CONCORD, NC – Dec. 22, 2010 – Josh Richards will spend the holidays Down Under.
The reigning World of Outlaws Late Model Series champion is leaving his native West Virginia’s cold, snowy conditions behind to enjoy a week of racing and relaxation in the summer sun of New Zealand, where he’s scheduled to compete in two events at Baypark Speedway, a quarter-mile clay oval located about 100 miles southeast of Auckland between the beach resort of Mount Maunganui and the city of Tauranga.
Richards, 22, will drive a Rocket Chassis dirt Late Model owned by veteran Tauranga racer Maurice Cowling in separate programs for the Super Saloon division – New Zealand’s featured full-fender class – on Dec. 27 and Jan. 1. He is slated to take on New Zealand Super Saloon champion Brent Emerson in a match-race duel and the rest of the division’s field in the regular racing, which includes the prestigious Super Saloon Grand Prix on New Year’s Day.
“I’m definitely excited about making the trip,” said Richards, whose only previous excursions outside the borders of the United States were for WoO LMS events in Canada. “I don’t really know what to expect, but I’m sure it’ll be a fun way to get away for a little bit and do something different.”
Richards connected with Cowling through Wisconsin dirt Late Model driver Terry Casey, who drove one of Cowling’s Super Saloon cars at Baypark in 2008 and earlier this year sold Cowling the Rocket machine that Richards will steer at Baypark. After Casey mentioned the possible trip to Richards and relayed to Cowling that Richards was interested, Baypark promoter Willie Kay stepped in and arranged travel plans for Richards.
The drawing power of American short-track stars like Richards is a proven winner for Kay, who has been flying U.S. standouts to New Zealand for special appearances throughout the past decade and in 2006 brought the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series to Baypark for three nights of sanctioned racing. Not surprisingly, Richards’s upcoming visit – as well as former WoO Sprint Car Series champion Sammy Swindell’s scheduled participation in Baypark’s Sprint Car show on Dec. 27 – is receiving major local media coverage, including a feature story (“Rocket Man To Fly In For Race Duel”) in the Dec. 22 edition of New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty Times (www.bayofplentytimes.co.nz).
Richards’s appearance at Baypark, however, goes beyond what his status as a national champion does for attendance. When he hits the track in a car that was built by his father Mark’s Shinnston, W.Va.-based Rocket Chassis, he will help introduce New Zealand’s fans and racers to full-blown dirt Late Model action. The current Super Saloon division runs under a more restrictive rules package than its U.S. cousins, using open rearends, torsion bars and more stock-appearing bodies.
“From what I’ve heard from Maurice, there seems to be a lot of interest in getting a real Late Model deal started down there,” said Richards, who in 2010 became the first driver in the modern era of the WoO LMS (2004-present) to win two points titles. “I hope I can help that by showing people how exciting Late Models are and answering their questions about them.”
A huge crowd is expected to witness Richards’s exploits at Baypark Speedway, which is part of a unique sports, exhibition and conference center near the surf beaches of the Pacific Ocean. The dirt track encircles a rugby field and is surrounded by 17,700 stadium-style seats, most of which are covered by a roof.
“It looks like a real nice facility,” said Richards. “I’ve seen some pictures of it on the internet, so I can’t wait to get over there and see the place in person. I don’t think there are many tracks like it.”
Richards is scheduled to begin his long journey to New Zealand on Thursday morning. Accompanied by his buddy Jared Hawkins, a young dirt Late Model driver from Fairmont, W.Va., who was recently hired to drive the Bobby Lake Motorsports No. 46 in 2011, Richards will fly from Pittsburgh to Chicago to San Francisco and, finally, to Aukland, New Zealand, arriving on Christmas Day. He will spend Sunday – the Boxing Day holiday in New Zealand – getting fitted in Cowling’s car and setting it up before heading onto the track on Monday night for the first of his two races.
Upon returning to the States after the first of the year, Richards, who celebrated Christmas with his family on Tuesday night, will dive back into his preparation for a 2011 season that will likely see him chase an unprecedented third consecutive WoO LMS championship. He will begin his Outlaw campaign on Feb. 17 and 19 with a pair of 50-lap A-Mains during the 40th annual DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla.
“We’ve been working hard building and rebuilding for the past month,” said Richards, who toils in his shop alongside his father Mark and car chief Matt Barnes. “We’ve worked mostly on rebuilding the car we ran at the end of the year – we’re planning to make it our primary car to start the season at Volusia – and we have a new frame sitting in the shop that we have to put together, so we have plenty to do.”
The DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH begin on Feb. 8 and run nightly through Feb. 19. Joining the WoO LMS action on the schedule is four nights of DIRTcar UMP Late Model racing (Feb. 14-16, 18); the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series (Feb. 11-13); the Super DIRTcar Series for big-block Modifieds (Feb. 16-19); the All-Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car Series (Feb. 9-10); and the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds (Feb. 8-15).
Ticket information on the DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH is available by visiting www.DIRTcarNationals.com or calling Volusia Speedway Park at 386-985-4402.
For more information on the WoO LMS, visit www.worldofoutlaws.com.
The World of Outlaws Late Model Series is brought to fans across the country by many important sponsors and partners, including Arizona Sport Shirts (Official Apparel Company), Armor All (Official Car Care Products), Hoosier Racing Tires (Official Racing Tires), STP (Official Fuel Treatment), SuperClean (Official Cleaner-Degreaser), VP Racing (Official Racing Fuel), DirtonDirt.com (Hard Charger Award) and Chizmark Larson Insurance; in addition to contingency sponsors Eibach Springs, MSD Ignition, Ohlins Shocks, Pink Carburetors, Pro Power Engines, Quartermaster, Rocket Chassis, R2C Performance and Wrisco Aluminum.