Hughes is on point
Jason Hughes has had to resist the urge to be himself this summer.
The United States Modified Touring Series driver from Westville, Okla., has traditionally shuddered at the thought of racing for points. But the thought of capturing his first USMTS national championship was too much to pass up.
"In the past we won a bunch of races, but never finished up front," Hughes said. "We're doing things a little differently this year."
So, yes, Hughes likely could have more than one victory in 15 races during the USMTS Hunt for the National Championship. But, he's happy where he is in the Hunt points standings — at the top. With just three races remaining in the Hunt, Hughes holds a 75-point lead over Ryan Gustin of Marshalltown, Iowa.
The National Champion is scheduled to be crowned on Saturday night at Deer Creek Speedway near Spring Valley. Saturday's races are the finale of the three-night Featherlite Fall Jamboree, which is expected to draw close to 120 of the top Modified drivers, and 50-60 of the top Wissota Midwest Modified drivers from around the country.
Hughes has finished as the USMTS national runner-up once and he has finished third in the points standings twice in the 11-year history of the national championship. Read about it in Wednesday's print edition.
"You have to get your stuff ready before you go racing," Hughes said when asked what it takes to be successful during The Hunt. "You have to be prepared and you have to finish up front every night.
"It's tough. We're always trying new things on the car, but we decided to just be more consistent every night."
The change in philosophy has paid off for Hughes, 36, driver of the No. 12 car sponsored by his company, Hughes Racing Chassis. He has 13 top-five finishes and 14 top-10 finishes in 15 Hunt races.
Hughes has won two USMTS Southern Series championships, but he covets a spot on the list of USMTS National Champions. That's a select list, too, with just three names on it. Kelly Shryock of Fertile, Iowa, has won nine of the previous 11 national titles (including last season's). Jason Krohn of Slayton, Minn., won in 2007; and Tim Donlinger of Rochester won in 2008.
"This is the toughest Modified series going anywhere in the country," said Hughes, who started his racing career in a Street Stock when he was 14. "You have to be up there near the front every night."
The 19-year-old Gustin appears to be the biggest speed bump between Hughes and his first national championship. Gustin has won a series-high three times in 15 Hunt races, but he has finished outside of the top 10 six times.
"This is all (Gustin) has ever done," Hughes said. "It's what he loves to do. I remember being his age and thinking about nothing but racing. If a show got rained out, I was looking for another place to go race."
Tommy Myer of Blooming Prairie and Zack VanderBeek of New Sharon, Iowa, are lurking in third and fourth place, respectively. Myer is 126 points behind Hughes, while VanderBeek is 149 back.
Hughes, who won the Jamboree last year and in 2005, said he knows he'll have to stay on top of his game this weekend if he is to claim the national championship. With a field of 120 or more cars, he said one bad night could cause a big swing in the points standings.
"It's so tough just to make the show (the A Main) all three nights up there," he said. "You have to be prepared and you better have a lot of luck if you're going to win it."-->