Indianapolis: Stevens knows Indy's importance

INDIANAPOLIS (August 28) -- The biggest drag race of the year holds special significance for every driver in the NHRA. For three-time Pro Stock winner Richie "The Kid" Stevens, this weekend's 46th annual U.S. Nationals is almost larger than ...

INDIANAPOLIS (August 28) -- The biggest drag race of the year holds special significance for every driver in the NHRA. For three-time Pro Stock winner Richie "The Kid" Stevens, this weekend's 46th annual U.S. Nationals is almost larger than life.

"This one's the Big Daddy," said Stevens, the 21-year-old pro who won as recently as three races ago in Seattle. "For as long as I can remember Indy is the race everybody talks about as being the one race you have to win. It's almost like no matter what else you do in your career, if you don't win Indy, then you missed out. It's our Superbowl."

Stevens memories of "the Big Go," as the Indy event is known among the participants, reach much farther back then his fledgling professional career. Prior to his turn in the cockpit, Stevens and family spent numerous Labor Day weekends at Indianapolis Raceway Park as his father Richie Stevens Sr. raced his sportsman-class hot rod.

But for the past two seasons, it's been the younger Richie's turn and he hasn't disappointed, successfully qualifying his Valspar Refinish Pontiac Firebird both times and logging an elimination-round win last season after starting from the No. 4 position.

"The first hit on Friday night qualifying is usually the one that counts," said Stevens, who plans to exercise his option to rent a motor from five-time Winston champ Warren Johnson for this race. "I'm a little nervous about this year because we plan on running a Warren motor and we haven't used one of his motors in five races. Plus, the last time we did use his motor it was in the other car, which is set up differently.

"We decided to switch to a W.J. motor because Warren and Kurt have won seven of the last eight races in Indy and because Don Beverly will be running our other Valspar car. We just don't have enough of our own motors to run two cars and still have a back-up. It'll be harder on us to get the car set up for Warren's power but I have complete faith and confidence that my crew chief Tommy Utt can get the job done.

"Indy is a big race for so many reasons. It's the premier race of the year, our sponsors will be there in full force, and it starts a stretch of three races in three weekends. We only have eight races left all together so these three in a row become very important to how we're going to finish this year. Indy's first so it's the most important.

"Hopefully, I still have a long career ahead of me and plenty of Indy races left but I wouldn't be upset at all if I got my first U.S. Nationals win right now."

Same day television coverage of the U.S. Nationals will air Labor Day entirely on TNN. Qualifying and first-round action will be broadcast from noon-2 p.m. ET with final eliminations airing from 5-7 p.m. ET, Monday, Sept. 4.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson