Stevens re-ups with Valspar Refinish

NEW ORLEANS (Jan. 20) -- Richie "The Kid" Stevens, the popular 22-year-old Pro Stock pilot who is often billed as one of drag racing's most prominent young drivers, has signed a major sponsorship contract extension with Valspar Refinish and will...

NEW ORLEANS (Jan. 20) -- Richie "The Kid" Stevens, the popular 22-year-old Pro Stock pilot who is often billed as one of drag racing's most prominent young drivers, has signed a major sponsorship contract extension with Valspar Refinish and will remain as an independent, full-time racer on the 24-event NHRA circuit.

"The program we've put together with Richie Stevens is very important to our growth," said Tim Wesolowski, General Manager of Valspar Refinish Automotive O.E.M. and Warehouse Specialty Products. "As Richie's success on the racetrack has grown, so has our success in the marketplace.

"This program is a great way to increase the name recognition of Valspar Refinish and our House of Kolor custom paint line. Plus, all of our customer's are race fans so it's nice for them to associate closely with one of the best drivers in the world and to go and visit with Richie and the team at the races.

"Richie's a fantastic spokesman for us. He is always the center of attention at the various auto shows and national trade conventions he attends on our behalf. The Stevens' shop in New Orleans has also used our products for years. We're proud to be associated with this team."

The deal, which is bolstered by a sharp increase from General Motors and the Pontiac brand, ends a stomach-turning off-season for Stevens. At first he was informed that his title sponsor of the last two years, Valspar Refinish, might be forced to substantially cut his funding. At that point there was some question as to whether he and his father, Richie Sr., would even be able to field their family-owned entry.

A few weeks later, Stevens received a phone call from Team Mopar owner David Nickens offering him a seat in one of his two factory-backed Dodge rides. While Stevens was contemplating the offer, which included Stevens bringing his Valspar Refinish funding to the Dodge camp, Valspar Refinish and Pontiac both made counter offers to keep things the way they were in 1999 and 2000. In the end, citing an overwhelming desire to keep their own team moving forward, the two Stevens men elected to sign contract extensions with Valspar Refinish and Pontiac.

"For a time there nobody knew what was going to happen," the younger Stevens said. "But it turned out great. We've now got the funds to get through the year without having the added pressure of having to win a certain amount of rounds just to pay for everything.

"The Dodge deal almost happened. If I hadn't heard from Valspar and Pontiac for another 24 hours I'd probably be a Dodge Boy right now. David made a nice offer. The thing is everyone wants to have their own deal and that was always our first choice if we had the choice to make.

"It's great to be staying with Valspar. They were my first big sponsor and it's very cool that we found a way to keep the relationship alive. I know all the people over there and they're all like family. Valspar has definitely a big part of my success. Pontiac and Snap-On Tools also stepped up big-time. Without them, none of this would be possible."

Stevens, the youngest Pro Stock winner of all-time and a perennial Top 10 points finisher, has now turned to a frantic preseason testing schedule. His crew chief and clutch tech, Tommy and John Utt, were dispatched to Jerry Bickel's shop in St. Louis to pick up their first of two 2001 Pontiac Grand Ams the team has ordered. They will now meet Stevens and head to Houston Raceway Park for some much-needed testing laps.

"We've got a lot of work to do breaking in this new car," Stevens said. "Hopefully, the weather will be nice and we can get in a bunch of laps. If anyone in the world can get a car together and ready to race in a short amount of time, it's Tommy and John. We should be ready to roll by Pomona."

Due to time constraints, Stevens will compete in a plain white car for the first two events of the year. The month off between Phoenix and Gainesville, Fla., will allow for the familiar Valspar Refinish paint scheme to be applied.

-Robert Geiger

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Series Automotive , NHRA