1. What impact will the return of Josh Richards have on the WoO LMS?
There’s little debate on this topic. Richards’s announcement that he’s returning as a World of Outlaws regular is the circuit’s biggest development heading into 2013, a revelation that figures to be a major factor in the trajectory of all that happens this year.
A 24-year-old superstar from Shinnston, W.Va., whose last four seasons as a WoO LMS follower produced two titles (2009-10) and a pair of runner-up points finishes (2008, 2011), Richards left the series that carried him to national stardom early in ’12 to move south and compete on the NASCAR Nationwide Series. He picked up valuable track time with 14 Nationwide Series starts and one Camping World Truck Series appearance, but finding a quality, fulltime NASCAR ride has proven to be a difficult task so he’s back with his father Mark’s iconic Rocket Chassis house car operation.
“I feel good about the experience I got running NASCAR races last year,” said Richards, who had entered every WoO LMS event from the start of the 2005 season until departing seven races into the ’12 schedule. “The racing part was a challenge in itself, but everything else was a new experience too. Just to step away from dirt racing – something I had done fulltime since I started – and go live away from my parents to pursue something else was a new chapter in my life.
“I’ve been fortunate with the opportunities I’ve been given (in NASCAR), but it’s just so hard to find that major sponsor and solid team that will allow you to race every weekend. We’re not losing sight of that goal, but I love to race – racing is my life – so I’m going to go race where I can and right now that’s on dirt.
“We’re geared up to run the full World of Outlaws series and try to go after another title,” he continued. “If something were to come up for a NASCAR ride, if it was a good opportunity, then without a doubt I would pursue that because it’s something I want to accomplish personally. But if nothing comes along, we’ll keep going full-bore after the World of Outlaws title.”
And make no mistake: Richards is loaded for bear to chase that $100,000 points-fund pot of gold at the end of the 2013 World of Outlaws rainbow. He has two new Rocket cars and an arsenal of Roush Yates engine ready for duty during the season-opening burst of WoO LMS action, which includes this weekend’s two shows at Screven (40 laps/$8,000 to win on Fri., Feb. 8, and 50 laps/$10,000 on Sat., Feb. 9); the Bubba Army Late Model Winter Nationals tripleheader on Feb. 15-17 at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla.; and three programs (Feb. 21-23) as part of the 42nd UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit Racing Equipment at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla.
“I’m excited to get started,” Richards said in a team press release. “I’ve been home working in the shop non-stop since after the World Finals (last November at The Dirt Track at Charlotte) and I feel like we’re more prepared (for the WoO LMS) than we’ve ever been. Help-wise and equipment-wise, I think we’re in real good shape.
“You need good help to be a success, and we have plenty of that with (crewmen) Matt Barnes and Cody Duncan and my dad. It’s good to have a bunch of guys all working toward the same thing: winning races and the World of Outlaws championship.”
Most observers are expecting Richards to immediately emerge as the prime challenger to Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., who rolled to his second career WoO LMS championship in 2012 by a record-setting margin of 228 points. Richards was, after all, hot on Lanigan’s heels when he left the tour last year, sitting second in the standings, 36 points behind Lanigan.
But while Richards is confident that he can reclaim his position at the top of the WoO LMS heap, he understands the hard road ahead.
“I’m not putting any pressure on myself,” said Richards, who enters the 2013 season with 39 career WoO LMS A-Main wins, second on the alltime victory list to Lanigan (41). “I expect us to do well, but I don’t really have any expectations of what’s gonna happen. It’s gonna take time for us to get back in the click of things, just to get the team back in the groove, but we can’t take too long because guys like Darrell and (Rick) Eckert ended the (2012) season real strong and are already that far ahead.
“Without a doubt, we’re gonna have to work for anything we earn this year. Everyone’s been doing their homework doing the off-season and you can bet they’re gonna be better.
“I think this is gonna be the most competitive year the Outlaws have had in a few years,” he added. “A lot of guys are gonna be tough, but I feel that if I can do my part driving, and everybody else does their part and we click together, I think we can have a shot at that championship.”
2. Can Darrell Lanigan repeat his historic 2012 season?
The 42-year-old from Union, Ky., concedes that it will take a supreme effort to even approach his mesmerizing ’12 stats, which included numerous WoO LMS records (15 wins, six consecutive victories, three 100-lap triumphs, points leader from start-to-finish) and earnings of $426,700.
In addition, with Richards back in the game, Lanigan will be facing off with the driver who was his biggest rival for A-Main victories during the 2010-11 seasons.
Consider this statistic: during the 2010-11 campaigns, Lanigan and Richards combined for 31 wins in 76 WoO LMS A-Mains – a win percentage of .409. They won 34 percent of the 44 races run in ‘10 (Richards scored eight wins, Lanigan seven) and captured fully 50 percent of the 32 features contested in ’11 (Richards nine, Lanigan seven).
