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Some guys play golf as a hobby, some bowl. For me it was always racing of some kind or another. I grew up in Indianapolis with the sounds of Indy cars in my brain. I played baseball in high school and other sports but racing and automobiles have always been my passion.
For many years I had the pleasure of hosting a show on Friday nights called For Race Fans Only here at QVC. I got to sit down and interview the biggest names in motor-sports and loved every minute of it. Recently a kind viewer asked me about my own driving ‘career,’ and mentioned that I rarely if ever talked about my own experiences behind the wheel. She was right, I didn’t. When your interviewing Dale Earnhardt you don’t mention you finished 13th in last weekend’s local dirt track adventure…. But since she asked I thought I would share.
I started racing at the age of 16 (I fibbed about my age...) at a dirt track in Anderson Indiana running a late model stock that was built from salvaged parts in an older friend’s garage. He would drive one weekend and I would drive the next… using his name.... At 18 I moved up to USAC and ran midgets for 2 years before heading off to the west coast and college. That was back in the day before they became Sprint cars. They didn't have wings and we ran on dirt and asphalt. Indiana was a hot bed of racing back in those days and both Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart cut their teeth in those race cars. After college I ran limited summer schedules in late model stocks again and ran a few ARCA races along with even fewer Sprint car events but never had the money to be really competitive. After a severe injury in 1988 I quit racing for almost 15 years but kept active in racing by building a small business that helped grass roots driver like me to secure larger national sponsorships.
In 2002 the bug bite me again. I had been at QVC for 13 years and my Friday night shows were doing well, but starting any race team from the ground up is a tremendous amount of work as well as a big investment in terms of time and money. I was looking to reduce both, so after looking at several different types of racing my best friend and I decided on creating a multi-kart WKA team to compete in World Karting events. Go carts that do 100mph was honestly the most exciting racing that I have ever been involved in and we did that for almost 5 years. We were able to win several regional championships and 120 trophies during that time.
When you get to host a national television show dedicated to racing it is incredible who you get to meet and know. I had met Humpy Wheeler, back in 1991. He is the former president, and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway and one of the greatest race promotors of all time. He was passionate about wanting to start a new type of racing series that was affordable for almost any one and in 1992 he started the INEX Legends Car series. Legends cars are purposely built 5/8th scale race cars that look like the vintage stock cars of yester-year. They run on 1500 cc motorcycle engines and have all the same modern safety equipment of today’s NASCAR vehicles. Humpy talked me into buying one of the first cars they produced, and I kept it down there in Charlotte and would race it whenever I could get a weekend off and get down there to drive. Humpy would make fun of me asking when I was going to stop racing kid’s go-karts and start running the Legend car more often. In 2007, I sold the WKA teams and told Humpy to build me two new cars and he told me he would take us on as a factory team….” If I could provide a national sponsor…,” hello QVC. QVC sponsored me in the Senior and Pro divisions for the next three years and we once again had a blast.
Racing has always been more of a hobby for me than a vocation, but I know that having done so helped me in my interviews with those who were truly great at it. I think it is worth noting that the INEX Legends car program has become the fastest growing development series in motor sports. Check out the names of dozens of drivers now competing in the Camping World, Xfinity and Monster Cup series and you will find legends cars on their resume’s. There have been other wonderful examples of having been given the gift of taking turning some hot laps in other driver’s cars for promotional purposes. I know what it feels like to drive cup cars at Dover, Daytona, North Wilkesboro, Orlando, and Nazareth Speedways.
My greatest thrill came when I got the chance to drive the pace car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the opening shots to a For Race Fan’s Only show when my guest was Mario Andretti. My producer came up with the idea and I can’t even begin to tell you how we talked the powers to be at the speedway to allow it. The plan was to open the show on an extreme wide shot of the front stretch with my coming out of turn 4 at speed….to power slide the car between two director’s chairs right at the strip of bricks… and then for me to exit the car and begin the show right there on the start finish line. The museum had pulled Mario’s “Brawner Hawk,” race car, the one he won the 1969 Indy 500 in, and it too was parked nearby. We practiced the move several times, (which allowed me to turn more laps,) until everyone was confident that I would not destroy a new pace car, a historically significant race car …or all of the above.
Three minutes before the live show started Mario was mic’d up and told to take his place when he asked, “Where is Hughes?” I heard my producer say in my ear piece, “Don’t worry, he will be here…” The music rolled, the show’s logo popped up on the screen and my always calm producer told me to “give it the gas…” I rolled out of the fourth turn full on the gas when the motor burped once and shut off. No one had bothered to check the gas gage on the pace car and I had been having too much fun turning hot laps for fun. The car coasted into position at about 20mph and I didn’t even get the satisfaction of hearing the tires squeal. I still count that night as of the best in my life.
My racing days are now behind me but my passion for cars is still ever present. Today I spend most of my free time either writing or restoring classic cars. I have a team of equally passionate car guys who work with me and I get as much satisfaction from doing this as I ever did racing. I have never posted photos of my collection or those cars that me and my guys have had a hand in building but here are a few of my babies that I have built over the years.
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