It's a situation that any dirt track driver would kill for, and Dirt Late Model driver Josh Richards would be the first to admit that things just couldn't be better three years into his DLM career.
First of all, he's the son of Mark Richards, the head man at Rocket Chassis, one of the top builders of Dirt Late Models. So, obviously, he drives the best cars. Along with being the recipient of his dad's extensive experience in the sport, Josh is surrounded by a talented crew. Being able to rub shoulders with Tony Stewart, whom his dad provides a car on occasion, is certainly meaningful.
"Great situation, sure, but since I have it I am going to do the best I can to make the most of it," says Josh. "I consider myself very lucky to be sure, not having to start my career in these cars in inferior equipment like so many of the guys do."
But great advantage or not, you have to admit that Josh was born with some outstanding racing genes. That much he has quickly demonstrated. Amazingly, he had never turned a competitive lap in any type of racing machine before competing in a Dirt Late Model in 2003.
Josh's dad recalls that Josh got to drive the track-packing car when he was just 6 years old. "It had big tires, and even though I wasn't going that fast, I still learned about the feel of the track," Josh recalls. "I was at the track with my dad when he asked if I'd like to take a few laps in one of his cars. Heck yes, I did, and after making a few laps found out that I really liked it. But for some reason, I never told my dad that I wanted to drive."
In his first race, October 2003 at Bluegrass (Kentucky) Speedway, you just knew that this kid was going to be something special, regardless of who his father was or the quality of the car resting under him. He simply had talent and showed it early.
Josh readily admits that the awesome power and performance of the Dirt Late Models initially scared him. "My dad let me get used to the cars at first letting me run some races at local area tracks," he says.
The learning process then took off like crazy. In his seventh race he was looking at the best-of-the-best competition in the World of Outlaws series. "I sure remember that first race at Lernerville [Pennsylvania] Speedway," he says. "My goal was to be smooth and make the feature."
The driver who eventually came to be known as "Kid Rocket" did that and then some by taking Seventh in the feature, with a number of the national heavy hitters trailing behind him.
From that point on, he became an accepted challenger and ran 23 races that season. "I was still in the learning process and watched the moves that the fast guys made on the track," he recalls. "From all those observations, I think I have developed my own driving style."
That initial season saw one quick qualifying time, several heat race wins, and a Fourth in the famous Pittsburger race. Josh says he was driving a 3-year-old car and continues to drive it today. "It had been driven by one of our house drivers, and it just fit me fine," he adds.
Keep in mind that all of this occurred when the Rocket was only a sophomore in high school. "In order to race as much as I did, it was necessary to miss quite a bit of school and making it up wasn't easy for me to do," he says. There was also some resistance from some of the teachers. "But the following two high school years, I took articles in and showed them to the teachers and that seemed to help the situation."
Even with those challenges, he still made it through school as an A/B student.
His performance the following year, 2004, was a huge step forward as he finished Eighth in the World of Outlaw points-this against World of Outlaws heavy hitters such as Billy Moyer, Rick Eckert, Steve Francis, Tim McCreadie, and even Scott Bloomquist for part of that time period.
The goal in 2005 was to win a race, and the goal was met when he won for the first time in August. Add eight Top 5s and abundant Top 10 finishes on the way to a sterling Eighth-Place in points and a Rookie of the Year award.
But this youngster also started running some of the big-money classic races that dot the summer schedule. "In the two races at Eldora, I finished Seventh in The Dream," he says, "while in the World 100, I was running Sixth when the car broke."
The same statistics were in place last season, with another win and a Ninth-Place effort in the points. "Then, in the World 100, I had a legitimate chance at winning before finishing Fourth about a half lap behind the winner. In The Dream, I missed making the feature race by just one place, which was a real bummer."
Chub Frank, a World of Outlaws competitor as well as a fellow Rocket driver, is impressed with what he sees with the second-generation Richards.
"This kid is definitely an outstanding driver," Frank says. "This past season I could really see the improvement. He was running a lot faster and making better decisions on the track. Maybe most importantly, he knew when to race and when not to race. What he's done to date has been impressive.
"But this kid has been around the Dirt Late Models for a long time. Heck, I can remember his dad letting him hot lap cars when he was only about 12 years old."
OK, so he's the boss's kid. Does that entitle him to just show up when it's time to race? Hardly. If you know Mark Richards, you know that's certainly not the situation.
"I do just about everything, including washing the car, assembly, and all the setup work, and then if anything goes wrong, it's my problem," says Josh. "One thing's for sure-I don't want to come up light on the scales after the race. So just to be sure, I tend to run a little heavier, and the car seems to fit my driving style."
A measure of success in his first years is that he's competed on 78 different tracks in the 150 or so races he's entered. Plus, the first time he ran on each of those tracks was the first time he saw the track. Imagine how tough that would be-facing many of the best in the business on a brand-new racetrack. That alone says a ton about the skill of this up-and-comer.