The dynamic duo combined to register another sterling win percentage of .425 in 2012, but Richards was responsible for only two of their combined 17 triumphs in 40 A-Mains. Richards, of course, entered just 13 events, so Lanigan kept their combined win percentage above 40 percent almost single-handedly, gobbling up those checkered flags he had shared with Richards during the two previous seasons.
3. Did Rick Eckert’s strong finish in 2012 signal that he’s ready to put up a big win total this season?
Eckert, 47, of York, Pa., recorded two wins, a second and a third in the last five A-Mains of 2012. Only a rare DNF due to a mechanical problem in the season finale at The Dirt Track at Charlotte prevented him from heading into the off-season with five consecutive top-five finishes.
With five wins and a solid runner-up finish in the points standings, Eckert was clearly the No. 2 man to Lanigan in ’12. If he can carry that momentum over to ’13, the 2011 WoO LMS champion just might have the goods to threaten his personal single-season high in wins (eight, in ’06) and battle for the title.
4. Is Shane Clanton ready to contend for the championship in his second year with Kennedy Motorsports?
Clanton, 37, of Fayetteville, Ga., finished third in the 2012 points standings, but he would be the first one to admit that it didn’t feel like he had a third-place-in-points type of season.
In his first season driving for Kennedy Motorsports and just his second campaigning a Capital Race Car chassis he designed with former racer Marshall Green, Clanton never found the consistent strength he was seeking. He showed flashes of brilliance, but his single victory, 11 top-five finishes and season-ending 466-point deficit to Lanigan in the standings were not statistics normally associated with a third-place finisher in the WoO LMS points battle. In the eight previous WoO LMS seasons the driver finishing third in the points standings averaged five wins and 18 top-five finishes and never was more than 198 points behind the champion.
Clanton feels good about his chances in 2013. Now well settled with Kennedy Motorsports, he enters this month’s action with a victory already under his belt (last month he scored a $10,000 ‘Winter Extreme’ win at Arizona’s Tucson International Raceway) – not to mention well aware that his best stretch of ’12 was the season-opening swing to Screven, Bubba Raceway Park and Volusia (four top-fives, five top-10s in six events).
5. Will Tim Fuller return to the WoO LMS headlines in his first full season running for Kennedy Motorsports?
No driver will unload at Screven with a better vibe surrounding him than Fuller, who has never been so excited to start a WoO LMS campaign. His frustrating, uphill struggle to compete on the tour with his own cash-strapped team ended last July when car owner John Kennedy hired him to be Clanton’s teammate, giving the 45-year-old from Watertown, N.Y., an opportunity to race top-notch equipment without financial worries.
Coming off a pair of January victories in Arizona, Fuller looks primed and ready for a bounceback season. Whether he can match his career year of 2009 (seven victories, fourth in points) is up for debate, but the consensus opinion seems to be that his 98-race WoO LMS winless streak (last checkered flag: June 17, 2010, at Merrittville Speedway in Thorold, Ont.) will end in ’13.
6. Can Tim McCreadie maintain the mid-season strength he showed in 2012 for the entire ’13 schedule?
From early May through mid-July last season, McCreadie appeared for all the world to have his Sweeteners Plus Warrior car figured out. He enjoyed a sizzling stretch of action, winning three times and ripping off nine consecutive top-five finishes (not even Lanigan matched that total in ’12) and 16 straight top-10s (tied with Lanigan for the most in that category). He also rose from eighth to third in the points standings.
But McCreadie, 38, of Watertown, N.Y., couldn’t maintain that championship-caliber pace. He slumped badly over the final 15 races of the season, absorbing eight DNFs and scoring just a single top-five finish (second place in the finale at The Dirt Track at Charlotte).
If McCreadie blasts out of the ’13 starting gate like last year’s May-July T-Mac, he’s a title contender.
7. Can Chub Frank and Clint Smith snap long winless streaks on the WoO LMS after flirting Victory Lane several times in 2012?
The two WoO LMS veterans enter ’13 with extended absences from Victory Lane – Smith is winless in 63 races, Frank in 122 – but secure in the knowledge that a checkered flag is not out of reach.
Smith, 47, of Senoia, Ga., came agonizingly close to victory twice last season, finishing second to Lanigan on both occasions. And considering that he scored seven of his 10 top-five finishes during the second half of the schedule, his program appears to be on an upswing entering ’13.
Frank, 51, of Bear Lake, Pa., finished as high as second last season. His 10 top-five finishes matched his total from the previous two years combined, proving that he’s ready to get back in the winner’s circle for the first time since 2009.
8. Will Bub McCool avoid a sophomore slump and improve on a 2012 season that was arguably the best ever for a Rookie of the Year award winner?
The 35-year-old from Vicksburg, Miss., made his mark as a first-time Outlaw, winning an A-Main at Tazewell (Tenn.) Speedway, registering nine top-five finishes and finished seventh in the points standings. The experience he gained traveling to so many new tracks has him bullish about his chances for increased production in ’13.
