Richards leads WoO regulars for 2010 season
By Kevin KovacWorld of Outlaws Late Model Series
A star-studded group of drivers has committed to chasing the 2010 World of Outlaws Late Model Series schedule, setting up another fierce battle for one of the nation's richest and most prestigious full-fendered points titles.
The top 10 finishers in the 2009 WoO points standings have signed on to return as regulars on the grueling tour. One additional driver is also eligible to start the campaign as part of the Platinum Member travel-incentive program, creating an even more attractive 2010 roster for fans of the country's premier dirt Late Model series.
Led by reigning WoO champion Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., the 2010 committed-driver lineup is filled with standout chauffeurs. The contracted racers represent a combined 125 career WoO victories and occupy eight of the top 11 spots on the tour's win list since 2004, when the series began its modern era under the World Racing Group banner.
In addition, the drivers own a combined 24 touring-series titles, six Dirt Track World Championship triumphs, three World 100 wins and two $100,000 Dream checkered flags. The group includes the last three series champions — Richards, Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky. (2008) and Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky. (2007) — and could swell to four former titlists with the possible addition of 2006 champ Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., who has not yet committed but is seriously considering returning as a regular.
With Platinum Member status available at the start of the season to the owners and/or drivers who finished among the top 10 in the 2009 WoO points standings as well as former series champions, WoO Rookie of the Year candidate Austin Hubbard of Seaford, Del., also qualifies because his car owner, Dale Beitler, fielded the machine that Francis drove on last year's tour.
"It's a testament to the strength and stability of the World of Outlaws Late Model Series that the top 10 drivers from last year's points standings are coming back as regulars," said series director Tim Christman, who is entering his fourth season at the helm of the tour. "Add in the up-and-coming Austin Hubbard joining the series with Dale Beitler and several other drivers who have hopes of breaking into the top 12 in the points standings, and it's clear that the 2010 season is shaping up as one of the most competitive in series history.
"We're proud that so many great drivers and teams understand the benefits of following the World of Outlaws Late Model Series. It's their support that allows the series to continue building momentum with fans, racetrack promoters and sponsors across the country."
The touring drivers are set to follow a 2010 WoO schedule that features more events, at more different tracks, than any previous season. There are currently 48 confirmed events at 41 tracks in 20 states and two Canadian provinces, including first-time visits to nearly a dozen speedways.
The 2010 WoO kicks off with 50-lap, $10,000-to-win events on Feb. 11 and 13 as part of the 39th annual DIRTcar Nationals by University of Northwestern Ohio at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla.
The tour's 2010 driver roster includes (in order of '09 points finish):
• Josh Richards, the 21-year-old sensation who last year became the youngest national touring series champion in dirt Late Model history. The 2005 WoO Rookie of the Year outdueled Francis for the $100,000 title, topping off a season that saw him lead the series with eight victories, move to second behind Francis on the tour's win list since 2004 (with 20 triumphs) and cement his status as a full-fledged superstar.
• Steve Francis, a 42-year-old who in 2009 scored six wins and fell just short of becoming the first driver to repeat as WoO champion during the tour's modern era. A three-time STARS champ and former winner of the World 100 and Dirt Track World Championship events, the veteran known as the Kentucky Colonel leads all drivers with 26 WoO victories since 2004. He will be back behind the wheel of his own Valvoline No. 15 in 2010 after spending the last two seasons running for Beitler.
• Darrell Lanigan, who slipped to third place in last year's points standings after his spectacularly-steady 2008 campaign made him a WoO champion for the first time by the largest points margin in tour history. The 39-year-old owner-operator known as the Bluegrass Bandit has 12 career WoO victories to his credit, and his resume boasts triumphs in such dirt Late Model mega-events as the $100,000-to-win Dream and Dirt Track World Championship.
