NEW ORLEANS (Dec. 6) -- Oftentimes billed as the future of NHRA drag racing, 22-year-old Pro Stock sensation Richie "The Kid" Stevens is facing the reality of not competing next season. Stevens' primary sponsor, Valspar Refinish -- a 200-year-old multinational supplier of coatings and varnishes -- has informed the team that they will return only in the capacity of an associate backer, leaving the entire Stevens Motorsports operation scrabbling to find additional funding.
"I simply can't afford to pay for this team out of my pocket," said team owner Richie Stevens Sr., who operates a successful paint and body shop in New Orleans. "The money it takes to put a competitive car on the racetrack every year is more than an individual can pay. I'm convinced we have provided all of our sponsors with as much exposure and coverage as possible. We just need to find another group that believes in us.
"We love Valspar and we've enjoyed our relationship with them. The problem is that they have just bought another huge company and budgets are being restricted across the board. They're extremely happy with what we've accomplished and they have expressed a desire to return as our primary sponsor in the future, possibly as soon as next year. The problem is, we might not be around by then. I just don't know if we'll survive.
"The pieces are all in place. We have the equipment, we have two brand new motors ready to go, and we have a 2001 Bickel Grand Am waiting to be painted. We just need to pick a color."
The younger Stevens has been a frontrunner since his first day in the professional ranks. After a long and successful Junior Dragster career, a fresh-faced teenage Stevens attacked the NHRA circuit in 1998 and worked his way through to a top 10 finish in the Winston championship points standings. It was at the final event of that season that Stevens won the AAA Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, thereby becoming the youngest Pro Stock winner of all-time.
Stevens continued his tear in '99 when he became sole owner of his team, winning another national event and reaching a career-high fifth place finish by season's end. Along the way, he scored his first national event pole, set and held the national elapsed time mark, and competed in his first Holley Dominator Duel for the sport's top eight qualifiers.
More accolades followed in 2000. Stevens won 23 elimination round races, pushing his career total to 64, and captured yet another national event win, giving him one win for every year on the circuit. As he had in 1998 and '99, Stevens earned a spot in the Dominator Duel and ended up in the top 10 of the points, this time in the No. 7 slot.
"I'm pretty proud of what we've accomplished in our first three years," the younger Stevens said. "I can't stand the thought of throwing it all away now because we don't have the funding to continue. We're beating on doors and going to talk to as many people as we can to try and come up with something. I've been lucky so far on the racetrack. Now I need some luck in the real world. Hopefully we'll catch a break here soon because 2001 is already very close."