SHINNSTON, W. Va. – Nov. 8, 2011 – Josh Richards put his heart and soul into pursuing an unprecedented third consecutive World of Outlaws Late Model Series championship, but in the end the racing luck necessary to complete the job just wasn’t on his side.
In a heartbreaking conclusion to his otherwise spectacular 2011 campaign, Richards fell one lap short of capturing the national tour’s coveted points title in Saturday night’s season finale at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C. A flat right-rear tire as he held ninth place heading to the white flag in the 50-lap Lowes Foods World Finals A-Main caused him to slow and allowed Rick Eckert to streak by off turn two to clinch the championship in dramatic fashion.
It was a gut-wrenching end to a weekend that Richards had hoped would provide him a grand springboard to a fulltime assault on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2012, but the 23-year-old from Shinnston, W.Va., still managed to accept his fate with the graciousness and humility that has become his trademark.
“I’m not disappointed at all in the year we had,” said Richards, who led the WoO LMS in wins (his total of nine tied the tour’s single-season win record set in 2004 by Scott Bloomquist), top-five finishes (22), top-10 finishes (26), heat wins (19) and earnings. “We fought hard all year, but every time we would get close to (Eckert in) the points, something would happen. Circumstances all year long put us behind and we couldn’t quite overcome it all.
“To win nine races, to win our first crown jewel (the USA Nationals at Wisconsin’s Cedar Lake Speedway), to be as competitive as we have all year – I’m not at all disappointed in how we got beat.I feel like we had a championship year, but it just didn’t work out. It just wasn’t meant to be our year I guess.
“I obviously wanted to win three in a row,” he added, “but we still got two they cannot take from us.”
Josh Richards’ No. 1 team carries support from Rocket Chassis, Roush Yates Engines, Cornett Racing Engines, Seubert Calf Ranches, Kentucky Fuel Corporation, 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, AFCO, 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, Kwik Change Product, LSI, Mason Racin’, MSD Ignition, Outerwears, Performance Bodies, Performance Friction Brakes, Performance Rod & Custom, 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, US Brake, Weld Racing Wheels, Wehr’s Machine, Wilwood and Wrisco Aluminum.
Richards hailed Eckert, whose 12th-place finish versus Richards’ 18th-place result gave the Pennsylvania veteran the championship by a scant 14-point margin.
“Eckert and his guys did a great job all year,” Richards said of Eckert, one of his racing mentors. “They did what they had to do and they really deserved to win. Congratulations to them.”
The memorable close to the 2011 WoO LMS schedule was set up after Richards finished sixth and Eckert 12th in Friday night’s first 50-lap A-Main of the Lowes Foods World Finals at the four-tenths-mile oval. Eckert ended the race with just a two-point lead over Richards – a miniscule gap that meant whichever driver finished higher in Saturday’s finale would win the points crown. If Eckert finished directly behind Richards to create a tie, the title would go to Richards on the most-wins tiebreaker.
After Richards finished third in his heat race and Eckert won a B-Main on Saturday, the rivals lined up 17th and 20th, respectively, for the feature event that was run before a capacity crowd of over 14,000 and a national television audience on SPEED. They proceeded to thrill the fans with a nip-and-tuck battle amongst themselves.
“It could not get any closer,” said Richards. “We lined up side-by-side on restarts, he was ahead of me, I tried to get him back. Then I was like, ‘I think I finally got him,’ and I just tried to ride it out.”
Unfortunately, Richards slowed rounding turns three and four as he looked for the white flag. A gash in his right-rear tire – perhaps picked up when he clipped Darrell Lanigan’s car while avoiding a multi-car tangle in turn four on lap 37 that also nearly swept up Eckert – proved to be his undoing.
“I just kept watching the lap counter, but you just had that feeling that maybe something wasn’t right,” said Richards, who never felt he had the championship secured considering all the ill-timed speed bumps he experienced during the season. “I didn’t really feel anything wrong – it’s more in your head – but I was doing all I could and hoping that the finish would come as fast as it could. We just didn’t make it.”
While Richards calmly replayed the crushing loss following the race, he was more emotional when discussing his pending move from WoO LMS regular to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2012. The reality of closing one chapter in his racing career in moving on to another hit him head-on Sunday night when he spoke after accepting his points-fund check during the WoO LMS awards banquet at the Great Wolf Lodge in Concord, N.C.
“You can say that (finishing second to Eckert) was unlucky, but truthfully, I feel like I’m the luckiest man who’s ever walked this earth,” said Richards. “It’s still a dream come true for me to race and be a part of this deal. It really means a lot to me. Our first year started with the new modern era (of the WoO LMS in 2004)…I’m gonna miss this dearly. I’m kind of speechless right now.
“Thanks again to everybody. I’m just trying to move on. It’s been a wild and wonderful ride and I’m just gonna try to keep racing.”
While Richards’ season in the Seubert Calf Ranches/Kentucky Fuel Corporation Rocket No. 1 team is now complete, he plans to drive the Ernie Davis-owned Rocket No. 25 this weekend (Nov. 12-13) in the dirt Late Model portion of the Octoberfest 350 at Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway.
For more information on Josh Richards, visit www.joshrichards.com and follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Richards1.