Richards Made A Triumphant Return To World of Outlaws Late Model Series In 2013
After Year Away On NASCAR Circuit, West Virginia Star Marched To Third Career Championship On National Tour
By Kevin Kovac, WoO LMS P.R. Director
CONCORD, NC – Nov. 27, 2013 – If Josh Richards had realized his greatest racing ambition in 2013, he wouldn‘t have won the World of Outlaws Late Model Series championship.
But make no mistake: even though Richards’s dream of breaking into the NASCAR stock-car big leagues didn’t come to fruition in ’13, capturing the $100,000 WoO LMS title was still a very big deal for the young motorsports superstar.
Richards, 25, of Shinnston, W.Va., made history as the first three-time WoO LMS champion since the national tour was restarted in 2004 under the World Racing Group banner, capping a spectacular season that saw him return as a dirt Late Model regular following a ’12 campaign spent largely concentrating on NASCAR Nationwide Series action.
“To take a break (from dirt racing) like we did (in 2012) to pursue other opportunities and come back and win (the championship) this year is pretty unreal,” said Richards, whose previous points crowns came in 2009 and 2010. “It was disappointing that things didn’t work out with the NASCAR stuff like I would’ve liked, but we had to move on. We focused on winning another Outlaw championship and were able to do it.”
Richards, of course, would have preferred to spend the 2013 season racing fulltime on a high-level NASCAR circuit – that, after all, was his ultimate goal when he left the World of Outlaws trail early in 2012 to relocate to Charlotte and gain pavement experience with a second-tier NASCAR Nationwide Series team. But dirt Late Model racing is – and always will be – the core of his being, so, after failing to land a NASCAR ride, he showed no signs of regret about rejoining his father Mark’s familiar Valvoline-sponsored Rocket Chassis house car operation.
“Coming back to dirt was probably the easiest part of the whole situation to deal with,” said Richards, who made 14 NASCAR Nationwide Series starts in 2012 with a top finish of 16th in the July event at Daytona International Speedway. “Anytime you pull in the racetrack you just want to win – and last year, with the Nationwide car, the equipment we were in just wasn’t capable of winning. We knew it was capable of 20th-place finishes and that was as good as it would be. If we could finish in the top 20, that was like a win for us.
“So when you get back into equipment that’s capable of winning – like I know our Late Models are – you just feel good about going out there. A racer always wants to win.”
For Richards, the time he spent away from dirt racing was well spent. While the move south didn’t result in a fulltime NASCAR ride, it turned the driver once known as ‘Kid Rocket’ into a new man.
“As hard as it was to walk away (from dirt racing), it was definitely the best thing I’ve ever done,” said Richards, who headed off to focus on NASCAR in April 2012, seven races into the WoO LMS season. “I met a lot of great people, very important people – including, obviously, my wife-to-be (Andrea Cleveland) – and I learned a lot about myself. I mean, I had never even lived outside of my (childhood) house, so just being away and learning to do things on your own a little bit differently was something new.
“I was kind of able to take a break. This is my 10th year of racing and I had done eight years straight on the tour – it’s all I had ever done for a paycheck. A break was definitely worthwhile.”
Indeed, upon returning to the clay fulltime this season, Richards was recharged for a WoO LMS championship assault. With a winter of laser-focused preparation in the shop behind him, he jumped right back into the World of Outlaws wars as if he had never left.
Richards burst out of the starting gate on the 2013 WoO LMS. During the season-opening stretch of February racing in Georgia and Florida he won twice (Feb. 9 at Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania, Ga., and a $20,000 special-event score on Feb. 17 at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla.) and finished outside the top five just once in eight A-Mains (a seventh-place finish on Feb. 22 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., after a mud-covered helmet shield forced him to pit).
After finishing second to Shane Clanton in the lidlifter at Screven and then tying Clanton for the top spot in the points standings with a victory the following night, Richards seized sole possession of the points lead after the season’s third race and never looked back. He was tailed closely by Clanton through the spring but steadily pulled away over the second half of the schedule, ultimately clinching the title with a third-place finish in the next-to-last race, on Nov. 8 at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C. He put a cherry on top of his campaign with a triumph in the World Finals finale on Nov. 9, giving him a career-high 10-win WoO LMS season and a 150-point championship margin over Darrell Lanigan that ranks as the third largest in tour history.
“This year was just kind of a blur,” Richards said after accepting his championship trophy during the WoO LMS awards banquet on Nov. 10 in Concord, N.C. “It feels like we just started Speedweeks in Georgia and Florida, so it’s hard to believe it’s over and we won the championship again.
“It was such a fun season,” he continued. “We started off and everybody just clicked. We picked up a new crew member in Cody Duncan and he did a phenomenal job working with my dad and Matt (Barnes, the 2013 WoO LMS Crew Chief of the Year). We were able to get back in our rhythm and just kept the momentum up all year long.”
