Ken MacIsaac continues his ‘KenZone’ series with a profile of Chris Hughes, a veteran PEI racer. In this exclusive interview, Ken and Chris discuss the early years for Chris as well as his outlook for 2017, concluding with a great Chris Hughes photo gallery…

KM – I know you got interested in racing through your dad, but tell me about those early memories you had of stock car racing?

CH – My very first racing memory was going to Riverglade Speedway in N.B.  I’d be very young then.  I remember getting carried out to the car, so I was pretty small.    Years later, I vividly remember sitting with mom watching dad ‘barrel roll’ his street stock right in front of us, heading into turn 3 at Oyster Bed.   It was dirt then and he couldn’t see out of the windshield.  He was counting the light poles to know when to turn.   I guess he missed one and turned too early.  The thing dug in and over it went.  That was his first car,  a Dodge Aspen street stock on dirt.

KM – So that was your dad’s first stock car?

CH – Yes.  It was a car that looked like it could have been a daily driver when they brought it in the shop. But the car I really remember was his first modified.  It was a 302 Mustang.  It was lighter than a lot of them and it worked pretty good.  We raced two nights a week back then.  Wednesday nights at East River Speedway and Saturday at Raceway Park.

KM – Wasn’t your dad running the track for a bit?

CH – Yes.  Shortly after he was running the Mustang, dad bought the stock car part of Raceway Park. He maybe owned it a year before he decided to pave it and have the first MASCAR race there.   I think he booked the date maybe a month before it was paved and told them it would be asphalt when they came back.   Jim Hallahan would have all the details.  They brought a few of the MASCAR guys over a week or two before and had them run few laps on dirt.

KM – Did your father promote the track for long?

CH – Only a few years. After he sold his share in the track, he actually bought Terry Clattenburg’s old NASCAR North car.  He ran it as a late model here at Oyster Bed.  He won a feature with that car the first year, and then he handed it over to Gordie Chappell to run the next season.  Those were dad’s only three race cars.

KM – So when did you get your first stock car?

CH – The year after he gave the late model to Gordie, I bought my first car.  It was a 1976 Nova Hobby stock.   We traded an old truck that didn’t run for the hobby stock, I remember steering this old truck through the middle of the night as my brother in law towed me at an alarming rate of speed.  We lived and got the Nova home.

KM – The first time I saw you race was in the yellow Dodge late model.  Was that your next car?

CH – No. We ran the Nova a few weeks more.  We did ok with it.  We even took it to Riverside and finished 2nd for a Canada Day open race.   But after that, we had a chance to buy Dianne Doucette’s car.   We painted it the same yellow with #55 on it.  We won a bunch of races, but only after dad welded up a set of gears out of a 4wd Jimmy to give it some RPM.  We had a lot of fun with that car and won rookie of the year too. So the very next year, the college fund went to buy a late model.   We bought Greg McKenna’s Dodge.  Greg ran a few MASCAR races with it, and before that, it was Dave Gorveattand Marvin Dyer’s car.   We made it yellow with a #55 and had Wendy’s Restaurant on it .

KM – Was it a big step moving up to a Modified?

CH –  Yes. But by mid season we had it going really good.  Gordon Macdonald, Blake Collicutt and a bunch of my buddies worked hard and played even harder.  By August, we won a feature and were a contender every week.   Felt like it caused a little of friction though.  There was kind of a group of great veterans running that class, and we were so young and inexperienced, but running well.

KM – I spoke to Blake about this car. He told me you guys had a lot of fun back then.

CH – That is so true.

KM – So how long did you run that Dodge?

CH – We ran that Late Model a year and half.  Then dad decided to buy our first pro stock from Al Robinson.   It was for the most part a disaster lol.  Nothing wrong with the car, other than a little out dated.  We just didn’t have the  money or knowledge to be where we were those first few years.  We  got a decent motor from Beatty and Woods in Ontario.  We didn’t pay anyone to set up the cars.  We really didn’t know any of the top guys to ask for help.  In all honesty,  they didn’t really offer either…  So we struggled for a couple of years.

