While many of his peers are still adjusting to the demands of being a college freshman, 18-year-old Josh Richards is already working on a master's degree.

But Richards' version of higher education doesn't involve professors or textbooks. It's coming behind the wheel of an 850-horsepower dirt late model on the tough 360 OTC World of Outlaws circuit, and one of his early season exams will come during the April 20-21 Circle K Colossal 100 at The Dirt Track @ Lowe's Motor Speedway.

"Right now, I am taking off school and focusing on the racing deal," said the youngster from Shinnston, W.Va. "If racing doesn't work out, I can always go back to school. It would be hard to do both, and be good at both. So, for now, I'm focusing 110 percent on racing."

Known to race fans as "Kid Rocket," Richards earned his clever nickname because his father, Mark, co-owns Mark Richards Racing Enterprises which manufacturers the popular Rocket Chassis for dirt late model racing.

"My dad's been involved in racing his whole career," Richards explained. "It's a family deal. My father is my car owner, my mother and grandmother both work at the shop and my uncle also races. I grew up around the race track at home. Then, when I got old enough, 12 or 13, I started going on the road with my dad and I got hooked."

Richards made his first dirt late model start in October 2003 at age 15, and has literally rocketed through the sport.

He earned the 2005 360 OTC World of Outlaws Late Model Series rookie-of-the-year award and, that same year, became the youngest driver to qualify for both The Dream and World 100 races at Ohio's Eldora Speedway.

In 2006, Richards competed in the prestigious Chili Bowl Midget Nationals as a teammate to two-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, graduated from high school and finished ninth in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series point standings.

Richards, who will celebrate his 19th birthday on March 22, kicked off the new season by winning the 360 OTC World of Outlaws opener at Florida's Volusia Speedway Park and has his eyes on the series championship.

"We started the year focused on the World of Outlaws title and to win the first race was amazing," Richards said. "There are so many races to run but our goal is to win the championship."

Looking further down the road, Richards has much higher aspirations.

"My ultimate goal is to get as far as I can, which would be the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series," he said. "This year, I'm also going to do some pavement racing to see how that works."

Richards failed to qualify for the 100-lap finale of last year's Circle K Colossal 100, but heads into the April 20-21 event on a mission to claim the $50,000 first prize.

"Lowe's Motor Speedway has an extremely nice facility but the track hasn't been good to us. It's not anything about the track, it's been problems we've had," Richards explained. "We're definitely looking to improve and I'm looking forward to racing there."

The Friday night portion of the Circle K Colossal 100 will feature group time trials and heat races. The top two finishers in each heat will secure a spot in the 100-lap finale and a draw will determine the starting lineup.

Saturday night's program begins with a driver autograph session and on-track action includes at least four additional qualifying races to the main event. The race will be part of the 360 OTC World of Outlaws Late Model Series, but The Dirt Track's traditional format, including the extremely popular double-file restarts, will be utilized.

If purchased in advance, reserved tickets for both Friday and Saturday nights are $49 for adults and $19 for ages 12 and under. Two-day pit passes are $60 in advance.

Tickets and pit passes for the April 20-21 Circle K Colossal 100 can be purchased online at http://www.charlottemotorspeedway.com/colossal or by calling 1-800-455-FANS.