GAYLORD, Mich. — “Rocket Man” Josh Richards truly has earned his moniker.
What started as “Kid Rocket,” a play on words, for the son of Rocket chassis pioneer Mark Richards quickly became the perfect explanation of young Josh Richards’ talent.
Even though Josh grew up immersed in the world of dirt late model racing, as a child there was no talk of him jumping behind the wheel of a go-kart or quarter midget to test his skills, instead an eager Josh got his first thrill behind the wheel in his early teens, a memory he says stands out just as vividly today as it did years ago.
“I have to say the best memory in my career would be the first time I sat in a car for sure,” Richards said recently. “I remember I was 15 and my dad asked if I wanted to get in and practice. I got in and as soon as I climbed in, strapped the points in and started the motor I knew that’s what I wanted to do for my whole life!”
Josh had instantly found his destiny and passion, and the world of dirt late model racing quickly found him. After turning those first laps at age 15, Richards went on to capture a World of Outlaws feature event at the young age of 17.
Since that time Richards has posted a resume enviable by the most seasoned of veterans; what were once his heroes have become Richards’ competition. With over a hundred wins and 39 World of Outlaw feature victories Josh has placed himself at the top of the dirt late model ranks, after being surpassed by Darrell Lanigan on the WoO all time win list just in August, Josh still stands number two on that list despite only competing in a handful of WoO sanctioned events in 2012.
With a talent that is undeniable, Josh was the perfect fit for the blue and white Rocket No.1 house car and he has definitely left a void in the series and some awfully big shoes for the newest Rocket driver, Brandon Sheppard. Especially after Josh’s 2011 season, which was stellar yet ended in heartache. Richards, the 2009 and 2010 World of Outlaw Series Champion nearly made history when he missed being the first driver to threepeat as a champion when a last lap flat tire took him out of contention at the World Finals and subsequently handed the title over to Rick Eckert by a very narrow margin.
Although Richards has ventured away from the world of dirt late model racing on occasion with Midget starts in the Chili Bowl, and previous asphalt ventures, 2012 has marked the start of a new era for the Shinnston, W. Va., native.
“It’s been a great 8 ½-years with the World of Outlaws but it’s time to do something else,” proclaimed Richards, who is currently on the driver roster for Go Green Racing in the Joy Global No. 39 NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford Mustang.
The part-time gig with Go Green is one Josh hopes will propel him into a full-time ride for 2013, “Right now we are doing good with what we’ve got,” he exclaimed. “The team is a really good team and they’ve been good for me making the transition. I love dirt late model racing more than anything, but my desire to move on to NASCAR has always been there and I will never know if I never try.”
Although Josh has been performing exceptionally on the asphalt, it has been no easy walk for the 24-year-old who now calls Huntersville, N.C., is temporary home, “It’s been a transition.” Sighed Richards, “My knowledge from the dirt cars has helped me with that transition a lot although stock cars are so much simpler while these dirt cars are so complex. Even though it’s a different world, knowing what I know from dirt racing has helped me but I still feel like I am a rookie just starting out. It has brought me back to the feelings I had when I was in my teens.”
Even though Richards is hoping to pursue a career tackling superspeedways; he won’t be disassociating from the dirt completely anytime soon.
“My dad has been running with Brandon Sheppard all year, but it’s been good to know I’ve got a place to come back to,” he said. “In August I came back to the World of Outlaws and drove a car I had actually driven before. It was my first time back in a car since March at Farmer City which was definitely a drought, but it is so good to be back and running up front.”
There is no doubt that Josh Richards is one of the greatest dirt late model drivers of his time, but he doesn’t believe that his success has been attributed to only what happens behind the wheel. “Winning the races we have and accomplishing what we have as a team is something we are proud of as most teams are not able to accomplish what we have,” stated Richards. “We’ve had a great team, great customers, and the whole experience has been really fun.”
Although Richards may not be a full time Late Model driver any longer, his roots are planted deep and there is no doubt that he will be running a partial schedule for 2012 and 2013. As for his plans past the end of the season.
“I just want to race, whatever it is,” smiled Josh. “The NASCAR deal is something that I’ve always wanted to do, so for now I am working on that and if that doesn’t work out then I will come back to what I know and already love.”
Wherever the road leads, one thing is certain; For Josh Richards home will always be a dusty dirt track and for fans across the Midwest “Rocket Man” will always be No.1 in their minds.