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Richards dominates in WoO Pittsburgher 50

September 23, 2007, 4:39 am
By Kevin Kovac
World of Outlaws Late Model Series
Josh Richards dominated at Pittsburgh. (Dan Fennell)
Josh Richards dominated at Pittsburgh. (Dan Fennell)

IMPERIAL, Pa. (Sept. 22) — Complete, utter dominance. That’s the only way to describe Josh Richards’s performance at Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway. The 19-year-old sensation was simply in a league of his own, running away with a flag-to-flag victory in the half-mile oval’s 19th annual Pittsburgher 50.

“That car was awesome,” Richards said of his father Mark’s Rocket Chassis House Car. “It was like a video game out there. If I wanted to I could run harder, or I could just cruise for awhile. Whatever I wanted the car to do, it did without a problem. It’s hard to get a car that good very often.”

Richards, who started from the pole position, was never seriously challenged. He pulled away from the pack with ease after each of the race’s four caution flags, extending his lead by at least two-tenths of a second per lap.

In action at the track where he ran the third feature event of his career in 2004, Richards became the youngest winner in the history of PPMS’s Pittsburgher spectacular. He earned $10,225 for his fourth WoO triumph of the season and the sixth of his career.

WoO Rookie of the Year contender Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., finished a distant second, 3.4 seconds behind Richards. He used the inside groove to steer his brand-new Ed Petroff-owned J&J Steel/Jayco Construction Rocket car through the top five during the race’s second half.

WoO points leader Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., finished third in his Valvoline Rocket, followed by third-starter Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., and 2004 Pittsburgher winner Bart Hartman of Zanesville, Ohio.

Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa., who is second in the WoO points standings, finished a quiet sixth but didn’t lose any ground to Francis. The event offered only show-up points (75 points to each driver entered) because an open practice session was held at PPMS on Thursday night, violating the tour’s rule that prohibits open or private practices at a track within one week of a one-day show.

Richards was one of three WoO travelers who towed in to participate in that mid-week practice, and the extra laps must have helped. His Seubert Calf Ranches-sponsored No. 1 was flawless when the bright lights came on Saturday night.

“We practiced here Thursday, and it felt really good,” said Richards. “We just picked up tonight right where we left off. Everything just clicked and went our way.”

Richards also happens to have a knack for getting around the big, wide PPMS layout. On top of a near-win in his first-ever start at the track in ’04 (a blown tire knocked him out of the lead), he also owns Pittsburgher finishes of fourth (2004) and third (2006) and a victory earlier this year in the Red Miley Memorial Penn National 53.

“I’ve always felt comfortable at this place,” Richards said. “I’ve just always been comfortable anywhere that you roll into the corner fast, like here, Eldora, Knoxville, Volusia. I just love going to all those places, whether they’re slick or wet, vs. the little stop-and-go tracks that we’ve been running lately.

“We really shine on the bigger, faster tracks.”

That was abundantly clear as Richards cruised alone in front, not the least bit threatened for the entire distance. He experienced a scare when he got into the back of Davey Johnson’s car in turn four while lapping the Latrobe, Pa., veteran on lap 14, but he escaped the incident — which sent Johnson spinning — with only a small dent in his hood.

Did anyone even concern Richards? Not really.

“I saw (Brian) Birkhofer got to second (on a lap-four restart), and he kinda worried me a little bit,” said Richards. “But as good as my car felt, I knew he’d have to be really good to just drive by us.

“I just kept my pace and rode around there. Jimmy Frey (Richards’s chief mechanic) was in the corner giving me signals, and when he let me know I had a pretty good lead I just backed off and cruised.

“It was real fun,” he added. “I’ve never had a car that felt that good. I was just like half-throttling it most of the race.”

Shirley, 26, chased Richards under the checkered flag, recording his third runner-up finish of the 2007 WoO season. He didn’t reach second place until passing Francis on lap 44, however, and he never got a chance to make a bid for the lead.

But Shirley didn’t have any illusions about a late-race caution flag providing him a chance to overtake Richards. He was satisfied with a second-place finish in a race that obviously belonged to Richards.

“He was definitely better than any of us,” Shirley said of Richards. “We were good enough to run second. We’ll go home and try to figure out how to run first.”

The competitive Shirley, a former flat-track motorcycle champion, was modest when discussing his run from the eighth starting spot to second in his first start behind the wheel of a new Rocket car. He tested the machine for the first time during Thursday’s practice session at PPMS, a track he had never before visited.

“I knew if things played out right we could probably run in the top five,” said Shirley, who won his first career WoO A-Main on May 13 at Lincoln (Ill.) Speedway. “Things just worked out for us. We were able to get down there and run around the bottom where I don’t think a lot of people could run.

“Honestly, I wasn’t happy with the car yet, but it was good enough to run second. We ran a new car, new shocks (Integra), a couple of other new things. We’ve still got a lot to learn, but hopefully they’ll be good things to come now.”

Francis, 40, ran in second for much of the distance after starting from the outside pole, only losing the spot to Birkhofer for one lap very early and then later to Shirley.

“Brian just got going down around that bottom,” said Francis. “My car was better in the lower-middle (lane), so as the guys moved into that bottom it just made my car get worse. They just threw stuff from the bottom out there in my groove, so I was holding on.”

Francis registered a career-best finish in the ‘Pittsburgher’ – his first top-five finish in 13 career starts in the event, in fact. That made fruitlessly chasing Richards a bit easier to swallow.

“He had something I didn’t have,” Francis said of Richards. “His car was just way better than mine.

“Mine and Josh’s cars were set up completely different. I tried running where he was, and I just couldn’t run there.”

The race’s only multicar incident came on lap four. Drivers involved included Jeremy Miller of Gettysburg, Pa., Dan Stone of Thompson, Pa., Lynn Geisler of Cranberry Township., Pa., Donnie Moran of Dresden, Ohio, Dave Wade of Clinton, Pa. Moran and Wade did not continue.

Pittsburgher 50

Pos. (start) Driver/laps, purse
1. (1) Josh Richards/50 $10,225
2. (8) Brian Shirley/50 $5,375
3. (2) Steve Francis/50 $3,000
4. (3) Darrell Lanigan/50 $2,500
5. (5) Bart Hartman/50 $2,000
6. (7) Chub Frank/50 $1,700
7. (4) Brian Birkhofer/50 $1,400
8. (12) Tim Hitt/50 $1,800
9. (15) Keith Barbara/50 $1,200
10. (13) Jared Miley/50 $1,100
11. (9) Clint Smith/50 $1,150
12. (17) Rick Eckert/50 $1,000
13. (20) Gregg Satterlee/50 $950
14. (11) Jackie Boggs/48 $900
15. (19) Dutch Davies/48 $850
16. (21) Al Atallah/48 $800
17. (26) Brandon Burgoon/48 $770
18. (6) Steve Casebolt/34 $750
19. (22) Jeremy Miller/34 $730
20. (16) Lynn Geisler/27 $700
21. (24) Dan Stone/24 $700
22. (14) Shane Clanton/24 $700
23. (10) Davey Johnson/14 $700
24. (23) Roy Mitchell/9 $700
25. (25) Dave Wade/4 $700
26. (18) Donnie Moran/4 $700
Car count: 46
Fast qualifier: Smith, 20.320 seconds
Heat race winners: Frank, Birkhofer, Richards, Lanigan
Consolation winners: Eckert, Moran
Provisional starters: Mitchell, Stone, Wade, Burgoon
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