9. Will Pat Doar and Kent Robinson get off to good enough starts to continue down the road with the World of Outlaws in 2013?
Doar, 49, of New Richmond, Wis., entered the 2012 season with high hopes after winning Rookie of the Year honors the previous year, but his campaign was a nightmare. He scored just two top-five finishes and finished a disappointing 10th in the points standings.
This year Doar is banking on better performance with a new Capital Race Car at his disposal. But he doesn’t find better results, he’s made it clear that he’ll have to reevaluate his program.
Robinson, 25, of Bloomington, Ind., will take a similar approach as Doar into the 2013 season. After battling through blown engines, hard crashes and other frustrations to complete the entire WoO LMS schedule last season and finish second in the Rookie of the Year standings, the rising youngster is hoping that he’s gone through the school of hard knocks and will elevate his game this year.
10. Will this year’s Rookie of the Year battle be the closest in WoO LMS history?
That’s a very good possibility with three generally evenly-matched drivers – Morgan Bagley of Longview, Texas, Eric Wells of Hazard, Ky., and Dillon Wood of New Smyrna Beach, Fla. – approved as Rookie of the Year contenders.
WoO LMS February Event Information:
‘Winter Freeze’ on Feb. 8-9 at Screven Motor Speedway: The second annual event has been restructured for the 2013 season, with two complete WoO LMS programs replacing the one-A-Main, two-day format used last year. A 40-lap A-Main paying $8,000 to win will be contested on Fri., Feb. 8, and a 50-lap headliner offering a $10,000 top prize will be run on Sat., Feb. 9.
The racing extravaganza at Redd Griffin’s three-eighths-mile oval will be chock full of action, with crate Late Models and the Florida Mini-Sprints Association competing on both Friday and Saturday nights and a UNOH All-Star Circuit of Champions 410 Sprint Car Series show scheduled Thurs., Feb. 7. The WoO LMS, crate Late Models and Mini-Sprints can also participate in an open practice session on Thursday evening.
More details on the Winter Freeze will soon be available by visiting www.screvenmotorsportscomplex.com and calling 912-228-5886.
Screven Motor Speedway is located between Mile Markers 6 and 7 on GA Route 21 in Screven County, Ga., about 45 minutes Northwest of Savannah.
‘Bubba Army Late Model Winter Nationals’ on Feb. 15-17 at Bubba Raceway Park: The Bubba Army Late Model Winter Nationals – an event that debuted in 2012 and produced unforgettable racing at the three-eighths-mile, D-shaped BRP oval – is also taking on a new look in ’13. Moving to a Friday-Sunday spot on the calendar, the meet will grow increasingly larger each night, with a 35-lap, $7,000-to-win show on Fri., Feb. 15, and a 50-lap, $10,000-to-win event on Sat., Feb. 16, leading into the 75-lap, ‘Super Sunday Showdown’ offering a $20,000 top prize on Sun., Feb. 17. A practice night is also scheduled for Thurs., Feb. 14.
Spectator gates are scheduled to open at 6 p.m. on Friday, 5 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday, with racing set to get the green flag at 8 p.m. on Friday, 7 p.m. on Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday.
More details are available at www.bubbaracewaypark.com or by calling 352-622-9400
42nd UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit on Feb. 21-23 at Volusia Speedway Park: The WoO LMS closes its ambitious opening month at its traditional February home base, Volusia Speedway Park outside Daytona Beach, Fla. A high-speed, half-mile oval, VSP will offer three consecutive nights of WoO LMS action topped by 50-lap A-Mains paying $10,000 to win on Thurs., Feb. 21, Fri., Feb. 22, and Sat., Feb. 23.
VSP’s UNOH DIRTcar Nationals presented by Summit has included two scheduled WoO LMS programs in each season since 2005, but World Racing Group officials decided to up the ante in ’13 with an additional full-fender World of Outlaws date. The dirt Late Model portion of the DCN will now begin with three nights of DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned action (Feb. 18-20) and close with a WoO LMS tripleheader.
The 42nd UNOH DIRTcar Nationals by Summit will also include racing for the WoO STP Sprint Car Series (Feb. 15-17); All-Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Cars (Feb. 13-14); Super DIRTcar Series big-block Modifieds (Feb. 20-23); and UMP Modifieds (Feb. 12-19).
VSP’s gates will open nightly at 5 p.m. with racing getting the green flag at 7:30 p.m.
For more information on the UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit – including special pricing on advance-sale tickets and details of the ‘Free Pit Pass With Every Ticket’ offer that allows fans to get up-close-and-personal with the race teams every night of the DCN – visit www.DIRTcarNationals.com or call 704-795-7223 or 877-395-8606 (ticket hotline).
For more information on the WoO LMS, visit www.worldofoutlaws.com.
Fans can also follow the WoO LMS on Twitter at Twitter.com/WoOLateModels and Facebook at Facebook.com/WorldofOutlaws .
-Press Release courtesy of World of Outlaws Late Model Series