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John Smith to drive Rock Racing Batteries Dodge Charger at 68th U.S. Nationals

Rock Racing Batteries and Rockingham Dragway sponsor John Smith's Dodge Charger. Contributed photo

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The 50-year long professional relationship between racetrack owner and public relations guru Steve Earwood and Funny Car drag racer Paul Smith will be celebrated once again this weekend when Smith’s son John drives the family car, a 300 mile-an-hour Dodge Charger, in the 68th renewal of the Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.

Earwood, who distinguished himself in the ‘70s and ‘80s as the NHRA’s National media relations director before realizing a personal dream of track ownership when he bought Rockingham Dragway in 1992, again will sponsor the Smith Family entry in the world’s biggest drag race through his Rock Racing Batteries business with an assist from the racetrack that has been his passion for the last 30 years.

“It’s become kind of a tradition,” Earwood said. “When I first started out promoting drag races, before I ever thought about working for the NHRA, I booked Paul into Gainesville Raceway in Florida for a match race in 1972. He was the first Funny Car driver I ever booked and it was the first time he ever was paid an appearance fee.

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“We’ve stayed friends ever since,” he continued. “I booked him into races whenever I could at tracks like the Texas Motorplex and Atlanta Dragway and Rockingham back when he was still driving. He doesn’t drive any more, but he’s still a heckuva racer and one of the best tuners in the business, especially on tricky racetracks and he taught both of his boys well.”

As a driver, Smith finished as high as No. 2 in NHRA national points (1974). He was runner-up to Billy Meyer at the 1980 NHRA Cajun Nationals at Baton Rouge, La., where he was the No. 1 Funny Car qualifier. Of his three wins on the rival IHRA circuit, one came in the 1986 Pro-Am Nationals at Rockingham in 1986, six years before Earwood bought the track.

John Smith, who with brother Mike has split driving time in the car tuned by their dad, lives in Anderson, South Carolina, with his wife, Rhonda Hartman Smith, herself a former NHRA Top Fuel driver, and their kids.

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