CONCORD, NC – Nov. 8, 2009 – Josh Richards didn’t look – or sound – like ‘Kid Rocket’ on Sunday night.
When the 21-year-old superstar from Shinnston, W.Va., stood behind the podium to accept his 2009 World of Outlaws Late Model Series championship accolades during the tour’s ‘Night of Champions’ Awards Banquet at the Great Wolf Lodge, he struck the pose of a confident, mature man.
“This has been my goal ever since I started racing,” said Richards, who ran a partial WoO LMS schedule as a 16-year-old rookie in 2004 and has entered every event since 2005. “It’s a dream come true.”
Richards received a $100,000 check as well as a custom-made championship ring and trophy for becoming the sixth different champion in as many years since the WoO LMS was reincarnated in 2004 under the World Racing Group banner. He clinched the prestigious title just 24 hours earlier one mile up the street at The Dirt Track @ Lowe’s Motor Speedway, where his seventh-place finish in the season-ending World Finals A-Main left him with a 14-point margin over 2007 WoO LMS champion Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky.
Nearly $400,000 in points-fund cash was handed out during Sunday’s sixth annual gala affair, which for the first time was held immediately after the World Finals in conjunction with the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series awards banquet. Awards ceremonies for each series were conducted simultaneously in separate rooms and then the evening concluded with teams and sponsors from both tours mingling at a post-banquet party.
Quiet and shy when he won the 2005 WoO LMS Rookie of the Year, Richards showed how much he’s grown up when he addressed the crowd of over 150 banquet attendees. He calmly expressed his emotions and thanked the supporters who helped facilitate his rapid rise to the top of the nation’s premier dirt Late Model tour.
“I’m one of the luckiest guys in the business to be able to do what I love to do,” said Richards, who has made every start of his WoO LMS career behind the wheel of his father Mark’s familiar Rocket Chassis house car. “My whole life has been racing – racing isn’t just a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. There’s a lot of things you have to sacrifice to do this, but it’s the life I’ve chosen and it’s been an awesome ride.
“There’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears to do this, and Steve (Francis) put up a hard battle all year. To come out on top over a guy like Steve makes it that much more special.”
Richards, whose share of the points fund pushed his total 2009 earnings on the WoO LMS to over $286,000, showed appreciation to a long list of backers, including sponsors Seubert Calf Ranches, Cornett Racing Engines, ACE Metal Works, Ernie D’s Enterprises, Petroff Towing, MCB Motorsports, Tony Stewart Racing, Ron Slavic, Sunoco Race Fuels, Hoosier Racing Tire and Integra Racing Shocks.
In addition, Richards singled out his parents Mark and Tina and younger sister Morgan; Rocket Chassis co-owner Steve Baker and his wife Sherri; crewmen Matt Barnes, Jimmy Frye and Joey Pinkleton and the staff at Rocket Chassis in Shinnston, W.Va.; and last, but certainly not least, several WoO LMS regulars who have provided guidance to Richards throughout his career.
“I wouldn’t be here without a bunch of these guys in this room,” said Richards, who led the WoO LMS with eight victories this season and now ranks second on the tour’s win list since 2004 with 20 triumphs. “Steve (Francis), Chub (Frank), Darrell (Lanigan), Tim (Fuller), Clint (Smith), Rick (Eckert) who’s not here (because he left to attend his car owner Raye Vest’s funeral) – everybody’s been behind me from the start.”
Mark Richards accompanied his son to the stage to receive the champion car owner trophy. After saying, “To do this with your kid is unbelievable,” Mark directed heartfelt thanks to many of his boy’s friendly rivals.
“There’s a bunch of drivers in this room who have been a big part of this – especially Steve, Darrell and Chub,” said Mark Richards, who enjoyed his first points championship as a car owner since he partnered with driver Rodney Combs to win the 1983 NDRA Late Model tour title. “I don’t know what to say to you guys, except, ‘Thanks for helping make Josh into a champion.’”
It was with some irony that the driver Richards outdueled for the WoO LMS title was the 42-year-old Francis, whom Mark Richards called “the biggest supporter and mentor throughout Josh’s career.” Francis acknowledged his long-standing relationship with Richards after walking to the stage with car owner Dale Beitler to accept his runner-up trophy and $60,000 points-fund check.
“I always wanted to see Josh win this championship – but like I said on TV (during the World Finals broadcast), just not necessarily at my cost,” said Francis, who settled for his fourth career second-place in the WoO LMS points standings (1989, 2004, 2005). “It came out that way in the end.”
Francis, who recently revealed that his two-year stint as Beitler’s driver has come to an end and he plans to return to the WoO LMS in 2010 with his own equipment and help from Kentucky car owner Tim Logan, hailed Richards’s accomplishment.
“Congratulations Josh,” said Francis, nodding toward the driver he watched take his first laps in a dirt Late Model. “I know how it feels to be where you’re at, and I know how hard you worked all year. We tried to keep you honest and make you earn it.”
Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., collected a $40,000 check for finishing third in the points standings after a late-season slump dropped him out of a three-way title battle with Richards and Francis. It marked the second straight season that the tour’s defending champion settled for third place in the points race.
Tim Fuller of Watertown, N.Y., received $35,000 for finishing a career-high fourth in the points standings, while Rick Eckert of York, Pa., pocketed $30,000 for placing fifth.
Eckert was the lone driver among the 14 with perfect attendance on the 40-race ’09 WoO LMS who was not in attendance on Sunday night. He headed home after Saturday night’s program to attend memorial services for his longtime car owner Raye Vest, who passed away last Wednesday and was remembered with prayers during the World Finals and Sunday’s banquet.
