THE FIRST TIME FEELS GOOD FOR STEPHEN LEICHT by Matthew Dillner
ARCA Teen Picks Up Big Win and Guitar at Nashville
If you turned on the radio in 1977, it was very likely that you may hear a group of British musicians named Foreigner screaming out the lyrics of, “It Feels Like the First Time.”
That song was popular ten years before ARCA rookie and Robert Yates Racing Development driver Stephen Leicht was even born.
Now in 2006, the 19-year-old is no foreigner to victory lane after picking up a big ARCA RE/MAX Series win for the very first time at Nashville Superspeedway.
“This first win has to be right up there as far as biggest moments of my career,” said Leicht, after winning in his second career ARCA start. “I put this above or right at my Newport win against Gary Helton (Late Models) back when I was 14 years old. Back then, being 14 and winning a race was pretty cool. Now being 19 and winning this race with the cars that were here with guys like Steven Wallace, seven-time champion Frank Kimmel, our teammate Justin (Diercks) is just as big. I would say this win is number-one right now.”
The first win didn’t come easy for Leicht. Even though he appeared to have the race’s most dominant car, he had to come from deep in the field after an off-sequence pit stop to get the win.
“We didn’t pit early like everyone else did because our fuel
With the race over, it was time to celebrate. But how?
“I’ve never done a doughnut before,” laughed Leicht. “I come down the front stretch and they said, ‘are you going to come through the grass?’ I didn’t know what to do because I had never done that before. I put it on top of the track and turned it down wide open in first gear. The doughnuts came easier than I thought they would. You can actually control pretty good. That right there is the most fun moment of my career.”
Leicht had to get around his Driver Development teammate, Justin Diercks, to get the lead. Shortly after the pass, Diercks tangled with a lapped car and crashed. The incident took a little pressure as well as a little bit of the fun factor away from Leicht.
“We got a little tight at the end of the race, but Justin and I were almost the same speed. If it weren’t for lapped traffic, I don’t know if I would have gotten a good enough run to get underneath him. We were two-wide, three-wide, four-wide. I don’t even remember how many cars we had together in that pack. He and I had a blast out there and I hated what happened to him because I was looking forward to having him right behind me for the last ten laps.”
With Diercks out of his mirror, Leicht and his gas tank made it to the end and crossed the line first ahead of first-time ARCA competitor Brad Coleman for the win.
Stephen Leicht is a Robert Yates Racing Development Driver.
“I’ve never played a guitar before and I don’t even think I will try. It’s going to look a little better sitting there than it would with me trying to play it. I told the guys they could have it and we can hang it on the shelf at the shop so everyone can see what these guys have done. I didn’t feel like I did much out there. I think this win just shows what type of team we have.
“This is pretty cool. I mean a minute ago in victory lane I was like, ‘no way, I’m not here.’ I couldn’t convince myself. To have finally gotten here with all the time and effort my family has put in since I was five years old is just a big weight lifted off of my shoulders. To finally have made it and to actually win a race and make that big of a leap into a career that we are trying to set for our life is great.”
After winning his first ARCA race at Nashville, it looks like the 19-year-old has plenty of first times ahead of him behind the wheel of a racecar.
After the smoke cleared from his front stretch doughnuts, Stephen was handed one of the most unique and sought-out trophies in the racing world, the Nashville Guitar.
“I’ll tell you what, I was sitting in that drivers meeting and saw the guitar and thought, ‘man that would be so cool to have.’ With 15 laps to go it hit me. If I cross the line with 15 laps to go where I’m at right now, I’m going to get that guitar. That feeling took over my entire body. It’s just unbelievable to be able to come here and do that.”
Leicht loved winning in ARCA for the first time, but was not too keen on the notion of playing a guitar for the first time.
mileage didn’t allow us to. We were actually sweating it with a few laps to go because we weren’t sure if we were going to make it. They were telling me ‘save fuel, save fuel’ for the last five cautions of the race after our one-and-only pit stop. Those other teams must have had real good fuel mileage to come in as early as they did.
“When we came in, we came out of the pits 20th. To come back through that and get caught up like we did at the end is awesome. That is the most fun way to win a race…to come from behind and with 20 or so to go, you catch the leader. To win the race like that, I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.”
Liecht does doughnuts for the first time in his career. The crowd loved it.