Considering how much success Mark Richards has had in racing, it’s hard to imagine that, coming into the 2023 season, there were still things he had not yet accomplished as a team owner. The co-founder(with Steve Baker) of highly successful Rocket Chassis has seen his Dirt Late Models pull into scores of victory lanes over the years. Anytime the blue No. 1 machine is unloaded, it has to be considered among the favorites to win on any given night.
With several drivers having steered the Shinnston, West Virginia-based Mark Richards Racing cars throughout the team’s history, crown jewels and championships have been earned. Josh Richards and Brandon Sheppard combined to claim eight World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series titles since 2009. Just this season, Hudson O’Neal scored the first Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series championship for his owner who was a 2009 inductee into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame.
But the Lucas Oil crown wasn’t the only first for Richards in 2023. When O’Neal crossed the finish line ahead of the pack in September at Eldora Speedway it was the first time one of the Rocket house cars had triumphed in the much-coveted World 100 after years of trying.
“It was great,” Richards declared in an interview with InsideDirtRacing.com. “Definitely the World 100 was a long time coming, but the Lucas deal, we’ve only raced one other time for that last year when we finished second. It was all good and was a great year, the best year we’ve ever had.”
O’Neal also grabbed big paychecks in the $100,000-to-win XR Super Series event at Kokomo(IN) Speedway and the $50,000-to-win LOLMDS show at Port Royal(PA) Speedway. A total of six Lucas Oil victories in the championship season were supplemented by triumphs with the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and the Castrol FloRacing Night in America Series.
But 2023 was not some sort of anomaly. Rather, success has been the standard for Rocket 1 Racing for decades.
Richards believes that the key to any good racing organization is having clear leadership at the top. He points to examples among his team’s top competitors, particularly Bob Pierce leading the team for his son and Anthony Burroughs who maintains the SSI Motorsports cars driven by Ricky Thornton Jr.
“I feel like the guys that win today on a steady basis, somebody is in charge of the team,” Richards said. “You look at Bobby Pierce and Bob’s kind of in charge over there. You look at Ricky Thornton and Anthony is kind of in charge over there. Each one of those teams, and including our team, have got guys who are behind the leaders. I feel like that’s what it takes. It takes a lot to win in this deal, you’ve got to have a good driver, a good team, a good car, a good engine program, and a lot of money that can make all of that go. If you miss any one of those elements, it’s going to be tough.”
This is one of the most prepared teams in all of racing whenever they show up at the track. The cars are always spotless before each race while crew members Danny White, Joel Rogers and Austin Hargrove go about their business in a professional manner each night. Those work habits are a reflection of their meticulous leader’s personality.
“I’ve done that my whole life and have actually ended up with three crew guys who understand what we’re looking for out of each one of them,” Richards pointed out. “Without them, I couldn’t do it. I’ve got so many things going on that I’ve got to rely on them to make sure that stuff is done back at the shop. Me, I don’t do as much at the shop as I used to, but I’ve got three guys who are more than capable and specialize in their field of what they’re doing. That makes it easy for me.”
With a vast majority of teams using either of only two chassis brands with engines supplied by a relatively small number of shops, attention to detail goes a long way in determining whether their driver runs up front or not.
“I definitely think it’s the crew and whoever is leading the crew that makes the difference,” Richards explained. “Most everybody has got good equipment. Everybody thinks it’s a battle between chassis, it’s not really a battle between chassis. Obviously, Longhorns win and Rockets win. It’s a matter of organizing and getting the right people in the right places.”
As with any good organization, preparation is the key.
“That’s the big thing,” Richards agreed. “We’ll start, as soon as we’re done at Senoia(canceled), preparing for next year. We did it last year when we had Hudson here. We’re not going to go to All-Tech, Hudson is going to go to the Dome but in another car and not with this team, we’re not going to go out West. We’re going to prepare and get our equipment ready. This summer we had a car at West Virginia get torn up a little bit but we had enough cars that we didn’t have to panic. We’re not building cars in the middle of the season. Once we start racing, we’re racing. You wear your team down if you’re trying to build cars and do all that stuff when you’re trying to race a schedule like this.”
Click on the play button below to listen to the interview with Mark Richards
Please consider also reading:
Also, NASCAR and pavement racing fans can check out InsideCircleTrack.com