Friday, July 18, 2014

2001 - An awful lot of wrenching; Hughes hits milestone

Monticello, Iowa (July 18, 2001) - Gus Hughes is a typical race car driver in a lot of ways. He’s friendly, easy to talk to, eager to get people involved in the sport he loves, and tends to discuss his race endeavors in terms of “we” instead of “I.”

There is nothing typical about Hughes’ race record, which includes a remarkable 101 feature victories (through July 14), in the Modified car division alone. Hughes recorded Modified feature win No. 100 on Thursday, July 5 in Davenport. Two nights later, in West Liberty, he picked up No. 101.

“It was great,” Hughes said. “Not a lot of guys get 100 feature wins.”

Hughes is quick to deflect the credit. “Mike Stoneking deserves to be mentioned. Without him we would not have known how many feature wins I had.”

Stoneking, who like Hughes is a Monticello native, best summarized the 100-win achievement. “He said, ‘That’s an awful lot of wrenching.’ A lot of work went into those feature wins,” Hughes said.
Hughes is the son of two race car drivers. Tom Hughes raced for more than 25 years. His mother, Aletha, still gets behind the wheel on occasion, and last year won the Powderpuff race at the Great Jones County Fair. He has six brothers and six sisters, many of whom are involved in racing. Gary and Russ Hughes are regular members of Gus’ crew, along with pit crew members Jeff and Jerry Hinrichs. Odis Hughes, Gus' sister, works for Simmons Promotions, Inc., which promotes racing at West Liberty and Farley, two of Gus’ regular haunts.

Hughes’ racing career dates back to the late 1960s. In 1967 he won his first trophy, in bike racing. His first race car was a ’68 Pontiac, which also brought him his first win.

“We demo’ed the same car the next day in Vinton,” Hughes recalled.

Hughes drove a Rambler, then a Mustang, then a Camaro, racing in the Pro Stock division until 1985. That year, he switched to Modified.

His first Modified feature win was May 17, 1985 at Hawkeye Downs. He went on to win 11 more Modified features that year, and the march toward 100 was under way.

Hughes has won 44 Modified features in West Liberty alone, 19 in Farley and 15 at Hawkeye Downs. He has won at tracks as near as the Great Jones County Fairgrounds, and as far away as New Smyrna, Fla. and Muskogee, Okla. He has also won them in Davenport, Dubuque, Tipton and at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines.

Hughes has 67 additional wins in the Pro Stock division, giving him 168 in all.

Many race car drivers say they do it because of the speed. Hughes looks at it a different way.

“The thrill for me is starting toward the back, going through and passing all the cars. Sometimes you'll be going three or four laps against the same guy before you can pass him. That’s when it’s great.”

“A lot of it is the people you meet at the racetrack. I’ve got friends at all the racetracks, and I can stay at their places.”

Hughes also takes pride in building. His current WallyBilt machine was constructed mostly from scratch, starting with only a frame and a roll cage. He had some help, but did most of it himself. “It took us all season last year to build this car.”

Hughes said, standing next to the red and white No. 30 vehicle. “We started on Valentine's Day and didn't get done until August. It’s the satisfaction of building stuff and then going out and winning with it.”

This will probably be the last year of Hughes driving the car, as he has bigger plans for next year. Dan Burbridge, originally from Delhi and now living in High Point, N.C., is planning to work with Hughes on moving up to the Late Model division.

“Next year will be a good test for us,” Hughes said. “That will probably tell us how far we can go.”

Hughes is currently sponsored by H&H Homecrafters, along with Bard Concrete, Hughes Auto Restoration, D&S Sheet Metal of Cedar Rapids, Mi-T-M Corporation of Peosta, and Storm Steel of Cedar Rapids.

Next year, he said, “We’re going to have to get more sponsorship.”

He has another goal. Hughes is currently fourth in points in the Modified division at West Liberty. If he can take over the lead there, and accumulate enough victories, he can become the champion of the NASCAR Short Track Division Midwest Region, which would earn him $7,000 and some national recognition.

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