OCALA, Fla. (Feb. 15) — Josh Richards reached the World of Outlaws Late Model Series milestone he wanted — finally.
Surviving a bent nosepiece from an early smack of an inside marker tire and a torrid mid-race battle with Tim McCreadie, Richards surged into the lead with 15 circuits remaining and controlled the remainder of the distance to register his 50th career victory on the national tour in Sunday night’s 50-lap Bubba Army Winternationals finale at Bubba Raceway Park.
Richards, 26, of Shinnston, W.Va., lost the top spot to Watertown, N.Y.’s McCreadie on lap 26 but fought right back to regain command on lap 35. The remainder of the distance belonged to the three-time WoO champion, who became the second driver in series history to hit the 50-win plateau more than a year after his last triumph on Nov. 9, 2013, at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C.
The long gap between WoO checkered flags for Richards was, of course, a result of the nerve problems in his hands that forced him to sit out nearly all of the 2014 racing season. His future in the sport was initially in doubt while doctors attempted to decipher what caused him to experience a loss of strength in his hands, making his return to victory lane in WoO competition even more emotional.
"This feels awesome," said Richards, who earned $10,175 for driving his Valvoline-sponsored Rocket Chassis house car to his third-career WoO LMS victory at Bubba Raceway Park. "There was a time that I thought I was going to end my career on 49 wins when I didn't think I was ever gonna get to race again. To get to 50 really means a lot. I'm happy just to be back racing, but it really feels good to be back and winning races."
WoO points leader Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., slipped past McCreadie for second place on lap 41 and stayed in the runner-up spot to the finish. He crossed the finish line 1.030 seconds behind Richards for his second consecutive bridesmaid performance.
McCreadie settled for a WoO season-best third-place finish after leading laps 27-34. Polesitter Steve Casebolt of Richmond, Ind., battled hard throughout the distance to finish fourth after slipping out of the top five at one point and Morgan Bagley of Tyler, Texas, quietly advanced from the 13th starting spot to place fifth.
Richards’s third victory of 2015 Georgia-Florida Speedweeks — all three coming at different tracks — didn’t come easy. He moved from third to second on the race's initial start and quickly began pressuring second-starting Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., for the lead. Richards made an inside run on Lanigan down the back straightaway on lap two and overtook his fellow three-time WoO LMS champion through turns three and four.
But the quick charge came at a price: while passing Lanigan, Richards made contact with one of the tires lining the inside of the racetrack, bending the nose of his blue No. 1 machine in a way that hampered his steering for the remaining 48 laps.
"It was a handful out there," Richards said. "I never knew what it was gonna do getting into the corner, so I had to make sure I kept the car turned on the right-rear the whole race. It was a handful, but it was fun."
McCreadie added to Richards’s problems when he began to make his bid for the lead just before the race's halfway point.
Using a line different from Richards' high-side attack, McCreadie first looked under Richards on lap 25 and pulled even with the leader on the next circuit. McCreadie and Richards ran side-by-side down the back straightaway on lap 27 and made slight contact as they dove into turn three still nearly even.
McCreadie, 40, pulled ahead exiting the corner, but he never could drive away. Lapped traffic became an issue just a few laps later and Richards took advantage. As McCreadie attempted to use the top groove to overtake a slower machine on lap 35, Richards remained in the bottom line and raced back out front for good.
"When you're leading, you don't really know where you need to be," said Richards, whose previous 2015 victories came in a Feb. 6 unsanctioned event at Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania, Ga., on Feb. 6 and a Feb. 11 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series show at Eastbay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla. "I felt OK up top, but I knew I was pushing a lot off of two.
"I knew someone had to be coming on the bottom, but you don't want to change your line and give up the lead that way. Once he passed me, I slowed down around the bottom and we were a lot better."
Clanton drove his Weldbank Energy-sponsored Capital Race Car by McCreadie for second on lap 41 and set about cutting into Richards's lead. But he began to lose ground after a few laps and settled into the runner-up spot.
The 39-year-old veteran finished second for the second straight night, adding to his advantage atop the WoO LMS points standings. With four top-five finishes in four events this season, Clanton heads to Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., for the DIRTcar Nationals — UMP DIRTcar-sanctioned events on Feb. 16-18 and WoO programs Feb. 19-21 — with a 16-point lead in the championship chase.
"We were just a little bit tight there and Josh was a little bit better through three and four than I was," Clanton said. "Overall a good night and we've got something to work with at Volusia."
McCreadie's third-place effort turned around a sluggish start to the season for his Sweeteners Plus race team.
"We just got too tight the last 15 laps or so," said McCreadie, who rebounded from a 23rd-place finish in Saturday's WoO LMS A-Main with his first top-five finish of the season. "That happens, but where we were to where we are is a big difference, so we're excited to go to Volusia."
