Feature Article, Stock Cars, Washington — June 25, 2004 at 5:42 pm

Tom Hughs and John Salemi (issue 59)




By Steve Heeb

Evergreen Speedway’s pit area is bathed in gold as the sun begins to set on the eve of April 24.

In the Super Stock ranks, two drivers have arrived at the Monroe track from opposite ends of the country.

Tom Hughs calls Arlington, Wash., home, but fellow driver John Salemi has made the trip from Nashua, New Hampshire, to take part in the feature.

When the green flag eventually drops, both drivers will be at opposite ends of the field—Salemi on the outer pole and Hughs at the back of the pack.

But in a sense, both friends have followed a similar path.

Hughs and Salemi met while participating in the Competitive Edge Racing Series in 2003. Hughs already had a championship from the 2002 season, and Salemi was racing a car for the first time.

“Tom and I decided the championship in the last race,” Salemi recalls of the season’s finale against the defending champ. “I was happy with second against the former winner.”

While the Hornets class was buzzing Evergreen’s 3/8ths inner oval, Hughs was making final preparations for the No. 83 Monte Carlo owned by Tom Matthews.

More accustomed to working on a 767, the Boeing mechanic had teamed up with Ian Anderson of Marysville, Wash., to help build the No. 38 and No. 12 cars for Mathews during the off season.

“I was familiar with the tools,” Hughs said. “It’s all mechanical work. But I learned a lot about how things are done with the cars. You can’t learn less.”

And Hughs had started learning about racing back in the days when he volunteered on the safety crew at Evergreen Speedway.

“I’d look at the Super Stocks and say ‘Some day,’” Hughs reminisces. “It was just neat to be so close to the cars.”

Hughs also tested the racing waters in the Mini Stock ranks during the 86-88 seasons at Evergreeen.

“I used to see Winston West races with drivers like Chad Little, Derrike Cope and Hershel McGriff,” Hughs recounts. “I used to watch Carl Zaretzke and Ron Daggett race,” he adds, thumbing over to the far end of the pit area. “To see Carl come back out and race is pretty special.”

Hughs’ goal for his very first Super Stock race: Try to run the 50 laps without embarrassing himself.

“I want to put her in the trailer in one piece,” he said nodding to the blue No. 83 that he would be driving as a reward for his help building Matthews’ other cars. “I’ll try not to cause any accidents for anybody else. I’m just out here getting experience.”

Hughs plans to compete in four or five Super Stock races this year.

On the other hand, Salemi already notched up a Super Stock race behind the wheel of the No. 37 Pontiac on Evergreen’s 5/8ths oval last season.

Salemi used to follow the AMA pro motorcycle national circuit, competing on a Honda CBR F4I. Then he jumped to shifter karts in 2002 and picked up a championship that year.

Now the UPS package driver intends to do more racing at Evergreen. His future plans include NASCAR’s West and Busch North series.

“You have to travel for those,” he explains of his frequent cross-country flights to race in Monroe. “And with the deal I have, it would be hard not to.”

Salemi first met car owner Darren Hall through the Competitive Edge series.

Hughs also credits his move to Super Stocks to time spent training at Competitive Edge.

“I wouldn’t have met any of these guys without Randy,” Hughs said of Competitive Edge founder Randy Koch.

After the Competitive Edge series, both find themselves newcomers to Evergreen’s Super Stocks. Both already have earned championship titles of one kind or another.

“But today is my highlight,” Hughs said before heading out to grid up at the back of the Super Stock pack.

At the front of the field, Salemi holds the outside row.

And then the green flag dropped.

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