Rounding out the top 10 in the ’09 points standings was Shane Clanton of Locust Grove, Ga. ($25,000); Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa. ($24,000), who sported a badly bruised-and-bloodied right eye and cheekbone that was the product of being struck in his helmet by an apparent clod of clay during last Wednesday night’s Hungry Man Showdown qualifying at The Dirt Track (he sat out the World Finals action due to the injury); Brady Smith of Solon Springs, Wis. ($23,000); Clint Smith of Senoia, Ga. ($22,000); and Russell King of Bristolville, Ohio ($21,000).
King, 20, added another $10,000 to his banquet take-home pay for winning the 2009 WoO LMS Rookie of the Year award. He also received a $2,500 credit toward the purchase of a Rocket Chassis in a surprise presentation made by Steve Baker, who announced that the manufacturer plans to offer the prize to the highest-finishing Rocket Chassis campaigner in future Rookie of the Year points races.
The fourth WoO LMS Rookie of the Year in six years with roots in the Northeast’s DIRTcar big-block Modified ranks, King outdistanced Jordan Bland of Campbellsville, Ky., Brent Robinson of Smithfield, Va., Dustin Hapka of Grand Forks, N.D., and Tyler Reddick of Corning, Calif., in the rookie standings, which were determined using drivers’ best 30 finishes on the tour.
King’s fellow rookies were called to the stage for acknowledgement and each received a cash award.
“This is definitely a career moment,” said King, who was joined at the banquet by his parents/car owners Rex Sr. and Sis. “I have to thank Josh (Richards), Mark (Richards) and Steve (Baker) for helping me out as much as they could, along with guys like Fuller, ‘Smoke’ (Fuller’s chief mechanic Mike Countryman) and Chub. I don’t know for what reason, but those guys kinda took me under their wing and it means a lot to me.”
Countryman made his own appearance on stage, receiving recognition as the 2009 Integra Racing Shocks Crew Chief of the Year. Integra rep Brian Daugherty presented a specially-designed wrench-shaped trophy and a $1,000 check to ‘Smoke,’ who came out on top in balloting conducted among his fellow crew chiefs and WoO LMS officials.
Rocket Chassis of Shinnston, W.Va., was recognized as the winner of the 2009 WoO LMS Chassis Builders’ Challenge – the sixth straight year that the company has earned the nod. Eleven drivers won WoO LMS A-Mains using Rocket cars this season, giving the manufacturer 31 victories in 40 events.
Cornett ‘Thunder & Lightning’ Racing Engines in Somerset, Ky., was announced as the winner of the 2009 WoO LMS Engine Builders’ Challenge. It was the second consecutive honor for company owner Jack Cornett, whose customers swept the top three spots in the points standings for the second year in a row.
Longtime Cornett engine user Lanigan accepted the award for Cornett, who was not able to attend Sunday’s banquet.
WRG President Tom Deery presented the 2009 WoO LMS Promoter of the Year Award to the Queensland family of Deer Creek Speedway in Spring Valley, Minn., and the Blooming Prairier (Minn.) Lions Club. The track and club members combined to promote the unique 30th annual ‘Gopher 50’ Charity Race in July – an event from which Darrell Lanigan went home $20,000 richer because he claimed the 10-grand ‘past champions’ bonus that was posted for the milestone running of the show.
VP Racing Fuels provided a pair of special awards, giving the 14-year-old Reddick a 54-gallon drum of Late Model Plus fuel for winning the most VP Racing Fuels ‘Nice Jugs’ awards (a pair of fuel jugs to the fastest time-trialer who doesn’t qualify for each event) and Richards $500 in cash for winning the most A-Mains in 2009.
VP’s Executive Director of Marketing & Communications Steve Scheidker told the crowd that there was a certain idea to the award that went to Richards: “We want to start a World of Outlaws tradition with this award – the money is for the driver with the most wins to buy drinks at the bar for all his friends and family after the banquet.”
Among the WRG officials who addressed those in attendance were Deery, Chief Executive Officer Brian Carter and Chief Marketing Officer Ben Geisler. WoO LMS director Tim Christman also gave a review of the 2009 season, thanked the tour’s hard-working road crew (race director Bret Emrick, announcer and banquet host Rick Eshelman, tech director Terry Watson, scorer Sandy Holt, pit steward Kris Underwood and P.R. director Kevin Kovac) and looked ahead to the upcoming 2010 campaign.
“I think we have a great 2010 in store,” Christman said after highlighting several major events that will be contested next season. “One thing I always say is that I think we’re in the infant stages of where we’re gonna end up. I think we’ll continue to grow because this is the future of dirt track racing.”
Christman said Sunday’s announcement that the rich $50,000-to-win USA Nationals on Aug. 6-7 at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis., will be part of the WoO LMS in 2010 is just the start of exciting news to come from the tour. He said the 2010 WoO LMS special-event dates will be released in the coming days with a complete schedule announcement to follow soon after.
The 2010 WoO LMS season will kick off with two programs (Feb. 11 and 13) during the 39th Annual Florida DIRTcar Nationals by UNOH at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla.
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), Crane Cams (Official Valvetrain), Hoosier Racing Tires (Official Racing Tires), Fusion Energy Boost (Official Energy Boost), SuperClean (Official Cleaner-Degreaser) and VP Racing (Official Racing Fuel); in addition to contingency sponsors Champ Pans, Eibach Springs, Hoosier Tires, Integra Shocks, Jake’s Custom Golf Carts, Ohlins Shocks, Racing Electronics, Quarter Master and Wrisco Aluminum; Crane Cams Engine Builder’s Challenge participants Cornett Racing Engines, Custom Race Engines and Pro Power Racing Engines; and Chassis Builder Challenge participants Rocket Chassis and Team Zero by Bloomquist.