All Fairgrounds Front Runner division racer Stephen Collins wanted to do last year was win a race. Well, he not only did that, but he won the biggest one in his division of the year: The Front Runner race during the all All-American 400 weekend.
This year, he’s been had and up and down year, but that hasn’t stopped him from making it to the track every week, going for the top spot. “It’s going pretty good,” he said. “We’ve had a few setbacks and some motor problems. That’s because we were trying to get the maximum performance out of our engine. The first race back, we brought it home second and we’ve been finishing in the Top 5 ever since. We’ve gone from 18th in points to tied for fifth.”
He said the division is tough and there’s a lot of competition. “We try to keep the nose on the car and not tear anything up,” he said. “There are about 10 or 11 cars that could win each week.” He said he couldn’t be where he is without his dad and his fellow racers. “There are a couple of people who have offered me a ride if something happens to my car,” he noted. “That’s a good feeling.”
Collins has been running in the division since 2009, when he started last and finished seventh out of 26 cars. Collins races strictly at the Fairgrounds, the place he grew up watching his dad, Mark, race in the Limited Sportsman division.
“He even crewed with Dwayne Hudson, who’s helping out with our car now,” Collins said. “These front-wheel drive cars are different animals. And we’re all trying to figure them out. They’re backwards as far as the set up goes. At least as far as what they’re used to.” Collins said he’s “out there for fun. We’re out there to win races and the championship.”
He’s sponsored by Ferrous Processing and Trading, Sun Loan Company, Big Daddy’s Auto Lot, Scott St. John (from Georgia), Knight Farms and farm owner Brian Knight, Recycling Partners of La Vergne, Stones River Synthetics, Bullet Signs,Sweet Dreams Bakery, Dwayne Hudson Race Cars and Fabrication, and Gage Performance. He also credits Pest Doctor, the sponsor of the division who Collins said has “done lot to help the division. He’s put a lot of effort into it and turned it around. Now, it’s the best show of the night, week in and week out.”
Collins hopes to move up to Super Stock or Sportsman next year, but plans to keep his front runner car so he can “go out and play in that division, while I’m getting my butt kicked on the big track.”
His crew consists of his dad Mark, Dwayne Hudson, Paul Neighbors, Vincent Trapini, Stephens’s wife Laura, sons Landon and Austin and his mom Melodie. “My dad busts his ass to make sure we have a good car that’s really competitive,” Collins said. “He’s really competitive and doesn’t like for us to be in the back. He puts a ton of effort into the car. I wouldn’t be where I am without him.” He also credits his wife who keeps Collins’ self-esteem up. “She keeps me grounded and tells me it’s still a hobby that I do for fun, when I start to get down.
Collins said the thing that gets him going is the green flag dropping. “When they drop the green flag, a wave of adrenaline comes across me,” he said. “All I can see is the car in front of me and I figure out how to get around them. I want to be leading the races as soon as I get back around the track.”
He said he’s at the track, strictly to win races and represent his sponsors.“I want to reward them with a good solid finish, if not a win,” Collins said. “I want to put on a good show for everybody. I know what it’s like to sit in the stands. They want to see banging, bumping and rubbing. I am one of the cleanest drivers out there. Two years ago, the other drivers said I was afraid to get my car scratched. I used to watch drivers such as Mike Reynolds and Ricky Bolden. They could run door to door and never tear their cars up. That makes a good race car driver. I feel like I’ve accomplished something if I run a clean race. I don’t believe in flat running over somebody.”
His clean driving and ability to make it to the front made the fans vote him the “Star of the Week” in the Front Runner division on the Fairground track’s Facebook page last year. “We won by a landslide,” he said. “That really surprised me. I know we have a good fan base, but coming off one of our best runs ever, and that they thought we were deserving just blows me away. I thought that was pretty cool.” At the annual banquet this year, his car was named the “Best Appearing Car” out of all the quarter-mile cars. We pride ourselves on having a good-looking car.”