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NHRA: Stevens Feels First Pro Stock Victory is Near

15 September 1998

READING, Pa. -- The talented crop of rookies entering NHRA competition this season in every professional category is overwhelming. The youngest, 19-year-old Richie Stevens, is proving he's more than just the runt of the litter.

With strong performances that produced semi-final appearances at Dallas, Columbus, Ohio and Sonoma, Calif., Stevens' Collins Racing Pontiac Firebird has been turning heads in the Pro Stock pit area. He joins Jeg Coughlin as one of two young guns making waves in the category this season.

As far as goals, this rookie driver is focused on improving his position in the tough Winston point standings.

"We're just trying to stay in the top 10," said Stevens, currently ninth in the standings following the U.S. Nationals. "We're kinda getting a handle on things and developing a feel for setting the car up for the different tracks and conditions. We've got a brand new team this year and it's taken a little time to learn some things. But we're moving in the right direction."

Stevens, of New Orleans, will try to continue his move up the NHRA Winston points ladder with a strong showing at the 14th annual Pioneer Electronics Keystone Nationals, Sept. 17-20 at Maple Grove Raceway. The $1.6 million race is the 17th of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Stevens, who drives for Virginia-based Ostrich farmer Shawn Collins, says so far the team's efforts have well exceeded his expectations.

"We didn't think we'd qualify at the first race this season, but we did and made it to the second round," Stevens said. "We were thrilled with that. That was an awesome weekend. Since then we've qualified for a couple of races and made it to a few semifinals. I think we've had a good year. It's been a learning experience this year. If the season would end right now I'd be very happy with our performance. We'd be in the top 10 and I couldn't ask for anything more."

Stevens, who started his racing career in junior dragsters just three years ago, has had to develop a quick toughness to deal with the intensity of trying to compete in one of NHRA's toughest professional categories.

"The competition is tough over here," he said. "You've got the veterans like Warren and Jim Yates who are always tough, then you have some young guys like Jeg Coughlin and Tom Martino who are good on the lights. You can't take anybody easy."

His season highlight to date has been his qualifying performance at the Autolite Nationals.

"We qualified fourth at Denver and then went to Sonoma and qualified No. 1 ahead of Warren after Friday's sessions," Stevens said. "That made us feel pretty good. Warren came back the next day and had a good run and took the top spot away, but we still ended up being second in between Warren and Kurt (Johnson). It made us feel good and showed everybody that we were a contender."

Stevens can't wait to get his first win. He feels like it is just around the corner

"(When we do win) I think it'll make us feel a lot better," Stevens said. "We've had a lot of good times this season but we've earned everything. I haven't had any luck this season. Everything I have I won has been by inches, and everything I've lost has been by inches. We just need a little luck and hopefully we can get a win soon. Hopefully it'll be this weekend at the Pioneer Keystone Nationals."