Hughes picks up Father's Day present early by dashing to trophy in dirt track racing
Father of three driving Mini Truck
Joe Hughes, a pioneer of his division in dirt track racing at the Madras Speedway, is making an almost Jordan-esque comeback. He last raced at the speedway in 2000 but Hughes has started his season strongly in the Mini-Truck category of racing at the quarter-mile track this season.
His two-year hiatus seems to have revitalized Hughes and his racing. He scored a second straight trophy dash win and recovered from a spin while leading the main event to earn points for second in Saturday, June 14, action.
"I was Rookie of the Year in 1991. Then I used to run mini cars. Once in a while we'd run against Sportsman division cars. We could keep up," said Hughes.
After years of racing, however, Hughes said, he discovered it was taking too much of his time and he chose to take a couple years off to spend time with his family.
"I wanted to fix up the house and had some other things to get done," said Hughes.
He has built nearly a dozen four-cylinder cars and trucks for racing at Madras Speedway's dirt track. Hughes even had to battle one of them to win the trophy dash. He then fell behind the #38 he had sold to Mike Kilby of Bend in the main and couldn't catch up on Saturday.
After last racing during the 2000 season, Hughes is now driving a brightly painted lavender-purple #27 Toyota truck.
"The plan is to have Mollie (his younger daughter) drive it in a couple years. I keep it in good shape," Hughes said.
He seldom changes the truck's engine timing or mixture or other mechanical characteristics, explained Hughes.
"I do all my racing here so I can keep it set up for this track. If I was traveling a lot it would be different at some tracks," Hughes said. He and his family put in most their traveling miles transporting the truck on a trailer.
Hughes and his wife Bonnie have three teenagers.
Their oldest, Teresa, is 16, while Ray is 14 and Mollie 13.
"Ray's more interested in motocross," Hughes said. His son's favoring motorcycle racing over cars or trucks is not in the least upsetting to Hughes though.
"As long as the kids have something they do to stay out of trouble, that's great," Hughes said. His youngest daughter Mollie has shown the most interest in racing cars or trucks.
While adjustments to the tires and other modifications could let him run the truck he races on the street, Hughes prefers to keep the truck running on high octane fuel and with tires that are specially set up. That is why the veteran takes the car to each race on a trailer.
"It's easier to keep everything set up," Hughes said. That is part of why he doesn't use different fuels in the truck. While he could put other fuel in it, Hughes usually sticks to a 100 octane rated mix for the truck. The high octane fuel he and many other racers generally use can often be purchased as airplane fuel, noted Hughes. A five-gallon can he fills at the Madras airport pumps is nearly always enough to get the father of three through each night's racing.
As in each division, there are eight-lap heat races for Mini Trucks each race night that determine the field for the trophy dash. The main event, however, is open to anyone who can get their vehicle to the starting line.
There are times when a car gets bent in a heat race but can get repaired in time to race later, Hughes noted.
"One of the things I like best about racing here is everybody comes to help everybody else," said Hughes.
He recalled times when he's both given and taken help from various fellow racers over the years. It was another driver, Wayne Short, who Hughes recalled as one of the big helps to him when he got started.
His success during the years starting when he earned the Rookie of the Year honor in 1991 gained Hughes enough attention to draw varied sponsors. Culver Texaco, Rock'n Road Gravel, Middleton Septic and The Cable Man, among others, are helping minimize Hughes' expenses.
John Smith, a racer himself in the 2001 season, said he remembered Hughes being among those who encouraged the start of a four-cylinder division. Hughes quipped back that he remembered Smith being better known as "Mustard-Head" Smith.
Hughes explained that he originally raced four-cylinder cars, before turning to trucks.
"Every truck is a little different because they get set up by the driver," noted Hughes. Though many start out with a majority of their parts right from the factory -- sometimes called stock parts -- more trucks than not are modified.
In Hughes' case the changes include having what is known as a two barrel, "down-draft" carburetor made by Weber. Hughes said many of the trucks racing at Madras are similar. There are safety requirements requiring fuel cells rather than gas tanks so that the fuel is more contained. A switch that immediately turns off all circuits is also a requirement inside all cabs. There must also be roll bars in the driver's compartment along with protection for the radiator and front end, besides the rear and side bumpers. Virtually all the rules are geared to safety.
Getting good traction while cornering is dealt with a little differently by each driver. They can adjust the pressure in their tires, but the tires must be of a type called DOT, specially designed to have tougher sidewalls than others, Hughes explained. He uses staggered inflations -- mainly between 20 and 25 pounds per square inch, compared to the roughly 32 typical for passenger tires in highway driving. A low pressure helps tires dig in at the right places, said Hughes. It also helps that he had slightly different tire diameters he uses on the different sides of the car.
He said having the tires set up to run well is just part of his and the other drivers trying to give fans some exciting racing.
"We're here to put a show on," said Hughes.
The veteran did more than his share of that Saturday as he came back to get around Mike Barbari, another veteran, in the main heat of Mini Truck raining. He couldn't catch Kilby, to whom he had sold the 38 truck, but Hughes said he was having fun trying.
"I'd like to have had about eight more laps to see if I could have caught him, but he's a good driver," said Hughes.
He drew the pole position for June 14 and was racing with the lead most the night, but Hughes said he actually prefers coming up from the back of the pack.
"You get extra points for passing, besides what you get for where you place," Hughes said. "I usually like to let the pack get thinned out so I can pass," he added of getting a position further back in the starting grid.
He enjoys trying to drive a little better than the other racers while using a vehicle that's only been changed a little, said Hughes. He added that he most likes racing when he has more cars to wind through to get back in front.
While sometimes working on other cars, Hughes focuses on having his own vehicles running smoothly. That way, when he goes to the track for races he can be confident his truck's engine is hitting on all cylinders.
"I'm usually just looking for a good line. You don't want to be getting bumped all over the place by the track, if you can avoid it," Hughes observed of his initial runs at the track each week being to find a line without a bunch of ruts to drive through.
His finishes of late have Hughes on a path to celebrate more than just a Fathers Day weekend win, like he did Saturday.
Teresa, Ray and Mollie's father may be on his way to a prize as one of the Mini Truck division's top racers.