CONCORD, N.C. — If Josh Richards had realized his greatest racing ambition in 2013, he wouldn’t have won the World of Outlaws Late Model Series championship.
But make no mistake: even though Richards’s dream of breaking into the NASCAR stock car big leagues didn’t come to fruition in ‘13, capturing the $100,000 WoO LMS title was still a very big deal for the young motorsports superstar.
Richards, 25, of Shinnston, W.Va., made history as the first three-time WoO LMS champion since the national tour was restarted in 2004 under the World Racing Group banner, capping a spectacular season that saw him return as a dirt late model regular following a ’12 campaign spent largely concentrating on NASCAR Nationwide Series action.
“To take a break (from dirt racing) like we did (in 2012) to pursue other opportunities and come back and win (the championship) this year is pretty unreal,” said Richards, whose previous points crowns came in 2009 and 2010. “It was disappointing that things didn’t work out with the NASCAR stuff like I would’ve liked, but we had to move on. We focused on winning another Outlaw championship and were able to do it.”
Richards, of course, would have preferred to spend the 2013 season racing fulltime on a high-level NASCAR circuit — that, after all, was his ultimate goal when he left the World of Outlaws trail early in 2012 to relocate to Charlotte and gain pavement experience with a second-tier NASCAR Nationwide Series team. But dirt Late Model racing is — and always will be — the core of his being, so, after failing to land a NASCAR ride, he showed no signs of regret about rejoining his father Mark’s familiar Valvoline-sponsored Rocket Chassis house car operation.
“Coming back to dirt was probably the easiest part of the whole situation to deal with,” said Richards, who made 14 NASCAR Nationwide Series starts in 2012 with a top finish of 16th in the July event at Daytona Int’l Speedway. “Anytime you pull in the racetrack you just want to win — and last year, with the Nationwide car, the equipment we were in just wasn’t capable of winning. We knew it was capable of 20th-place finishes and that was as good as it would be. If we could finish in the top 20, that was like a win for us.
“So when you get back into equipment that’s capable of winning — like I know our late models are — you just feel good about going out there. A racer always wants to win.”
For Richards, the time he spent away from dirt racing was well spent. While the move south didn’t result in a fulltime NASCAR ride, it turned the driver once known as ‘Kid Rocket’ into a new man.