• Tim Fuller, 42, of Watertown, N.Y., a big-block modified superstar who broke out in the Late Model ranks with a memorable 2009 season. The 2007 WoO Rookie of the Year finished a career-best fourth in last year's points standings after rolling to seven victories, including a record-tying four-race win streak during the summer.
• Rick Eckert, 44, of York, Pa., the third-winningest driver (19 victories) on the WoO since 2004 and one of only two drivers (Francis is the other) to start all 237 features contested over the past six years. The two-time UDTRA/Hav-A-Tampa Series champion, whose major-event victories include the $100,000 Dirt Late Model Dream and the Dirt Track World Championship, switched to a Team Zero by Bloomquist chassis in 2009 and racked up three wins — his first multiple-victory WoO season since 2006 — and finished fifth in the points standings. He'll field his own team this season after his longtime car owner, Raye Vest, passed away last November.
• Shane Clanton, 34, of Locust Grove, Ga., who will seek to regain the form he displayed during his breakout 2008 season after winning just once and finishing sixth in the 2009 points standings. The driver of Ronnie Dobbins's RSD Enterprises No. 25 owns 11 career WoO triumphs as well as an '08 victory in the sport's most prestigious event, the DIRTcar UMP-sanctioned World 100 classic at Ohio's Eldora Speedway.
• Chub Frank, 48, of Bear Lake, Pa., the popular driver known as Chubzilla who has finished as high as second (2007) in the WoO points standings. He finished seventh in the points standings during a frustrating 2009 season that ended abruptly because of a facial injury in a lead-in event to the World Finals, but the owner-operator did score back-to-back victories in August and possesses a sparkling resume that includes 16 career WoO wins as well as four STARS titles and victories in crown-jewel shows such as the World 100, Dirt Track World Championship and North-South 100.
• Brady Smith, 32, of Solon Springs, Wis., who fell short of victory lane during a 2009 campaign that marked his first as a full-time WoO traveler but flashed the type of potential that established him as a serious championship contender in the future. A two-time WoO winner in 2008 and eighth-place finisher in the '09 points standings, the former Knoxville Late Model Nationals champion joins Eckert as a Team Zero by Bloomquist member on the national tour.
• Clint Smith, 44, of Senoia, Ga., who has been a WoO stalwart since 2004. The veteran known as Cat Daddy experienced a rare winless season on the tour in 2009 and has switched to Rocket Chassis in hopes of returning to form so he can pad a resume that features 11 career WoO victories, a Hav-A-Tampa Series championship and four titles with the Southern All Stars.
• Russ King, 20, of Bristolville, Ohio, emerged as the 2009 WoO Rookie of the Year, registering eight top-10 finishes to best four other contenders for the crown. The fourth driver with big-block modified roots to capture the tour's top rookie award, he returns for another trip through the schedule with his family-owned team.
• Austin Hubbard, a teenager who ranks as one of the country's most exciting young dirt Late Model drivers. After testing the waters by running half of the 2009 WoO, the affable racer was hired to replace Francis as the driver of the high-profile Beitler Motorsports No. 19 and will attempt the entire schedule this season. Hubbard, who turns 18 on Feb. 17, has already gained national attention in 2010 with a $12,000 victory — and unique postrace celebration — on Jan. 30 at Georgia's Golden Isles Speedway.
At least a half-dozen other drivers have indicated that they plan to head out on the road with the WoO in 2010 in hopes of racing their way into the tour's travel-incentive program. Drivers who do not begin the season with 'Platinum Member' status are assured of receiving the benefits of the plan if they rank among the top 12 in the points standings after five events and maintain perfect attendance.
McCreadie leads the list of drivers interested in following the entire series. Others include 2009 Rookie of the Year contenders Brent Robinson of Smithfield, Va., Dustin Hapka of Grand Forks, N.D., and 15-year-old Tyler Reddick of Corning, Calif., and 2010 Rookie of the Year candidates Jill George of Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Chas Shellenberger of Winfield, Pa.