KM –  You only ran that Grand Prix a year or two, right?

CH –  Yes.  In ’96, we bought a newer chassis from Bobby White, but then we struggled with engines and horsepower for a couple years.   But we ran that car up until 1999.  That’s when we bought a new Howe M chassis and got some reliable power from Armstrong’s.  I was studying the chassis stuff really hard back then, and things started to go better.  We had our first podium finish at Petty that year.  Finished right behind Bobby…

KM – Did you sell the Bobby White car?

CH –  We did. Can’t remember who bought it though.  Robbie MacLean bought the Howe chassis in 2004.  I remember he bought it on a Tuesday night.  We had a bare chassis from O’Blenis’ in the back of the shop that we threw together and took to Geary that same Saturday.   It had a Hamke clip on it.  We got into the Hamke stuff with some of our own ideas, and we started to really figure some stuff out.

KM – I remember you getting more and more competitive during that time frame.

CH –  We did.  We were getting more experience, and learning as we went.   In 2005, we put a new Hamke clip on the car and had an awesome year.  Then, in 2008 we bought a brand new Hamke car and it was a really good piece.   We raced it until we sold it in 2012.

KM – It’s very likely Dean Clattenburg built that chassis for you at Hamke back then?

CH – He did.  Both Dean and Steve from RCH helped me out a lot back then.  But we could never afford to actually hire chassis consultants like they do today.  I read everything I could find and learned how to do my geometry, roll centres, things like that.  I did it on my own.  It was the only way we got so competitive. So I bought computer programs, and designed and played with geometry and what I liked to feel in the car,  and went from there. It took a very long time.  Maybe I’m a slow learner. A bit after we got there, we stayed pretty competitive even coming back for a race in 2012. I think we qualified in the Dash and finished 6th.  That was the last time I was in my own car.

KM – In 2008, you ran Jerry Curtis’ car in Shediac.   How did that come about?

CH –  Oh wow!  That was so much fun.  Bubbs (Cory Lund) and I went over to watch that day.  I was sitting in the grandstands when they came up and said to me “Jerry isn’t feeling good, would you be interested in wheeling the car?”    I was shocked at how good it went.  We had a great heat race and got to the top 5 in the feature before we got into someone else’s mess.   Doug Knox was involved in that car.   Those guys were super excited that day.  They didn’t care if it got tore up lol.

KM – In 2009, Ken Schrader raced at Scotia in Mike Alexander’s Sportsman car.  Were you on the crew that day?

CH – I think Scott was running the tour back then.  He knew I was a huge Schrader fan and gave me the chance to meet him and work on his crew for the day.  It was a big thrill for me.  Always thought it was so good of the tour, and of course Scott,  to do that for me.

KM – I guess your last full season on the Tour was 2010.  But you mentioned you ran a few times after that?

CH – That was the last full season, but we ran maybe twice in 2011, and once in 2012.

KM – And you eventually sold your pro stock?

CH – I did.  Vance Hanes bought it.

KM – You ran some Late Model races at Oyster Bed around 2011?

CH – I ran Jeff Sanderson’s car at OBS a few times that year.

KM – So tell me about your 2016 race season?  You won the points championship?

CH – We had an amazing year.  5 feature wins including the 100 lapper.  Just a great year.

KM – Did I see your car for sale online?

CH – It is for sale.  We bought a Pro Stock this fall, so we have to move the late model.

KM – So you’re going to run some Pro Stock Tour races?  Tell me about the car?

CH – Corey MacNeill and I bought the car between us.  We were partners on the late model and decided to try a pro stock.  We bought it from Doug Knox in N.B.   It’s an older Distance Chassis.  Maybe 2012. I think it has some potential.  We will see. We’re trying to build a car on a tenth of the budget of most.  But we have been able to find some decent used stuff I think,  and some fellow racers have helped us with some parts to try to get it together.  It’ll be partial schedule if we can get it all together.  Perhaps an open race or two, if we have some sponsors that want to go.

