Making the transition from a Legends Car to a Late Model has been a relatively seamless transition for 18-year-old Parker Stephens. In just his first year behind the wheel of a Super Late Model, the Olympia, Washington driver has turned heads on the West Coast during his rookie season on the SRL Southwest Tour.
On Saturday afternoon at Kern County Raceway Park (CA) in a non-points counting event, Stephens broke through with the most impressive performance of his young career. The second-generation racer scored the biggest win of his young career by winning the Veterans Classic and pocketing a hefty $11,700 pay check.
“I was super excited,” Stephens told Speed51.com powered by JEGS on Monday. “It’s by far one of the biggest wins we’ve had this year, especially since this is my rookie year still in Super Late Model racing as well as running with the SRL Southwest Tour.”
The win itself was thrilling for Stephens, but how he won the race and who he had to beat made it even more special. Crossing the finish line behind him was 24-time SRL Southwest Tour winner Derek Thorn and 10-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series West winner David Mayhew.
“Those two are definitely the best two that are in the West Coast to beat, right now at least, and they have been the best,” said Stephens. “It definitely shows that I’m in the right state of mind and that I’ve got my stuff together right now. It shows that I have the talent and can prove it by beating those guys.”
Stephens started the 125-lap race from the outside of the front row after qualifying second in time trials. He slipped back to fifth during the opening 50-lap segment, but during the competition caution the top-four including Thorn and Mayhew were sent to the back handing over the lead to Stephens.
From there, nothing was able to get in the way of Stephens and his journey to victory lane, not even a competition caution that set up a shootout with 25 laps to go.
“At lap 100 we had the competition yellow so you’d have a break with 25 to go and people had options to go to the back and this and that,” Stephens explained. “Mayhew, Thorn and I all decided to stay up front because we were going to go for the win.”
With momentum now in his back pocket, Stephens will now prepare for the SRL Southwest Tour season finale on November 22 at the Bullring at Las Vegas (NV). He currently sits third in the season point standings, 25 points back of leader Greg Voigt. He also leads the Rookie of the Year standings by 50 points entering the final race.
“We’re going to go there to win and whatever happens happens,” Stephens said of his plans for the season finale. “We kind of got screwed over at Utah when we were running second on the last lap and an eight-lap down car spun right next to us and took us out of the race on the final lap. We would be leading the points, leading the Rookie of the Year and all of that stuff but now we’re dropped back to third. All we can do is win the race and hope we get lucky.”
Although he isn’t in an ideal situation as he makes his way to “Sin City,” the one thing that Stephens has going for him is a load of confidence and momentum. The car he pulled into victory lane with on Saturday is a brand new race car that has yet to lose a race. He also has a group of people around him including his father Dirk Stephens and an established NTS Motorsports team that knows how to win races.
“It definitely helps surrounding myself with great people,” Stephens stated. “My dad has been there and done that. He ran the Busch Series, Trucks, he’s been there and done that. Having my crew chief Travis Bennett helping crew chief me and lead me to success helps me as well and also having a great team with NTS Motorsports.
“Having all of these people who have been there and done it, being able to listen to their advice helps a ton.”
Once the SRL Southwest Tour season is complete, Stephens will look forward to the 2nd running of the Winter Showdown at Kern County, the track which he just scored the biggest win of his career at.
“We’re excited for it,” Stephens said. “We’re going to take that thing back to the Winter Showdown in February and see if we can get $30,000.”
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Parker Stephens Racing