Four caution flags slowed the event. Eric Wells of Hazard, Ky., spun inside of turns one and two on lap five; Stormy Scott of Las Cruces, N.M., slapped the turn-three wall on lap six; Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., slowed in turn four after a bout with an inside marker tire as he ran in fifth place folded his car’s nose; and Lanigan slowed on lap 38 while holding sixth place after catching an inside marker tire with his car’s nose.
Notes: Richards, who entered just the final two events of the 2014 WoO season after returning from his medical-induced sabbatical, joined Lanigan as the only other driver to win 50 A-Mains on the circuit. Lanigan sits atop the alltime win list with 70 victories. … Billy Ogle Jr. of Knoxville, Tenn., made a stirring high-side charge during the race’s late stages to finish sixth after starting 21st. … Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa., notched his fourth top-10 finish of the season with his advance from 15th to seventh … Don O'Neal of Martinsville, Ind., rounded out the top 10 after running as high as third early in the event.
Finish (top 4 transfer): Eric Wells, Rodney Sanders, Billy Ogle Jr., Steve Francis, Chase Junghans, Dan Stone, Tyler Clem, Mason Zeigler, Boom Briggs, Austin Smith, Chad Hollenbeck, Josh Knoll, Scott Groves.
(10 laps; top 4 transfer)
Row 1: Billy Ogle Jr., Eric Wells
Row 2: Steve Francis, Dan Stone
Row 3: Tyler Clem, Chase Junghans
Row 4: Rodney Sanders, Boom Briggs
Row 5: Chad Hollenbeck, Mason Zeigler
Row 6: Austin Smith, Josh Knoll
Row 7: Scott Groves
Brandon Overton powered past Frank Heckenast Jr. for the lead on the race's opening lap and turned back a furious late push from Steve Casebolt to beat the Indiana driver by a mere 0.064 of a second. Heckenast settled for third, followed by Ivedent Lloyd Jr., Chub Frank and Mark Whitener. Josh Knoll brought out the race's first caution flag on lap two when he spun in the second turn, and the following circuit the caution conditions returned after Chase Junghans spun in turn four and was hit lightly by Steve Francis.
Finish (top 6 transfer): Brandon Overton, Steve Casebolt, Frank Heckenast Jr., Ivedent Lloyd Jr., Chub Frank, Mark Whitener, Steve Francis, Chase Junghans, Chad Hollenbeck, Josh Knoll.
Darrell Lanigan cruised to victory, beating Josh Richards to the checkered flag by 1.173 seconds. Austin Kirkpatrick, who nearly nosed out Lanigan to lead lap one, finished third, followed by Dennis Franklin, Brandon Sheppard and Stormy Scott. Brandon rallied after spinning in turn four on the opening lap to bring out the race's lone caution flag. Friday-night fast-timer Boom Briggs struggled mightily; he was the last car running at the finish. Austin Smith failed to finish, pulling in on lap two.
Finish (top 6 transfer): Darrell Lanigan, Josh Richards, Austin Kirkpatrick, Dennis Franklin, Brandon Sheppard, Stormy Scott, Eric Wells, Tyler Clem, Boom Briggs, Austin Smith.
Tim McCreadie took advantage of Don O'Neal's slip high in turn four to gain command on lap three and controlled the remainder of the distance for the win. O'Neal held off Shane Clanton to finish third, with Jordan Yaggy, Morgan Bagley and Rick Eckert (with right-side body damage) completing the transfers. Mason Zeigler's rough night continued as he spun in turn four on the second lap to bring out the race's first caution flag. Scott Groves started from the outside pole but quickly fell from contention and finished last with his car's right-rear quarter-panel crushed.
Finish (top 6 transfer): Tim McCreadie, Don O'Neal, Shane Clanton, Jorday Yaggy, Morgan Bagley, Rick Eckert, Billy Ogle Jr., Dan Stone, Rodney Sanders, Mason Zeigler, Scott Groves.
Making his first start of the weekend at BRP after spending the past week racing at East Bay, Don O'Neal of Martinsville, Ind., blazed around the 3/8-mile oval in 14.995 seconds to earn fast-time honors. He will start from the pole position in Heat 1 as he bids for his long-awaited first-ever WoO A-Main triumph.
Other heat-race polesitters are Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., and Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, Ill.
The driver who experienced the most frustrating qualifying session was Mason Zeigler of Chalk Hill, Pa. A former fast-timer at BRP, Zeigler got only one lap at the end of the session because his brakes locked up when he was scheduled to hit the track — and then he was the slowest qualifier because he slid high rounding turn four.
The third and final night of the Bubba Army Late Model Winternationals features a 50-lap World of Outlaws Late Model Series A-Main paying $10,000 to win. It is the second consecutive evening of WoO action at BRP and the national tour’s fourth overall event of the young 2015 season.
Sunday night’s program includes time trials, heat races, a B-Main and the 50-lap headliner. The top-two finishers in each heat will redraw for the top six starting spots in the feature.