Aside from trailing Lanigan’s 12 wins on the WoO LMS checkered-flag list, Richards led the circuit in virtually every meaningful statistic. Over the 46-race season he had the most top-five finishes (32); top-10 finishes (41); fast-time honors (seven); heat wins (24); laps led (451); and money won ($342,970, including points-fund cash). In addition, he appeared in just two B-Mains all season, didn’t use a single points provisional to start a feature and completed 2,400 of the campaign’s 2,450 A-Main laps.
As sparkling as his performance record was, Richards’s march to the championship wasn’t without its trials. It wouldn’t be a title worth savoring if there hadn’t been some moments of uncertainty that tested his resolve – like, for instance, the six-race stretch from May 30 at Delaware International Speedway through June 25 at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park. Richards managed to register just one top-five finish during that span, which ended with a dismal 13th-place finish at Canandaigua that shrank his edge in the WoO LMS standings to a precarious eight points.
Demoralized but not defeated, Richards responded to the slump in magnificent fashion. He pulled off a historic $42,000-plus sweep of the June 27-29 Firecracker 100 at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pa., winning both 30-lap preliminary features and the century grind to push his points lead back to 44 points. His advantage never slipped below 28 points the rest of the season.
“Every racer’s been there at some point,” Richards said of the most struggle-filled portion of his season. “Any true racer gets frustrated. There’s time you don’t run well and you’re frustrated because you don’t know why. You start to question yourself: What am I doing wrong? What do we need to do as a team? For us to be able to work past that and figure out what we needed to do, that’s what it takes to win championships.”
Richards encountered a few more speed bumps during the summer and fall, including his only DNFs of ’13: a 17th-place finish on Aug. 5 at Independence (Iowa) Motor Speedway (broken oil pump) and a season-worst 19th-place finish on Sept. 13 at Belle-Clair Speedway in Belleville, Ill. (busted ring-and-pinion). But he handled the miserable outings with his trademark even-keel outlook, staying cool, calm and collected amid any problems or controversies swirling around him.
“My personality has always been real laid-back,” said Richards, explaining his ability to block out potential distractions. “A lot of people think that most laid-back people aren’t as successful as the go-getters or whatever, but I guess, really, I’m a mix between both. I’m really laid-back and there’s a lot of things that don’t faze me, but when it comes time to strap in and race, that’s when you put your game face on and do the thing you love to do. You try to do it well, which is what I’ve always done because of the passion I have for racing.”
Richards did it wonderfully in 2013, certifying his elite status in the dirt Late Model business with a season that met all his lofty expectations.
“For me personally, the thing I wanted to do most this year was not just get stuck in the same rut of, ‘Josh can only win if it’s fast and rough or when you have to drive hard,'” said Richards, who won 16 features overall in 2013. “That type of racing has always been my strong suit, but this year I wanted to win in a wider band of tracks and series. You always want to push yourself to improve and I feel like we did that. We won not only with the Outlaws, but also the Lucas Oil (Late Model Dirt) Series, the NDRL series, (DIRTcar) UMP – we won in every series we competed in this year.
“It was really cool to not only have the success we did with the Outlaws – the 10 wins, the 23 top-three finishes in 46 races, the championship – but to prove ourselves and represent our team across all of dirt racing and show we’re a true contender. You go back and look at all that and it’s pretty incredible what we were able to accomplish.”
And to think Richards is still just 25 years old…
“Being 25 with three World of Outlaws championships already – it’s pretty crazy,” said Richards, who debuted as a dirt Late Model racer in 2004 and won WoO LMS Rookie of the Year honors the following season. “Having never raced anything before starting at 16 and then to be standing here 10 years later with three championships and two runners-up (2008 and ’11) in our last five years running the whole series is pretty unreal.”
The 2014 WoO LMS season is scheduled to kick off in February with eight races at three tracks over a two-week period. Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania, Ga., kicks off the stretch with the ‘Winter Freeze’ doubleheader on Feb. 7-8, followed by the Late Model Winter Nationals on Feb. 14-16 at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla., and the WoO LMS portion of the DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit Racing Equipment on Feb. 20-22 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla.
The World of Outlaws Late Model Series is brought to fans across the country by many important sponsors and partners, including: American Racing Custom Wheels (Official Custom Wheel), Arizona Sport Shirts (Official Apparel Company), Armor All (Official Car Care Products), Hoosier Racing Tires (Official Racing Tires), KMC (Official Custom Truck Wheel), STP (Official Fuel Treatment), Vicci (Official Uniform), VP Racing Fuel (Official Racing Fuel), DirtonDirt.com (Hard Charger Award) and McCarthy’s One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning (Raye Vest Memorial Pill Draw Award); in addition to contingency sponsors: Butlerbuilt, Cometic Gasket, Comp Cams, Dominator Race Products, Edelbrock, Eibach Springs, JE Pistons, JRI Shocks, Klotz Synthetic Lubricants, MSD Ignition, Ohlins Shocks, QuarterMaster, Roush Yates Performance Parts, Superflow Dynos, Wrisco Aluminum and XS Power Racing Batteries; along with manufacturer sponsors Capital Race Cars, Integra Shocks, GRT Chassis, Jake’s Carts, Racing Electronics, Rocket Chassis, TNT Rescue, and Warrior Chassis.