CONCORD, N.C. – Josh Richards has watched from afar this season as Darrell Lanigan has supplanted him as the winningest driver on the World of Outlaws Late Model Series since 2004.
This weekend, though, Richards will return to the national tour that made him a star with hopes of dulling Lanigan’s domination - and maybe even reclaiming the number one spot on the all-time win list.
Absent from the WoO LMS since deciding in April to pursue a NASCAR career by running the Nationwide Series, Richards, 24, of Shinnston, W.Va., will drive one of his father Mark’s Rocket Chassis house cars in NAPA Auto Parts-sponsored events on Friday night (Aug. 17) at Winston Speedway and Saturday evening (Aug. 18) at Merritt Raceway.
The pair of 50-lap, $10,000-to-win events in Michigan will mark Richardss first WoO LMS starts since March 31 when he finished sixth in the Illini 100 at Farmer City (Ill.) Raceway.
“I’m looking forward to getting back out there and running some Outlaw shows,” said Richards, who captured one WoO LMS A-Main this season (Feb. 17 at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla.) before moving south. ”It’s been so long since I’ve been to an Outlaw race, so it’ll be fun to see everybody and do some racing with all the Outlaw guys.”
Considering Richards has raced in only three dirt-late-model shows - all in Ohio - since March 31 (June’s Dream at Eldora Speedway and two DIRTcar Summer Nationals events last month), he’s downplaying any talk that he’ll be the guy to snap Lanigan’s record six-race win streak.
“I don’t expect to just come out here and whoop up on him,” Richards said with a smile when asked about Lanigan. ”I hope we can be quick right out of the box, but with not being in a late-model for this long a period, it may take a little bit to get everything figured back out. It does take time to get comfortable with your car and get all your adjustments figured out.
“That’s what Darrell’s been able to do this year,” he continued. ”He has everything figured out. He hasn’t been changing a whole lot of stuff. He’s just been going out, week after week, with something he’s comfortable with, and he’s driving hard with a car that he knows what its gonna do.”
Richards admits to being awed by Lanigan’s spectacular season, which includes a single-season record of 13 wins (and counting), an enormous 170-point lead in the standings with 12 events remaining and $269,400 in earnings. Lanigan also now has 39 career wins, putting him one ahead of Richards on the all-time list.
“At first I was kind of bummed out,” Richards said when asked for his thoughts on being overtaken by Lanigan on the WoO LMS career win list. ”Then I realized that it took me sitting out most of this year and for him to win 12 just to tie the record.
”It has definitely been a Darrell Lanigan year. It’s awesome what he’s done. People can say what they want about the competition maybe being down from previous years, but he’s still been really, really good. It showed when everybody was there at Cedar Lake (Speedway in New Richmond, Wis., for the USA Nationals on Aug. 4) and he still whooped up on em (for a $50,000 victory).
”He’s been close these last couple years to winning races like this, so it was just a matter of time. In 2008 he only won two races but was way ahead in points. Now he’s been able to do both - win races and run away with the points. It’s just been an incredible year for him.
Richards will compete this weekend as a Rocket Chassis house car teammate of Brandon Sheppard, the 19-year-old talent from New Berlin, Ill., whom Mark Richards tapped in May to replace his son.
Richards will drive a car he steered to three WoO LMS victories last season while Sheppard will be behind the wheel of a brand-new machine that the Rocket crew built in the wake of Sheppard’s hard qualifying-heat crash on Aug. 3 at Cedar Lake.
And of course, Richards will race at two tracks that treated him pretty well last year. He won the WoO LMS A-Main at Winston after taking the lead early in the distance from Lanigan, who went on to finish fourth, and the next night at Merritt he placed fifth - one spot behind Lanigan - after battling his way forward from the 12th starting spot.
Richards, who chatted with Lanigan on Wednesday when the Kentucky driver stopped by the Rocket Chassis shop to pick up a new car, is especially enthused about defending his first-place laurels at Winston. He thoroughly enjoyed his march to the checkered flag there last year.
“I thought Winston was awesome,” said Richards, who is idle from NASCAR Nationwide Series action this weekend because he doesn’t have a ride for the tour’s road-course event at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. “That place reminded me a lot of Attica, Ohio. I love both of those race tracks. It was just a lot of fun to race on.
“I don’t know what the conditions are gonna be this time or what the racings gonna be like because the tires will be a little different. We’ll be on the (DIRTcar Hoosier) LM tires this time, so I’m sure its gonna race a little differently. But I’m pretty excited to go there and see if we can do what we did last year.
“Basically, this will be a weekend to just go out and have fun,” he added. “There’s no pressure at all. We don’t have to worry about points or anything. We’re just gonna come in, go race and try to have some fun. Hopefully it goes well.”