On a beautiful Sunday — sunny skies and temperatures in the high 60s — a 31-car field is signed in for the World of Outlaws program that concludes the Bubba Army Winternationals. … Six drivers who spent the past week racing at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla., have joined the field: Clint Bowyer Racing teammates Don O’Neal of Matinsville, Ind., who won a UMP DIRTcar-sanctioned Speedweeks feature at Ocala in 2011, and Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky.; Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., who is the only driver to enter all 11 possible Georgia-Florida Speedweeks events to date; Stormy Scott of Las Cruces, N.M.; Dan Stone of Thompson, Pa.; and Chad Hollenbeck of Kingsley, Pa. … Scott’s Rowland Racing teammate, Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., has his hauler in the pit area but will not compete. He came over so he can hook up with fellow Club 29 campaigner Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., and travel tonight to Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., where they will park together in the pit area. … Drivers not on hand after entering the previous two nights of competition are Bob Gardner of Creve Couer, Ill., Dave Fieber of Chippewa Falls, Wis., and Mike Hammerle of St. Charles, Mo. … After a broken engine during Saturday night’s heat action forced Eric Wells of Hazard, Ky., to complete the program in a backup car, his crew replaced the injured powerplant so he can return to the seat of his primary mount. … WoO rookie aspirant Jordan Yaggy of Rochester, Minn., enters tonight’s action after a very encouraging 10th-place finish in Saturday night’s feature. “If I knew how to lap a car, I feel like I had a sixth-place car,” Yaggy said. “I was running real low, but it just so happened the lapped car was down there too and I got messed up trying to pass him. I looked up and about four cars went by me.” … Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., wasn’t happy with his sixth-place finish in Saturday night’s feature — not after starting from the pole position — but he understood that a setup miscalculation left his car too tight, causing him to slide high and lose six positions on the opening lap. With the sixth-place run his worst in five Speedweeks starts, the 23-year-old remains confident and even has plans to add to his Speedweeks schedule. Overton didn’t originally plan to race at Volusia, but if all goes well tonight he said he will enter the half-mile oval’s Thursday, Friday and Saturday WoO shows. (He has to go home so his 17-year-old brother, Cody, doesn’t miss school.)
Heat race lineups
(10 laps; top 6 transfer)
Row 1: Don O’Neal, Scott Groves
Row 2: Tim McCreadie, Shane Clanton
Row 3: Jordan Yaggy, Morgan Bagley
Row 4: Rodney Sanders, Billy Ogle Jr.
Row 5: Rick Eckert, Dan Stone
Row 6: Mason Zeigler
Row 1: Darrell Lanigan, Brandon Sheppard
Row 2: Dennis Franklin, Austin Kirkpatrick
Row 3: Austin Smith, Josh Richards
Row 4: Boom Briggs, Stormy Scott
Row 5: Eric Wells, Tyler Clem
Row 1: Frank Heckenast Jr., Brandon Overton
Row 2: Chase Junghans, Steve Francis
Row 3: Steve Casebolt, Ivedent Lloyd Jr.
Row 4: Mark Whitener, Chub Frank
Row 5: Chad Hollenbeck, Josh Knoll
Time trials order
Don O'Neal (5), Martinsville, Ind., 14.995
Darrell Lanigan (29), Union, Ky., 15.097
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99Jr), Orland Park, Ill., 15.102
Scott Groves (311), Canton, Ga., 15.236
Brandon Sheppard (b5), New Berlin, Ill., 15.34
Brandon Overton (76), Appling, Ga., 15.394
Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 15.396
Dennis Franklin (2), Gaffney, S.C., 15.426
Chase Junghans (18c), Manhattan, Kan., 15.493
Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., 15.499
Austin Kirkpatrick (11K), Ocala, Fla., 15.506
Steve Francis (15), Ashland, Ky., 15.526
Jordan Yaggy (77), Rochester, Minn., 15.638
Austin Smith (11), Cedartown, Ga., 15.649
Steve Casebolt (c9), Richmond, Ind., 15.676
Morgan Bagley (14M), Tyler, Texas, 15.695
Josh Richards (1), Shinnston, W.Va., 15.733
Ivedent Lloyd Jr. (21), Ocala, Fla., 15.773
Rodney Sanders (20), Happy, Texas, 15.791
Boom Briggs (99b), Bear Lake, Pa., 15.83
Mark Whitener (58), Middleburg, Fla., 15.835
Billy Ogle Jr. (201), Knoxville, Tenn., 15.862
Stormy Scott (2s), Las Cruces, N.M., 15.943
Chub Frank (1*), Bear Lake, Pa., 15.973
Rick Eckert (7V), York, Pa., 15.985
Eric Wells (18), Hazard, Ky., 16.004
Chad Hollenbeck (4ds), Kingsley, Pa., 16.076
Dan Stone (21d), Thompson, Pa., 16.185
Tyler Clem (14), St. Petersburgh, Fla. 16.355
Josh Knoll (87), Lake, Mich., 16.898
Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 17.183