Fast Talk: Reviewing Richards' big weekend
Here’s the latest edition of Fast Talk, a DirtonDirt.com feature appearing each Monday and sponsored by Out-Pace Racing Products. Staffers Michael Rigsby, Todd Turner and Joshua Joiner gather weekly for a roundtable discussion about who’s hot, who’s not and other issues regarding Dirt Late Model racing (edited for clarity and length):
Todd Turner: Feeding Michael’s ego is always dangerous, but he did mention something last week — let me check the wording — about Josh Richards rattling off a bunch of wins. And Richards did just that at Lernerville Speedway’s Firecracker 100, winning both preliminary features and the $30,000 finale to beat more than 50 competitors — and rain that plagued the weekend.
It was a tough weekend on everyone with the schedule changes and high-speed track conditions, but perhaps that only elevates the accomplishment of winning three straight World of Outlaws Late Model Series events. For sure in the finale, Richards was able to stay in control while seemingly endless challengers took a shot at him but fell back, had flat tires or broke while the Rocket Chassis house car chugged on. Quite a weekend performance, wasn’t it?
Michael Rigsby: (More telling me how great I am is always a good thing!!) It's a pattern with Josh over the course of his career. When he gets one, many wins typically follow. What I find so interesting about this weekend's really impressive sweep, is that he was coming off a Northeast tour where he was — as he put it — "embarrassing". He really struggled leading up to Lernerville, and everyone wondered, 'Is Josh in trouble?' Then suddenly he lays a three-day beatdown on the field at one of the biggest events of the year and you're like, “never mind.” I think on this day, July 1, 2013, he's the best driver in the country right now.
Joshua Joiner: That's definitely one of the best weekend performances we've seen. To win all three races on a big weekend like that, it's something most drivers can only dream of. While the track conditions may have made things difficult for everyone else, they only helped Richards. Those high-speed, rough-and-tumble type tracks are one of his strong points, and if his car keeps up with him, he's often unbeatable in those conditions, as we all saw this weekend at Lernerville. It's definitely a great performance by him and the Rocket house car car team, and it came just when they needed it most. After a little bit of a slump the past few weeks, Richards is definitely back on top of his game now and poised to go on a run.
TT: Inevitably we compare weekend sweeps to Billy Moyer’s similar three-race sweep at Knoxville in 2010 that paid $54,000 in all. How do you all see the comparison with the feat of Richards? Who had a tougher field? Who faced tougher conditions? Which one dominated more? I think Knoxville’s event tends to outrank the Firecracker among the richest races, but that might be Moyer’s only real edge.
JJ: I think it's a pretty even deal between those two performances. While Moyer's may have paid more, just winning three straight races, let alone against the stout fields that both Knoxville and Lernerville draw, it's really an amazing feat any way you look at it.
TT: My first reaction was that Moyer's was a couple of notches better in comparing the competition, the grand stage of a historic track, and an event that's traditionally among the late-season specials. But the more I think about it, they're both pretty close in stature.
MR: I think most agree that Moyer's was just a tick tougher, as those Knoxville fields are really stiff, but when you break it down to a micro level, Josh's sweep isn't that far behind. It was a drain of a weekend to with the weather, etc., so for him to stay focused and put it together was impressive. I agree Todd — first reaction is a Moyer slam dunk, but the more you look at it, the more even it really is.
TT: Michael, you can weigh in on this best, but it seemed to me to be a semi-miracle that Lernerville got all three events in, despite rain every day and the complete washout on Friday. The Thursday program that looked in doubt earlier in the day went off right on schedule, then the Saturday doubleheader was sandwiched around the seemingly always-present rain. Quite a performance by the track crew, too, wasn’t it?
MR: There were people who were on the Lernerville staff who I'd rate in the "very optimistic” category who were all but writing the weekend off the way things looked, and were looking. It was just "wet" the entire weekend, and forecasted for event wetter. But that track crew, led by Gary Risch Jr., is literally one of the best in the country, and they had a plan and stuck to it the entire weekend.
They never wavered when it would have been easy to, and they get boatloads of credit. I couldn't help but thinking a few times, “Just about any other track would have called this whole thing off already,” but they never did.
TT: I think we're all pulling for Lernerville to have one of these Firecrackers without any worrying about rain. While there was plenty of action this weekend, when that track slicks off it's definitely at its most interesting.
