Year.

He started the new millennium once again finishing runner-up to the top spot. In the five year span from 1996-2000, Smith won three TAFC IHRA championships and finished runner-up twice. In 2001, he moved to TAFC on the NHRA circuit.

Here, in one of the toughest classes on the NHRA circuits, he also made his mark. In 2001, he finished No. 5 nationally and second in Division 2, which comprises Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Puerto Rico. In 2002, he moved up a notch nationally, to fourth, and won the Division 2 championship.

Returning to his IHRA roots in 2003, he ran six of the 12 events on the TAFC circuit and finished No. 7 in points before assuming the driving duties of the Lipar Racing-owned 2003 Ford Mustang GT Pro Mod for the final four races of the 2003 NHRA AMS Staff Leasing Pro Mod Challenge.

The change in mid-season didn't seem to hurt Smith from a driving standpoint.

"I believe a good driver is capable of driving any type of car," said Smith. "The first time I tested the Pro Mod, I was all over the track. I learned quickly that you couldn't drive the Pro Mod as aggressively as you can a Funny Car. Also, it took some adjustment to get use to where you drive the two cars from. In the Funny Car, I sat in the center of the car, but the Pro Mod is a left-side drive. Other that that, I feel I adapted rather well. The challenge made it easier for me.

"I attribute a great of my success to my crew chief Howard Moon.  I can
get out of the car and tell him what the car is doing or not doing.  It's
uncanny.  We can look at each other after a pass and go, yep that's the
move I'd make too.  Howard and I gel very well."

Lipar Racing, Von Smith, Harold Moon and crew will vie for both the NHRA AMS Staff Leasing Pro Mod Challenge championship, along with the IHRA Pro Mod championship in 2004. The team's past performance says don't sell them short but Smith says there will be plenty of competition to go around.

"There's enough good drivers and teams out there," reflected Smith.  "The
addition of Scotty (Cannon) changes the whole persona of the class.  You
can't mention Pro Modified without mentioning Scotty.  Scotty will win on
will alone.  I'm looking for an extremely competitive season.

"On the nitrous side, you will see Rickie Smith and Shannon Jenkins step up. The supercharged cars will win on numbers alone. Mitch Stott, who won IHRA last year, and Fred Hahn, who won NHRA, will be tough. Quain Stott, Thomas Patterson and the names go on and on. Anybody can win this year. We should be in the hunt, whether we win it or not. If fate or luck or destiny is on our side, then we can win the whole thing."

Howard Moon says, "Our outlook is very positive. I see some big things for this class over the next year. I feel the performance of a lot of teams will pick up as soon as the season starts. We plan to be ready when the first green light blinks. Our plans call for us to content for both championships."

Regarding running for the two championships, Smith adds, "The burden is not on me. I'm the lucky guy who gets to drive this Lipar Racing Mustang. The burden is on everybody else -- mainly the crew and sponsors. My work schedule allows me to get away when I need to and be where I need to be. The pressure is usually on everybody else."

The first of 10 scheduled events on the NHRA AMS Staff Leasing Pro Mod Challenge gets underway when qualifying begins Friday, March 19.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Fred Hahn , Thomas Patterson , Shannon Jenkins , Rickie Smith , Von Smith