ROSSBURG, Ohio — Josh Richards and Matt Miller kicked off the new expanded Dirt Late Model Dream XIX Presented by Ferris Commercial Mowers weekend with victories in Thursday night’s Twin 25-lap features at Eldora Speedway.
With the DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned event’s 84-car field split in half by time-trial results, Richards captured the frenetic first A-Main for odd-numbered qualifiers and Miller soared to the checkered flag in the nightcap reserved for even-numbered qualifiers.
Richards, 25, pulled off a dramatic last-lap pass of Steve Francis to grab the $2,500 top prize in the wildly-competitive first feature, which included seven lead changes among four drivers. A caution flag with two laps remaining put Richards on Francis’s outside for the restart and he took full advantage of the opportunity, surging by Francis off the top of turn two on the final circuit.
“It was a fun race,” said Richards, who started sixth-driving a Valvoline-sponsored Rocket Chassis house car that he debuted last Saturday night. “The track had some speed to it even though it was hard, and you could really move around on it and race. You had to be aggressive if you were gonna pass somebody and that’s what we did at the end.”
After beating Francis to the finish line by about a car length, Richards admitted that he felt fortunate to earn his second career win at the high-banked, half-mile oval. He was nearly knocked from contention in an opening-lap scramble in turn two that stacked up several cars, including John Blankenship.
“(Brian) Shirley slid up through there when we were racing and I got turned sideways (at the start) and I thought we were done right then,” said Richards, whose previous Eldora triumph came in an American Late Model Series event on May 25, 2008. “But somehow we survived that with only some cosmetic damage and we got to keep our spot.”
The victory gave Richards high hopes of enjoying an even greater celebration after Saturday night’s 100-lap Dream A-Main, which boasts a $100,000 winner’s purse. The current World of Outlaws Late Model Series points leader has made five Dream 100 starts since 2005 with a top finish of sixth in 2010.
“I didn’t really feel all that great hot-lapping, qualifying or heat-racing even though we were fast, but we changed our package around a little bit and actually I feel really comfortable now,” said Richards. “Just a few minor tweaks and I feel we’ll have something a lot better for Saturday than we have in the past.”