A hurricane survivor – can he overcome budget cuts?

R_Stevens.jpgRichie Stevens sent an email to his major sponsor Mopar thanking them for sticking with him despite a tough 2007. That was two weeks ago when the New Orleans, Louisiana-based driver believed he had a program for 2008.

Stevens wasn’t being naïve. He said he was told by Mopar that his program was moving forward in 2008.

Stevens admitted that he never got a reply to his email.

Late last week, Don Schumacher Racing and Stevens fell victim to budget cuts to the Mopar’s motorsports program, reportedly handed down from the highest of the upper management.  

The drag racing budget was slashed 30%, making the team Stevens drives for expendable.

I haven’t gotten the first phone call, text message or nothing from Mopar. I wrote them the letter of thanks and it was never replied. I feel left in the dark. If Don hadn’t called me, then I wouldn’t know anything. - Richie Stevens

Stevens holds out hope that Schumacher will be able to generate a backer in the 11th hour, but he’s still entertaining options, one of which includes a prominent GM team. He’s also had talks with GM’s director of motorsports Fred Simmonds as well.

DSR campaigned the car under the Johnson & Johnson umbrella for the latter half of the 2006 season and throughout 2007. 

“The timing of how it all played out caught me by surprise,” said Allen Johnson, teammate and engine supplier for DSR. “They had assurances the deal was intact. That decision came down from upstairs in a rash of budget cuts.”

Johnson confirmed that his sponsorship with Mopar will remain fully intact for 2008 leaving Chrysler with only one fully funded Pro Stock team. Reportedly this cutback also affects what the corporation is spending in NASCAR as well. 

This cost-cutting measure still affects Johnson’s team as they will lose their primary engine lease customer.

“I’ve been talking with a few teams about taking that team car spot,” Johnson said. “I’m confident that we will have a team car whether it is Richie and Don or someone. Whoever can come to the table will get it.” 

Johnson declined to reveal those names but admitted there were a handful of current Mopar runners as well as a few GM teams inquiring about the opening.

This comes as yet another blow to DSR, who has lost U.S. Army major backing for their Pro Stock Motorcycle team and major associate funding from Brut as well as Valspar in the last few months. Losing the Pro Stock team could leave him only in nitro racing.  

“I’m scrambling on a lot of fronts and a lot of areas,” Don Schumacher said. “I’m trying to keep things together.

“When you’re dealing with a corporation like Mopar, when the chairman of the board says to cut the budget, the people in charge don’t have a choice. The only choice they have is to follow the direction of their boss.” 

The DSR cut isn’t the only change in store for Mopar as longtime motorsports director Kevin Miller is reportedly headed over to the U.S.A.C. community. A new director will be named soon.

Schumacher has company as a team owner scrambling at the 11th hour for a replacement deal. Team owners as Don Prudhomme (Funny Car), Jim Dunn (Funny Car), Connie Kalitta (Top Fuel), Max Naylor (Pro Stock) all experienced sponsorship non-renewals in 2007. 

As for Stevens, he’s taking a vacation and will deal with the driving issue in the next week or so. He’s heavily weighing those options and not counting out DSR for 2008. He's also rumored to be driving a second car for Greg Hill in 2008. Of course, there's always the rumors suggesting that he's considered as the  successor to Warren Johnson.

“Anything is an option and has to be better than what I’ve got now,” Stevens said. “I didn’t really pursue anything at the end of the season because I felt like everything was going to be fine. 

“I’m not even opposed to nitro racing – in a Funny Car. Top Fuel – I’m not against that. But, I don’t really want to go that route but if it comes down to December and I don’t have anything -- that would be option. Obviously, my first choice is Pro Stock and that’s where I’d like to be. I’d rather be racing something than sitting out.”