Richie Stevens Jr. is getting back in the saddle, at least for one race. Deric Kramer will miss the NHRA SpringNationals because of a fencing tournament, and Stevens will slot into the driver’s seat for Kramer for the second time. Stevens, a tour regular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, also drove the Kramer's second car in Denver in 2016.
Kramer has fenced since he was 18 and, now 31, is an accomplished fencer. Good enough to place third in the last tournament he competed in, that prompted him to move forward with the preseason plan to skip the Houston race: enter Stevens. It’s something of a hometown race for the New Orleans native, making this an easy contest for him to drop in on.
“It’s one that I can easily drive to, and it’s Erica’s home race as well, so it kind of works out for me too because a lot of my family and friends can come out to it, too,” said Stevens. “Hopefully we’ve got good weather. I know that race is known for not having good weather.”
Bringing back six-time champion Stevens was an easy choice for Dave Kramer, Deric’s dad and general manager. He fits into the laid-back attitude of the team, and Stevens’ relationship with crew chief Mike Hiner, which forged the initial connection, makes everything run smoothly.
“We all get along great, and Richie is just a great guy to be around,” said Kramer. “We gave Richie a heads up from day one that us [skipping Houston] was a possibility, and he said, ‘Just name the time and place.’”
Stevens and the Kramers are a good fit in more ways than one. The drivers are right around the same weight and height, which means limited, if any, modifications need to be made to the car to get it set up for Stevens.
“I tell them, 'Don’t change nothing for me so y’all can keep going with y’alls notes and data,’ ” said Stevens. “I’m just going to be there for one race.”
Stevens hasn’t gotten behind the wheel of a car since he last filled in for Kramer in Colorado last July. He knows there will be some nerves when he slides into the seat on April 21 in Houston, but feels he’ll get back into the groove quickly.
“It’ll be a little nerve-racking, but it’s just like riding a bike; it comes right back to you,” said Stevens. “Hopefully, we make some good runs and get them some good data.”
Is there anything he can do to prepare himself mentally for the long layoff?
“Absolutely nothing, man,” Stevens said with a laugh.
The driver, who last won the 2006 fall Las Vegas race, probably knows what he’s talking about. Although the American Ethanol Dodge Dart hasn’t gotten out of the first round yet this year, maybe some home cooking from Stevens can get the car on track.