After being out of a race car for two years, Stephen Leicht got the opportunity of a lifetime to slide behind the wheel of the No. 36 Golden Corral Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing at Richmond this past weekend.
[media-credit name=”Photo Credit: prweb.com ” align=”alignright” width=”200″][/media-credit]And the young driver took full advantage of it, staying out of trouble, finishing the race right behind Chase contender Matt Kenseth, and taking the checkered flag in the 24th position.
“That was a great night for us,” Leicht said. “I was very proud of the entire Golden Corral TBR team.”
“We weren’t very good when we unloaded and in practice on Friday,” Leicht continued. “We completely aborted the first set up we had in and completely changed the race car.”
Leicht admitted that not only did his team work hard on the car, but he also had to work hard on himself particularly as he had not been in a race car for over two years.
“We got it driving good and then jumped up a little bit on the speed charts in the second practice,” Leicht said. “Part of it was me not being in a car for two years and part of it was the race car. But all in all, the team did a great job all weekend and I thought we ran pretty well in the race.”
After being away from the sport, Leicht experienced many emotions when the command to start engines was given under the lights at Richmond, ranging from relief to anxiety to intense focus and just trying to have fun.
“It was relieving to be back in the car,” Leicht said. “I’ve spent a lot of time preparing myself and you’re always anxious the first time back in a race car.”
“You want to be smooth and fast and do well but at the same time, you’ve got to be cautious because you haven’t been in a car in a while,” Leicht continued. “But the guys gave me such a great race car, that it really was easy to focus on what I was doing. And racing with some of the best in the world was a lot of fun.”
“I thought I’d be really nervous but to be quite honest, I was so focused,” Leicht said. “The car was locked in the points so that gave me the opportunity to just race.”
“Knowing that going in, I tried not to get nervous and just focus,” Leicht continued. “I was very surprised that I was able to do that.”
Leicht said that the opportunity to drive the Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 36 came about three months ago, after a conversation with the team owner.
“I’ve known Tommy (Baldwin) since back in our Yates days in 2006 and 2007,” Leicht said. “Basically, I had some sponsorship opportunities coming up and he was working on some stuff as well.”
“He said, ‘Let’s go do some testing and we’ll see how that goes,’ Leicht continued. “Things just clicked and we got to go to Richmond.”
Leicht admitted that he faced many challenges in the 54th Annual Wonderful Pistachios 400. One major challenge was getting the car to handle on short runs in addition to the long runs, as well as handling his own physical reaction to being behind the wheel.
“For us, we had two biggest challenges, one was that our race cars just would not go on re-starts,” Leicht said. “We definitely have to work on our shorter run package.”
“Personally, my biggest struggle was that my body was not used to all the heat in the race cars for that long of a race,” Leicht continued. “It’s a different world out there and you definitely have to be in shape. I got pretty dehydrated in the race. But all in all I thought everything went great.”
Leicht said that another major challenge for him was balancing racing hard for himself while also respecting the drivers in the Chase, as well as those trying to make the Chase. And he was definitely cognizant of the beating and banging that went along with that.
“I believe I came on the radio about 50 laps into the race and asked if they always wrecked that much,” Leicht said with a chuckle. “There was a lot going on and I was dodging a lot of stuff out there.”
“You want to do great as a team and as a driver and for your sponsors, but at the same time with me not running for points and the team not being in the Chase, we had to be respectful of the ones trying to make the Chase and the ones locked into the Chase,” Leicht continued. “It definitely changes the game plan a little bit.”
“But all in all, I think we were able to balance the two well,” Leicht said. “I was very pleased with the outcome.”
With the Richmond race in his rear view mirror, Leicht is now focused on the upcoming race at Chicago in which he plans to start and park for Tommy Baldwin Racing. After that, there are no further formal plans in the work.
“I’m not sure about anything else at this point,” Leicht said. “We’re just focused on trying to make the race at Chicago this weekend and you never know, there could be an opportunity for getting some more laps in this year.”
“I just know that we’re focused on what we’ve got going on sponsorship-wise for next year,” Leicht continued. “Our goal for next year is full-time racing, myself and (Dave) Blaney.”
“That would be awesome because Blaney is a great guy and a great driver and it would be awesome to be teammates with him.”
Although Leicht’s focus is now on continuing his Cup career, he has a long history in racing, starting at the young age of six in go karts. And for Leicht, racing was his savior as far as keeping him out of trouble.
“It was my parents’ way of keeping me out of trouble,” Leicht said. “I was kind of a bad little kid but I loved to race so much that my parents told me if I stayed out of trouble, they would allow me to race.”
“It didn’t take long and I was winning a bunch of races, Leicht continued. “Then it became more than a hobby and became a passion of mine. And I’ve been doing it ever since. I can’t get enough of it.”
When asked what one word would best describe him as a racer at this stage in his career, Leicht said simply, “Determined.”
He then shared a caveat to the determination, that of being very grateful and very proud.
“I’m very proud of the TBR organization,” Leicht said. “And I can’t thank Tommy Baldwin enough for this opportunity.”