ARGABRIGHT: Lucas LMs: It’s Going To Be A Heck Of A Year

Josh Richards got off to a fast start this year with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. (Jim Denhamer Photo)
Dave Argabright

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Score round one to Josh Richards.

In the most unlikely of scenarios, Richards swept both nights of the Super Bowl of Racing at Golden Isles Speedway in February for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. While most racers will tell you they’d rather be lucky than good, Richards and his Best Motorsports team were both.

Richards was leading the Friday night feature when 17-year-old Hudson O’Neal, in a spectacular drive from the back of the field, sneaked past Richards in the waning circuits of the 50-lap feature. But a timely caution flag at that precise moment negated the pass, and Richards was able to keep the young charger behind him the rest of the way.

Saturday night was a much different story. For Richards, it was a night of “if it can go wrong, it will.” A tacky, demanding track caused an engine failure in his heat race, and Richards and his crew — Randall Edwards and Tyler Nevins, along with help from several others — frantically unloaded their backup car. But on the opening lap of the B main, power-steering fluid was streaming from the car and Richards pulled back into the pits.

A provisional allowed Richards to start the 60-lap feature race in the 23rd starting spot. However, because he and his crew were still scrambling to repair the power steering leak, he was the last car to enter the track — literally at the last possible moment — and was relegated to the back of the 26-car field.

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Almost immediately, Richards began moving forward, passing cars with each lap that was scored. He surged into the lead on lap 24 in stunning fashion, racing past the entire field in less than 25 laps. Despite a challenge from Tyler Erb in the late stages, Richards held on for his 24th career Lucas Oil series win.

“No one sees what goes on behind the scenes, but this really is a team sport,” Richards said following the race. “I broke a power-steering line out there (in the B main) … good thing I  went out there or we would have never known.

“Danny and the guys from my dad’s (Mark Richards) crew chipped in to get it ready. We just threw some stuff on it and then rolled it out on the track. I didn’t expect to come out with a win, we were just hoping to finish the race.”

Richards’ win was a significant statement in what is shaping up to be an unprecedented year on the Lucas Oil series. No less than 17 full-time teams have committed to run the series in a season that has a bustling schedule of 58 races, promising intense competition to the point of desperation.

One interesting note is that every series champion since 2005 is with the tour this year. Earl Pearson Jr., Scott Bloomquist, Jimmy Owens, Don O’Neal, Jonathan Davenport, and 2017 champ Richards are all legitimate title hopefuls.

The rookie-of-the-year chase looks to be tight as well, with Kyle Bronson, Mason Ziegler and Ryan King as possible candidates.

When you add returning series competitors Darrell Lanigan, Tim McCreadie, Dennis Erb Jr., Hudson O’Neal, Gregg Satterlee, and Boom Briggs, it’s a recipe for a very tough grid.

While such intensity is sure to be entertaining, it’s a tough situation for teams. Because of the depth of talent, top racers are sure to find themselves in a tight spot on some nights because simply making the feature through the heats will be challenging. The touring series always attracts a number of local and regional stars as well, adding to the daunting task of winning races and scoring series points.

That’s why Richards’ back-to-back score in the opening round was particularly impressive, especially given the fact that he came from the tail to do so.

As teams and fans caught their breath on a chilly night in south Georgia, there was an unmistakable aura of the coming season: It’s going to be a heck of a year.