POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 2) -- Last year's Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals marked a high point for Valspar Refinish Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens. He was just 20-years-old last November when he arrived at historic Pomona ...
POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 2) -- Last year's Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals marked a high point for Valspar Refinish Pro Stock driver Richie "The Kid" Stevens. He was just 20-years-old last November when he arrived at historic Pomona Raceway, a track that's closer to his father's age then his own, and had yet to get past the semifinal round of a race.
But undaunted, the rookie driver spent the season's final Race Day beating a pair of crafty veterans, Rickie Smith and George Marnell, and two of the top three drivers in the world, Kurt Johnson and Jeg Coughlin, to claim his first national event win. At the same time Stevens secured a place in the history books as the youngest Pro Stock winner ever and locked up the No. 9 position in the Winston points standings.
Now, one season later, a legal-age Stevens returns to Pomona to defend his title a confident co-team owner that has had a death-grip on the top five of the Winston championship points standings since mid-May. Stevens, who together with his father bought Shawn Collins' two-car operation in February, has burned up the series in 1999, winning another national event in four final-round appearances and logging an impressive 21 elimination-round wins.
The pride of New Orleans also briefly held the national elapsed time record, joined the Speed-Pro 200 mph Club, participated in the Holley Dominator Duel, reached three finals in a row, signed a two-year major sponsorship deal with the Valspar Corporation, and qualified for every national event since assuming ownership of the team in Phoenix.
"Winning that race in Pomona -- the birth place of drag racing, at the NHRA Finals, I'll never forget that moment," Stevens said. "Now, for the first time in my career I can come into a race as the defending champ. How cool is that?
"I look back to last year and I can't believe how much has changed. I'm so much more relaxed in the car now. I've raced everyone at least a couple of times and I pretty much know what to expect. There was a fair amount of pressure to get that first win. I knew all the eyes were on me and Jeggy was as tough a final-round opponent as you could have.
"Now we're getting used to going rounds. It's a very cool feeling to know you have the car that can win it all. We know this race is ours to defend and the entire Valspar team is really revved up. If I do my part behind the wheel we have a great shot at winning Pomona again."
Stevens will be staying in the Los Angeles area after the race, which takes place Nov. 11-14, for the annual NHRA Awards ceremony Nov. 16 where he will be honored, once again, as a top 10 finisher. He is also a finalist for the Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Road to the Future award that is presented annually to an NHRA competitor destined for future greatness.