For 26 years, Stephen Hughes has been cashing checks and snapping winner’s circle pictures all over the country. He’s recently slowed down a little, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to collect more trophies wherever he goes.
Like most racers, Stephen Hughes grew up in a drag racing family. His mother and father were both very successful racers. He legally started racing at 16 years old, although he snuck into a few races before he turned that age. He started racing in a 1971 Dodge Demon, which he is currently in the process of totally rebuilding.
From there, he ended up running his father’s dragster a little bit and also their Davis 27 Roadster. He ran the Roadster in Super Gas for a short period of time but eventually ended up back in his comfort spot which was the dragster. They would hit a few .90 races a year, but it became increasingly difficult to support that type of racing, so they predominately bracket raced which is where Hughes settles now.
Hughes currently races at 2003 Miller Dragster. It’s powered with a 600 cubic inch BBC built by Kenny White. It runs high 4.60’s to low 4.70’s no matter where he goes. Along with his dragster, the family has recently added a junior dragster for his son, Douglas. The process has been frustrating to him but also rewarding.
“It’s really been more fun and meaningful to watch your kids be successful than to do it yourself,” Hughes stated. “The downfall is these little single cylinder weed eater engines are very finicky and have a mind of their own. You can take everything you know about a real car and throw it out the window.”
In the mid-2000s, Hughes had the opportunity to go racing full time for Greg Tetreault. What started as something he didn’t think much of turned out to be a four-and-a-half-year adventure of being a full-time bracket racer. This time of his racing career was where a majority of his racing accomplishments happened.
Hughes has won several B&M races, including the Million in 2000, a few Southern Super Tens races, and a couple little and big bucks’ races at the Tenn Tucks in Bowling Green. He won a track championship at Houston in 2006 and a Southern Super Tens Points Championship in 2000.
In 2000, Hughes won the Million Dollar Race driving one of Tetreault’s cars, but what made it even better was that he won it under an alias.
“The car was new, had no point, no numbers, nothing on it,” Hughes stated. “I had only raced it a few times before but had already won and runnered-up 10k’s in the same weekend at Texas Raceway.”
Hughes arrived at the Million at a mild 22 years of age and never even hearing about it until a few weeks before. John Dibartolomeo was there and had the things to do vinyl lettering in his trailer, so he was able to make Hughes some numbers and name stickers for his car.
“Being 22 and a typical male idiot, I thought it would be hilarious to put a funny name on the side of the car instead of my own,” Hughes laughed. “Little did I know, a few days later I would be interviewed by Brett Kepner for ESPN in the winner’s circle of the biggest bracket race ever with the name “Haywood Geblowme” on the side of the car.”
A legend was born that day, and some racers still call Hughes “Haywood” to this day!
After winning the Million, nothing really changed in Hughes’ racing program since he was a hired gun for Tetreault, who kept the best of the best equipment under him before and after as well. After the deal ended, it allowed him to purchase his first Miller car, a 2002 which he assembled in his living room.
What Keeps Him Going
As far as his bucket list goes now, Hughes’ main goal anytime he pulls into a racetrack is to win. He hopes to achieve more wins, as they are harder and harder to come by as the years go on. He’d like to run some of the Fling events and was actually planning on making the trip to Vegas this year before COVID-19 hit.
Most of Hughes’ racing is supported either through his regular work or his side gig, which is tig welding. Sometimes they do well enough to use winnings to keep it rolling. Most people know Hughes from his recent creation, the Pull-Out.
The Pull-Out started two years or so before anyone really realized what it was. If you’ve ever had trouble getting out of your dragster and have bruises to show for it, the Pull-Out is for you. After driving Stephen Lowery’s car, he looked like a complete fool trying to exit the nice 24” cage and realized he could be onto something. Before even leaving the event, he was at, he had sold three and then four at his next race.
“My good friend Ricky Pennington came up with the name,” Hughes said. “It’s catchy yet describes the product perfectly.”
Being at the racetrack with the whole atmosphere, sights, sounds, and smells is something Hughes enjoys most. To him, there is nothing like the smell of burnout smoke or fresh VHT being sprayed at the track. He loves to win, and even after 26 years of racing he has realized that even on your best day you can still get beat.
“I hate to beat myself,” Hughes stated. “If I drive well and my opponent does better, well congrats to them, and I’ll try to improve for the next one. I’m not superstitious, if I don’t do what I’m supposed to in the car, I’m not going to win anyway. Doesn’t matter if somebody watches from a different spot or which leg I put in my fire pants first.”
The thrill of victory motivates Hughes to continue racing. Once you get the thrill, you want to keep going for me. Plus, he thinks the cars are still pretty fun to ride in! He never hates to see anyone else in the other lane.
“If I don’t believe I can win, I shouldn’t even be there,” Hughes said. “There are a lot of good racers out there that you know don’t give much room for error, and those are the best ones to race!”
To make our readers laugh, Hughes was running a F-350 powerstroke and decided to throw a bunch of delay in it and dialed down a few, because what else would you do when you’re racing a dually?
“I definitely wasn’t red, and definitely didn’t break out, and also didn’t win the round,” Hughes laughed.
Hughes’ parents have made the biggest impact on his racing success. They set a good example as racers and also provided him with good equipment to race. Without the opportunities he had been given over the years, he wouldn’t have the operation he has today.
“Racing has evolved in many ways, obviously the speed and quality of the cars we are all bracket racing with is a big one. We live in a world now where people can actually buy knowledge instead of learning through the school of hard knocks on the track as we did back in the day,” Hughes stated. “As a driver I made it a point several years ago to head to the track with one goal in mind. Make good decisions. If you think about how many decisions you make during a given race day, it’s amazing.”
Like every racer, there’s multiple people that help keep the process going. Hughes’ wife Lindsay is his biggest supporter. They met at Huntsville Dragway in 2004, she grew up at the races just like him and was a racer herself.
“She understands every aspect of the sport,” Hughes said. “Without her, it just wouldn’t work.”
To Hughes, the hardest part of racing is funding it, but with the help of his friends and supporters he is able to do what he does. Kenny White is not only his engine builder, but also his friend. He’s put in a tone of hours to make his engine what it is today. Joey Crum takes care of his transmissions and is just as much of a friend as he is a supporter.
Mickey Thompson Tires has provided support for Hughes for the last eight years, and Pro 1 Safety have taken care of him on several occasions.
“Both companies make high quality products that I’m honored to use and endorse.”
His father-in-law Doug Harper, a weather of knowledge in many areas. Whatever question it may be, Doug has been there to answer them for Hughes.
“He’s one of the hardest working people I know,” Hughes stated. “Plus, he let me marry his daughter and move her to Texas!”
Before Tommy Costales passed, he was Hughes’ engine builder and was always there for whenever he needed a question answered or needed steered in the right direction.
“Eddie League is another one we lost this year, he was one of the true genuine good guys,” Hughes stated. “He was always up for a good time and was my co-pilot for my last trip to the Million because I had no one to go with him. I’m very thankful to be friends with him and the whole family.”
Without the help and support of all these people, Hughes wouldn’t be the successful bracket racer he is today. He continues to push himself to be the best racer he can be and is always looking to park his ride in the winner’s circle at whatever racetrack he goes to.
About the author: Megan Strassweg is a 22 year old Super Comp racer from Louisville, Kentucky. She races a 2015 American Dragster sponsored by Coolshirt Systems. She graduated from Western Kentucky University in May of 2020 with a degree in Photojournalism and a minor in Entrepreneurship. Megan works at Jim Butner Auto in the Finance Department. Growing up at the racetrack, drag racing is all she has known and never plans to give up on it.