HOUSTON (April 13) -- A little over eight years ago, a 12-year-old kid from New Orleans named Richie Stevens followed his sportsman-racing father and namesake to Houston Raceway Park in Baytown with a shiny new junior dragster in the family's...
HOUSTON (April 13) -- A little over eight years ago, a 12-year-old kid from New Orleans named Richie Stevens followed his sportsman-racing father and namesake to Houston Raceway Park in Baytown with a shiny new junior dragster in the family's small race trailer. By the end of the weekend, the group headed home with a first-place trophy in the car, only this time the name on the trophy had "Jr." added on the nameplate.
Now, in the dawn of a new millennium, the entire Stevens clan heads to Houston once again, this time in a giant 18-wheel rolling race shop complete with a crew of top-notch mechanics and an extremely competitive Pontiac Firebird Pro Stock racecar inside. But despite the obvious changes brought on by a big corporate sponsor and the driver's laundry list of professional accomplishments, the young kid inside still wants to leave town the same way he did in his pre-teen years - as a winner.
"I'll never forget this track or that weekend," said Richie "The Kid" Stevens, who now pilots the title-contending Valspar Refinish car. "I had never even seen a drag strip before. I was the happiest kid in the world when I won that race. I had no idea I'd end up racing for a living, but back then I didn't care. We've sure come a long way since then."
The first pro to ever graduate from the Junior Dragster ranks, Stevens has been on a fast track to success since the day he turned pro. In his rookie season of 1998, he won the Winston finals, becoming the youngest pro winner ever at the age of 19. He also raced well enough over the course of the season to earn ninth place in the prestigious Winston championship points standings.
The following season brought even more accolades. Stevens logged 26 elimination round wins, set the national elapsed time record, participated in the Holley Dominator Duel, joined the exclusive Speed-Pro 200 mph Pro Stock Club, and finished the year a career-high fifth in points.
"I've been very lucky in my career to have all the tools you need to win," said Stevens, who also benefits from Warren Johnson horsepower. "My family has always been there for me, I've had the best crew chief (Tommy Utt) in the NHRA since I started driving, we have the total support of a great, great sponsor with Valspar Refinish, and I've always had great engines. I couldn't ask for more.
"Houston is my home track. All my friends and family will be here and I'd love to end up in the winner's circle again. Maybe we can get history to repeat itself."
The elimination rounds of the 13th annual O'Reilly Nationals presented by Pennzoil will be broadcast from 4:30-6 p.m. (ET and PT) Sunday, April 16 on TNN.