POMONA, California -- Richie Stevens Jr. (don't call him "The Kid" anymore) was on a whirlwind path to the top of the Pro Stock Car class in 2002 before he had to cut short his season to run his family business in New Orleans while his dad Richie Sr. underwent heart surgery.
It's 2005, Richie Sr. is healthy, and Richie Jr. returns to Pomona Raceway this weekend for the 45th Annual CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals aiming to repeat his 1998 Pro Stock victory as a rookie on this quarter-mile. This time he's in a new ride, the Team Mopar HEMI-powered Dodge Stratus from Don Schumacher Racing, tuned by legend Bob Glidden.
In all, he won four events in seven final rounds and qualified No. 1 one time through 2002 and is ready to add to that tally in the season opener for the 2005 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
"I'm just looking forward to this first race," he said. "I haven't been to Pomona in a couple of years, it's good to be back.
"It's really exciting to go out there knowing that you have a good car, a good crew and a good team. Not that I have not had the best in the past, but we've always raced on a budget and to come out here and know you have the best parts and if there's anything you don't have you can get it, it's a cushion in your mind."
Recent pre-season tests in Bradenton, Fla., and Houston gave the new team an opportunity to jell and to tweak the all-new Dodge Stratus. "I think we'll have a car that's capable of qualifying," he said following the Houston Pro Stock SuperBowl, where he reached the final round of an exhibition race. "If you can qualify and get in the field and you're part of the show on Sunday I think you definitely have a chance to win. It might be up to the driver, it might up to the car, one or the other or both, on Sunday."
Stevens qualified No. 1 for the exhibition race (6.707/205.51) and faced Dave Connolly in the final round, which took place in late evening. With moisture affecting the surface of the track, both cars struggled to get to the finish, with Connolly taking the win.
"We couldn't have started off the year any better than we did at Houston," said the 26-year-old Stevens. "We qualified No. 1, we made some really good runs up until the finals and everything was going good. I think it was just the track going away going into the finals. It got late, the dew was on the track, and Connolly and I had the same problems. It was just whoever coasted to the end first, and it was him.
"I'm more than happy with how everything went and I'm really looking forward to going to Pomona now." Dave Connolly, along with reigning Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson and Jason Line will be among Stevens' toughest competitors this year. "We're ready for them," he said.
"I think we'll qualify well at Pomona. We'll have good elapsed times, hopefully it will turn out good. I know that Glidden wants to start off slow and work at it. I'm game for whatever he wants to do. I feel like as of right now with the testing we've done that we have a car that's capable of qualifying and if it's capable of qualifying it's definitely capable of winning."
SCHEDULE:On Thursday, Feb. 10, one professional qualifying sessions will be held at 2:30 p.m. On Friday, Feb. 11, another pro qualifying session is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. On Saturday, Feb. 12, two final qualifying sessions will take place at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 13.
TELEVISION:On Saturday, Feb. 12, ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 10:30 p.m. (ET). On Sunday, Feb. 13, ESPN2 will televise three hours of eliminations at 7 p.m. (ET).
RICHIE STEVENS JR. QUICK FACTS:
- With dad Richie Stevens Sr. owns Stevens Collision Center in New Orleans
- Has longtime relationship with associate sponsor Valspar
- Capped off rookie season in 1998 with a victory in his first final-round
appearance (Pomona 2)
- Has four wins in seven final rounds, one No. 1 qualifier to his credit
- In 1999 he became the eighth member of the Speed Pro 200-mph Pro Stock
Club with a 200.08 mph run in Richmond, Va.
- Competed in Roy Hill's Pro Mod car in 2004, with a semifinal finish at the U.S. Nationals his best result