Brainerd: Richie Stevens Jr preview

BRAINERD, Minn. (August 9, 2000) -- Richie Stevens Jr. may be called "The Kid" but his skill on the racetrack speaks volumes about his maturity as a driver. In just three seasons on the NHRA Pro Stock championship tour, the 21 year-old New ...

BRAINERD, Minn. (August 9, 2000) -- Richie Stevens Jr. may be called "The Kid" but his skill on the racetrack speaks volumes about his maturity as a driver. In just three seasons on the NHRA Pro Stock championship tour, the 21 year-old New Orleans, La., native has made his mark with three career wins in six final rounds. At the 1998 Winston Finals in Pomona, Calif., he became the youngest driver at the age of 19 to win a Pro Stock race. Last season, "The Kid" had back-to-back runner-up finishes at Richmond and Atlanta before winning the Mopar Parts Nationals in Englishtown, N.J., on his way to a fifth-place finish in the points standings.

Now Stevens is coming off a much needed win last month at the Prolong Super Lubricants Northwest Nationals in Seattle, Washington, the first for the Valspar Refinish Pontiac Firebird team this season. He's hoping that his victory in Seattle will provide the momentum his Tommy Utt-tuned Pontiac Firebird needs to give him a second straight top-five and a third consecutive top-10 finish. The following question and answer session took place prior to his most recent win at the Northwest Nationals. The Colonel's Truck Accessories NHRA Nationals is the 15th race on the 23-event NHRA Winston championship tour. NHRA Heat can be seen on ESPN2 on Thursday, August 17, beginning at 6 p.m. Eastern. Television coverage of final eliminations can be seen on ESPN2 on Sunday, August 20, beginning at 4:30 p.m. Eastern.

How would you rate this year so far? "This year isn't what we expected it to be. We came out here with a goal this year to finish in the top three. Right now I'm not sure if we'll be able to do that. We just thought we would be doing much better at this point. I hope the second half of the season makes up for our loss in the first half. We're still in the top ten, we've made some rounds this year, and we've held our own. We were doing pretty well on the qualifying streak until Denver when we didn't make the show. It's not going as well as I wanted it to, but hopefully we will change that around here real soon."

What do you expect of the remainder of the season? "To take off where we left off last year. Last year by this time we had already been in three or four finals, and we had won a race. This year I've only made the semifinals twice, so if I could just make it to some more semifinals and final rounds I would be more than thrilled. Winning a race or two would be nice as well."

Do you feel there is another race somewhere that has your name on it? "I think so. We went to Seattle and we switched back to our old car with our own engine. I think we messed up running the new car because we don't quite have it figured out yet. I think we'll be doing much better with our own power. I think we can win a race towards the end of the season, hopefully Houston since that is my home track. I've always wanted to win that particular race. Any of them would be nice but that's the one I'd really like to win."

What are some of the things you've learned so far this season? "That you don't always get what you want. The last two years we've set goals and we've been able to achieve them. This year it's going to be hard to get what we want. We wanted to be one, two or three in the points race, and right now we're eighth so that's going to be hard to do. I've learned that I have no luck when it comes to drag racing and that's what you need a lot of. We need some luck on our side, and hopefully we can go from there and get back to where we need to be."

What does your dad's (Richie Stevens Sr.) involvement in your racing program mean to you? "He's really like the backbone of the team. He's the manager and he keeps everything in line. He goes out to get us sponsors, he's at every race and never misses a round of qualifying. That means a lot. He's been there since I started and I appreciate everything he has done for me. He's stayed up long nights, works long days and misses out on work at home. He devotes a lot of his time and dedicates his whole life to this racing team. He wants to be a part of it just as much as I do, and he does a great job. I hope he will continue to go on helping me as I get older."

Do you think you will always be considered as "The Kid?" I think I will keep the title until another younger guy or girl comes along in Pro Stock. But I think it will be something that sticks for a long time. You see these older guys that have had the same nickname since they were 19 or 20 years old, so it will probably stick with me, I'm sure."

How is your engine program coming along? "Going into the first race we didn't have any motor program whatsoever. We were working on our own but it wasn't developed enough for the beginning of the season. So we went and talked to Warren (Johnson) and kept talking to him and one thing led to another. We were able to talk him into helping us with an engine program for the whole year. He said he would go by round and that it wouldn't be a race deal. He knew we were working on our own program, but he said that whenever we needed it to feel free, it's there and they would keep it in their trailer. The first part of the season we used it a lot because we were struggling getting ours up to par. Lately, ours has come around. New Jersey was the first time that we really ran well with our own motor. Since then we've been up and down a little bit. We've been using his a little bit here and there. But the last two races we've used our own power. Rick is doing a great job at giving us the power, we've got two good motors right now and we're working on a third one. Hopefully it will come together so I won't have to rely on anyone else. I love using Warren's power because it's probably the best out there. But when you can have your own program, that's the way it needs to be, so you don't have to rely on anyone else."

Is there anything that you wish you would've done differently to increase your performance level? "I don't know what we could've done. We've got two good cars, and a good crew chief, and our own engine program now. We had access to Warren's motor. I think we've had the best of everything out here. You can always use more money -- that's always the case. I think we have the best of everything that we can afford. We have a good sponsor and my team is doing a great job with the Valspar Refinish Pontiac Firebird. We've got a lot more than most people, so I am very thankful for that. Hopefully we can keep going with it and continue to grow."

What are some future goals you have as a Pro Stock driver? "I want to win a championship! That's the main goal. Warren (Johnson) is talking about retiring in a year or two, and I would like to hop in his seat and keep that ride going. I think that GM Goodwrench is with him for seven more years and he's got to keep someone in the car for them. I'm trying to keep my foot in the door as far as being a candidate to be the driver of the car, but I would also like to win a championship. At least one before I am done. I don't plan on being finished with drag racing for awhile, but before my time's up, I want that championship."

How are you going to prepare for the U.S. Nationals? "The U.S. Nationals is a big race. We haven't really had a good record there. So far, I've raced there twice and haven't had the best of luck. But it's always been one of my favorite races. It's probably one of the first big races I went to when I was younger. It's one that I remember as always being one of the biggest events and the most traditional from an historical standpoint. It would be a nice one to win. Watching Mike Edwards win it two years ago was pretty emotional. As far as preparing for it, we don't do anything different then we do for any other race. It's just another race but you get one more qualifying session. It's a big race that's spread out over five days, but we just prepare for it like any other and just as serious." # # # #

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