Gateway Richie Stevens Preview

'Kid' happy to be staying up late ST. LOUIS (June 18) -- To battle the excessive heat encountered in the past, the organizers of the annual Sears Craftsman Nationals drag races had a fantastic idea - run the entire event at night. Now, instead...

'Kid' happy to be staying up late

ST. LOUIS (June 18) -- To battle the excessive heat encountered in the past, the organizers of the annual Sears Craftsman Nationals drag races had a fantastic idea - run the entire event at night. Now, instead of hoping the spectators and participants merely survive the event, which takes place this year June 24-26 at Gateway International Raceway, track officials hope to provide the fans of Greater St. Louis with a unique race under the stars that will be cool in more ways than one.

"The fans are going to love this race and so will the drivers," Pro Stock upstart Richie "The Kid" Stevens said. "If you think about it, the fans are always the craziest on Friday night during the one session when we normally do run at night. When these racecars are shooting flames up into the darkness, it's awesome to see. At this race, they'll get that same fireworks show every day, including Saturday when the title is on the line."

The new format calls for qualifying sessions beginning at 3:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. Thursday and Friday with final eliminations beginning at 4 p.m. Saturday.

"You won't hear any complaints from the drivers," Stevens said. "If you think it's hot in the stands, try sitting in a racecar with a firesuit and helmet on. It was brutal last year. I remember dipping my head in the ice chest on more than one occasion. I know it'll still be warm and I don't expect huge numbers, but it'll be a lot of fun running at night."

Stevens, 20, has been having fun all season behind the wheel of his 200-mph Valspar Refinish Pontiac Firebird. He currently holds the No. 3 spot in the Winston championship points standings and has amassed a 14-7 record in elimination racing, which is second only to points leader Warren Johnson. Stevens has also posted a national event win (Englishtown, N.J.) and two runner-up finishes (Atlanta and Richmond, Va.) in 1999.

"This Valspar car has been running great," Stevens said. "I'd like to get back in the finals in St. Louis and see if we can get another win. If I can win another race or at least go a few rounds at every event, we could easily finish in the Top 5 this year. That would be huge for us. I'm sure the other guys are wearing their cars out in testing trying to find the right combination to move up. We've been lucky enough to get a nice head start."

The St. Louis event will mark the first for Team Valspar without clutch technician Mike Green, who moved over to Ron Krisher's pit. While the team looks for a replacement for Green, Stevens will be assisting crew chief Tommy Utt under the hood.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson , Ron Krisher