KM – During your Pro Stock Tour days, you raced at just about every track in the Maritimes.  I’m going to name some tracks, and want you to tell me your thoughts on them.  First one, Riverside.

CH – Love Riverside.  Had two awesome runs back to back in the IWK 250 in 2009 and 10.  Really on my bucket list to do once more.  In the Hobby stock,  it was likely scary.  But I’d be too young and dumb back then to care. But I do remember how nice their 6 Cylinder Hobby stocks were.

KM – Scotia Speedworld?

CH – My best memory of Scotia is time trialing 2nd for the Cat 250 against some very stout competition.  That place is tough, but I got to really like it when we got going better.  I had some great runs there with Mike MacKenzie.  We raced up front there one night.  Him on the bottom, me on the outside for many many laps.  But it was certainly tough my first few years.

KM – Shediac?

CH – Like that track too.  Won a B feature with Greg Sewart under my tail piece every lap.  I always remembered that.  Greg was one of the best.   Still have the t-shirt!

KM – Speedway 660?

CH – Always qualified really good up there.  Have a pole there and thought we had the track record.  But missed it by a few hundreds.  Took the pole challenge in 2007, came from the back to 5th.  Always thought we should of won up there.  Never put it together for a real good run in their 250 for whatever reason.

KM – Petty Raceway?

CH –  Never ran there since it re-opened except last fall.  But in 2000 I think, had a couple of podium finishes.  Always ran really good.  It wears you out though.  I found out last fall in the late model, that with all the bumps, you really drive that place hard.

KM – Sydney?

CH – Think I only ran there once or twice with MASCAR.  I broke or wrecked.   Those steel walls.  That’s what I remember.   I think George and Wayne fought that night.   It was a rough race. Everyone wrecked.

KM – Oyster Bed Speedway?  You must know that place like the back of your hand.

CH – Oyster Bed has been a good track for me,  but I don’t have the laps there that people think.  I only raced there 2 full seasons before we started traveling around.   These guys that had raced there for all those years,  winning championships, and then going to the tour were in a different league than me.  They had years of winning at their home track before they raced a tour race.  I treated Oyster Bed like any other race.   I didn’t put a lot of pressure on myself, as I’m sure some of the other local drivers did.  I think that helped me and hurt me some over the years.   I should’ve won a couple races there,  but hey, crap happens.  Either I made a mistake or something happened.  I led a lot of laps there in a couple of tour races.

KM – I know how important your father was to you.  I’m sure you miss him terribly.

CH – Dad.  Well, we worked and played together basically my whole adult life.   Toughest thing I have ever dealt with and continue to deal with.   There’s too many great memories to share here, but he was a real racer.  He spent his own money to do it.  He was my biggest fan and harshest critic.  He was a promoter of the sport, an was with me every lap of my career.   And every lap I take is for him.  The orange late model was a tribute to him and carried his picture on it.   I think of him every day and the lessons he taught me.

KM – You’ve had some good guys help you over the years, and continue to help you.  Want to mention some?

CH – I have been very very fortunate to have so many people give their time and effort to my racing. Obviously dad first and formost.   My whole family, who let me travel all those years and encouraged me to keep going . Corey Lund has raced with me for nearly 20 years.  In the beginning there was Gordon Macdonald , Blake Collicutt,  Ian Macrae, Russ Sanderson, so many more through the years. My uncle Jerry MacKinnon’s company, G and P Trucking, has sponsored me almost every year I’ve raced.  I couldn’t go without mentioning Ryan Hynes who put me in touch with Cecil Pauley.   Pauley Equipment was our first major sponsor and made a huge difference between 2007 and 2010.   More recently, Corey McNeill for putting me back in a race car as an owner and bringing our current sponsor Tops to Floors into the sport.  Finally, my girls, Emma and Gabby.  They’re getting a chance to see their dad race now, and enjoying it.

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