If the first racing weekend of 2015 for the two major Dirt Late Model touring series showed nothing else, it revealed that two of the sport’s biggest stars have “returned” as contenders on each of their respective tours. Both Earl Pearson, Jr. and Josh Richards not only proved to be competitive in their first outings of the year, but won feature races.
Pearson didn’t really go anywhere. He’s been on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series all along. However, the wins and championships that used to be almost commonplace for the Jacksonville, Fla. resident had gone away. During his most recent years driving for Bobby Labonte Racing, the ‘Hurricane’ had essentially become a non factor on the series as many nights were spent toiling in mid-pack.
However, a reunification with his former Dunn-Benson Racing team and a move to Black Diamond Chassis seems to have breathed new life into the career of this four-time Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion. On Thursday night at Golden Isles Speedway in the season opening weekend for the LOLMDS, Pearson earned the pole by setting fast time in his qualifying group then going on to win the evening’s first heat race.
Then on Friday night at the track located in Waynesville, Georgia, Pearson thrilled the crowd as he took the lead on lap 42 and went on to claim the checkered flag at what is essentially his home track. That victory netted him $10,000 and it also established the fact that he and his team are set to do battle on a nightly basis throughout the season.
EPJ went on to finish 2nd on Saturday night at Golden Isles behind winner Jonathan Davenport. That run secured him the orange rear spoiler indicative of the LOLMDS points leader as the series moves on to East Bay Raceway Park near Tampa, Fla. for a week’s worth of racing.
While Pearson may not have actually gone anywhere to “return” from, Richards has actually been away from the sport. After a couple of flirtations with NASCAR within the last few years and a medical condition that put him on the shelf for virtually all of 2014, the Shinnston, WV driver appears to be back for good in Dirt Late Model racing.
And the pilot of his family’s Rocket Chassis house car made his presence felt immediately in an unsanctioned race at Screven Motorsports Complex last Thursday night. Richards banged his way past Casey Roberts late in the going to achieve the victory in the same aggressive style he has used to garner three World of Outlaws Late Models championships throughout his career.
While his methods may have rubbed some the wrong way, the fact that Richards is back and running up front nonetheless bodes well for a sport and a series that can always use more star power.
Richards went on to earn 4th and 15th place results on Friday and Saturday nights at the Sylvania, Georgia facility. The 15th place showing coming after another incident with Roberts late in that race.
This is not to say that new and unexpected winners aren’t good for the sport of Dirt Late Model racing, because they most definitely are. But having two drivers who have built large fan bases over the years to return as competitive forces is also good for the sport.
It’s never good to have the same drivers win over and over again each week. These two former champions getting into the mix will add to the drama and to the mystery of each race they enter in 2015.