SHINNSTON, W. Va. – Feb. 22, 2011 – Josh Richards might have left Florida without a victory, but not without his champion’s confidence. Despite going winless through his mid-winter trip to the Sunshine State for the first time since 2006, the soon to be 23-year-old from Shinnston, W.Va., flashed plenty of the speed and consistency that has brought him two consecutive World of Outlaws Late Model Series titles. He was one of just two drivers to qualify for all 13 features contested over the two-week, three-track dirt Late Model extravaganza and he came oh-so-close to pulling off an unprecedented fifth straight win in the WoO LMS season opener at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville.
“This is the first Speedweeks that we haven’t won at least one race in five years,” said Richards, who is beginning his eighth campaign behind the wheel of his father Mark’s Kentucky Fuel Corporation/Seubert Calf Ranches Rocket No. 1. “That’s obviously disappointing, but we also know the competition is so tough and you can’t win ’em all. I feel like we were good, but things just didn’t go our way like they have in the past.
“Everybody worked hard and did an awesome job, though, so I know we still have a great team. We’ll just put this stretch of racing behind us now, move ahead and try to win races.”
After Richards’s initial attempts to kick off his 2011 schedule in the familiar Mark Richards Racing Enterprises mount were thwarted by three consecutive rainouts at Georgia tracks from Feb. 3-5 (he did win a heat race on Feb. 3 at Screven Motor Speedway before the program was postponed to Nov. 2), the driver known as the ‘Rocket Man’ headed to Florida. He began his extended stay there with six nights of Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Winternationals competition at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton behind the wheel of the Ernie Davis-owned Rocket No. 25.
Richards was at the one-third-mile track outside Tampa, qualifying through a heat race for five of the six A-Mains. He registered a top finish of fourth in the 50-lap nightcap of the rain-necessitated day/night doubleheader on Feb. 11; his other finishes were 21st in the 30-lap feature on Feb. 8; 12th in the 30-lapper on Feb. 9; ninth in the afternoon 30-lapper on Feb. 11; 18th in the afternoon 40-lapper on Feb. 12; and 21st (after a late tangle) in the 75-lap evening finale on Feb. 12.
Back in his father’s Rocket mount for a DIRTcar UMP/All-Star Late Model Series co-sanctioned special event on Feb. 13 at Ocala Speedway, Richards made a bid to sweep the night. He set fast time, won a heat and spent more than half the 50-lap feature distance battling for the lead with Austin Hubbard before settling into second place – the spot he was running when he popped a right-rear tire on lap 46 mere seconds after Hubbard had slowed with a flat tire of his own.
Richards, who salvaged a fifth-place finish after pitting at Ocala, spent the next six days competing in the 40th DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH at Volusia Speedway Park. He was incredibly steady during the six-night meet, qualifying for every feature through a heat race and finishing outside the top 10 in just one A-Main. But while Richards’s finishes were solid – in DIRTcar UMP action he placed fourth twice (30-lappers on Feb. 15 and 16), sixth (40-lap finale on Feb. 18) and eighth (30-lap opener on Feb. 14), and in the pair of WoO LMS 50-lappers he finished 14th (Feb. 17) and eighth (Feb. 19) – he didn’t get the checkered flag he craved.
The 2011 WoO LMS lidlifter, however, nearly fell to Richards. He made a breathtaking charge forward from the seventh starting spot to grab the lead from Scott Bloomquist of on lap 29 and appeared headed to a fifth straight season-opening win, but on lap 41 he hit the ample cushion between turns one and two and ceded the top spot back to Bloomquist. With his right-rear damaged, Richards spent the remainder of the distance hoping to hold on to a runner-up finish – and unfortunately, on the final lap, the wheel finally broke off exiting turn two and he limped around the track to a 14th-place finish.
“I wanted to win that race so bad,” said Richards. “I wanted to win it for five in-a-row, and I was trying to win that one for Darrell (Lanigan, who was unable to enter the WoO LMS season opener due to illness). That would’ve been our 29th Outlaw win and we drew pill No. 29 (Lanigan’s number), so with him missing the show, if we would’ve won I was going to dedicate it to him.”
Richards tried to cap the DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH with a victory in the WoO LMS finale on the eve of the Daytona 500 but came up short. He climbed as high as fourth from the eighth starting spot in the 50-lapper before losing several spots on a lap-seven restart and never getting them back.
“We were kind of cruising in fourth, but that last restart we got shuffled back a little,” said Richards. “(Dan) Schlieper came down a little – just racin’ – and I shoved a little bit, so I just went straight to the top and ran there for about six or seven laps. My tires just got hot and chewed off, and by the time we got to the bottom we were just kind of holding on. I feel like our car was better than where we finished, but circumstances left us eighth.”
Richards, who left Volusia ranked eighth in the WoO LMS points standings but third among drivers who are expected to follow the tour fulltime, plans to make his next start in the WoO LMS Cash Cow 100 weekend on March 18-19 at Columbus (Miss.) Speedway.
For more information on Josh Richards, visit www.joshrichards.com.
Josh Richards’s No. 1 team carries support from Rocket Chassis, Kentucky Fuel Corporation, Cornett Racing Engines, Seubert Calf Ranches,Ernie D’s Enterprises, ACE Metal Works, Petroff Towing, Tony Stewart Racing, Sunoco Race Fuels, Hoosier Racing Tires, Integra Shocks, Slavic Custom Decals, Valvoline, AEM, ATL Fuel Cells, Aurora Bearing Company, Autolite, Banshee Graphics, Barnes Systems, Beyea Performance, Brinn Transmissions, Brodix Cylinder Heads, Braswell Carburetion, Butlerbuilt Seat Systems, CV Products, Dohm Cycles, Dyer’s Top Rods, Fram Filters, Frankland Rearends, Howe Racing, LSI, MSD Ignition, Outerwears, Performance Bodies, Performance Friction Brakes, Performance Rod & Custom, Rand, Ringers Gloves, Scott Performance Wire, Simpson Race Products, Sweet Manufacturing, Tel Tech, TWM Racing Products, Trick Carbon Fiber Driveshafts, Jones Racing Products, TurboStart Racing Batteries, Ultra Lite Brakes, US Brake, Weld Racing Wheels, Will Kinzer Foundation, Wehr’s Machine, Wilwood and Wrisco Aluminum.