JJ: Probably a little easier on equipment, too.
TT: Let’s move to the UMP DIRTcar Summernationals where Joshua has been among our representatives with Derek Kessinger and others. Points leader Brandon Sheppard ripped off another set of back-to-back victories, sweeping the tour’s Tennessee races, while Billy Moyer broke out of his slump with a victory at Paducah and 16-year-old Bobby Pierce became the tour’s youngest winner Sunday in Lincoln, Ill. Weren’t we all expecting Pierce to grab one of these?
MR: It was just a matter of time before Bobby got one. And it's kind of fitting that it's in Illinois, where his father raced to so many Summernationals wins. You could really tell in his interview, that winning one of these races — these races he's seen so many of over his life — meant a lot to him. I think that's part of the reason they ran the Summernationals in the end, to a kid from Illinois, who grew up around it, the lure of it is pretty great.
TT: I’m pretty sure I remember Summernationals races where Bobby was on four wheels — in a stroller.
MR: Ha ha! Best line in Fast Talk history?!
JJ: From the moment he decided to drop off the Lucas tour to follow the Summernationals, it was only a matter of time before Pierce broke through. He's been one of the most consistent drivers on the tour this year and has been knocking on the door for quite some time. It was great to see him and his family finally get to celebrate that big win, especially after such a dominating performance. Now that he's got the first one out of the way, I'm sure more will come soon.
TT: Sheppard has nine top-five finishes in 12 starts, but a rare misstep at Paducah cost him his biggest points margin so far. Pierce and Ryan Unzicker are tied for second 94 points back, with Shannon Babb, who lost a heartbreaker at Clayhill, in fourth. Let’s chew over the points chase a bit.
JJ: It's going to be extremely tough for anyone to catch Sheppard. There's definitely still time for any of those three drivers to chase him down, I really just don't see it happening. I've said since Belle-Clair that Sheppard is going to be this year's Summernationals dominator — the one who gets hot, wins a string of series races and walks away with the title. While Pierce, Unzicker and Babb have all had their moments, I've seen nothing convincing enough to change my mind. It's Sheppard's championship to lose at this point.
TT: I think Joshua's point last week about Sheppard's impressive (and surprising) consistency is the key to this points chase. He's turning in about the most consistent stretch of his career. If he maintains it, we'll look back on this as when Sheppard took a big step as a driver ... and if he stumbles during what's still a long stretch of racing, it will likely make for a whale of a points chase going down to Oakshade's finale.
MR: I'll throw this one out there: it's over. Finished. Complete. Hand Shepp the check and let's head on down the road. Too much? I just feel like he's running the best right now, and will be up front each and every night. It's Sheppard's title to lose. (If nothing else, I've given the Pierce, Unzicker and Babb teams some bulletin-board material).
TT: Well, if it's bulletin board material, at least they'll have the day off to find a printer.
Moving away from the Summernationals, it’s almost time for the busy Fourth of July week races to get rolling, so let’s wrap this up with a little potpourri of other Dirt Late Model news? Chime in on one or more of these topics.
What about Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway getting buyers who say they plan to reopen the racetrack? How about Missouri’s Tony Jackson Jr., Saturday's $5,000 winner at Adams County, ripping off his fifth sanctioned victory in as many weekends? Scott Bloomquist connecting with Randy Sweet in an expansion of his chassis business?
JJ: It's always great to see signs that a close racetrack may reopen, and it's pretty clear that Kentucky Lake will be reopening someday soon. ... Tony Jackson Jr. is having a breakout season — if not a breakout month. While his hot streak is bound to taper off eventually, I think this is the start of many more victories to come for that young driver. ... I'm not sure really what to think of the Bloomquist-Sweet deal. It sounds like a promising combination, but we'll just have to wait and see how it plays out.
MR: The Bloomquist news I'd sort of heard out in the universe, but he confirmed it live for the world to see when we interviewed him on our pay-per-view Saturday night from Lernerville. He seems excited about it, and thinks it will certainly pay off.... Tony Jackson Jr. has quietly had one of the better regional seasons of anyone in America. Maybe he picks off a $10,000 victory before the year is over? ... And I saved KLMS for last because it's a racetrack I grew up going to all the time, and have hoped for several years that it will reopen, and that we could again see racing there. That area seems to be struggling somewhat right now keeping racing going, but this will hopefully be a shot in the arm.