ROSSBURG, Ohio – Josh Richards fully understands the significance of the DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned World 100 at Eldora Speedway.
“The prestige of that race is just what makes our sport,” Richards reverentially said of dirt Late Model racing’s biggest event. “Obviously, the kings of the sport are the guys who have won the race.”
Richards, of course, dearly wants to join that exclusive list of drivers who have raised the famed globe trophy. He’ll get his chance when the $46,000-to-win World 100 is contested for the 43rd consecutive year this weekend (Sept. 5-7) at NASCAR star Tony Stewart’s high-banked, half-mile oval.
“That’s one of the few races that are definitely on my bucket list,” Richards said of the World 100. “It’s at the top, actually. It would mean everything to win it.”
Most observers consider Richards destined to capture the World 100 – and rightly so. At the ripe age of 25, the driver from Shinnston, W.Va., is already one of the most accomplished competitors on the dirt Late Model circuit. He boasts a superstar’s resume featuring two World of Outlaws Late Model Series championships and nearly 100 feature wins, including a crown-jewel score in the 2011 USA Nationals at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis.
But Eldora’s pair of marquee events – the World 100 and June’s $100,000 Dirt Late Model Dream – have been elusive to Richards and his father Mark’s familiar Rocket Chassis house car team. He has entered both races every year since 2005 but owns just a single top-five finish, a fourth in the 2006 World 100.
“I always love going to Eldora,” said Richards, who became the youngest driver in history to qualify for the Dream and World 100 in a first attempt when he made both races as a high-school student in 2005. “It’s definitely one of my favorite tracks to drive on and we’ve won two smaller races there (Johnny Appleseed Classic in 2008 and a Dream preliminary feature earlier this year), but we just haven’t put everything together yet to win one of the big races.”
Perhaps Richards has also been battling Eldora’s racing gods, who simply don’t let young 20-somethings like him break into Victory Lane very often. In fact, just four of the 26 World 100 winners have been under 30 years old and just two of the 12 Dream victors have been in their 20s.
Tennessee’s Jeff Purvis holds the distinction of being the youngest World 100 winner, capturing the 1983 event (in his second career start) at the age of 24 years, 6 months, 23 days. He went on to win the race twice more (’84, ’86) before even turning 30.
The only other under-30 drivers to win the World 100 are Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., who won the first of his three globes in 1988 at the age of 24 years, 9 months, 23 days (he was victorious in his first-ever start); Donnie Moran of Dresden, Ohio, who earned the first of his four World 100 triumphs in 1989 at the age of 27 (it was his seventh career start); and Joe Merryfield of Des Moines, Iowa, who was also 27 when he won the 1975 race in the lone World 100 start of his career.
What’s more, considering that the driver with the most World 100 victories, six-time winner Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., was 29 when he started the race for the first time in 1987 and 33 when he scored his first triumph in ’91, it’s clear that Richards isn’t behind schedule on Eldora’s big-race winner’s clock. With six World 100 starts already under his belt as he rolls into what should be his Eldora prime, Richards is well-positioned to bust out. You could say he’s even due to get those strokes of good fortune that are necessary to capture a major at the Big E.
“It’s hard to just get yourself in position to win the race,” said Richards, referring to both of Eldora’s annual events. “Qualifying is always the hardest part. I feel like we’ve maybe qualified almost too good in previous years because that puts you in a spot where you start fourth, fifth or sixth in a heat race (due to the invert) and it’s hard to make that back up with so many good guys there. Part of you wants to lay back in qualifying, but then maybe there’s a chance you’ll miss the invert and you won’t have the fast-time provisional to fall back on.”