“He’s the most interesting man in the World.”
That famous commercial catch-phrase could well describe SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series driver Bobby Hodges. The 27-year-old Carson City, Nevada driver finished a career best fourth in the final 2016 SRL championship standings. He started the 2017 championship season off with a thrilling win over three–time SRL champion Derek Thorn and Bon Aqua, Tennessee driver Willie Allen at Irwindale Speedway (CA).
On April 22, he will aim for his second straight victory at Kern County Raceway Park (CA). But the most exciting part of Hodges’s life may not even come on the paved short tracks of the Southwest, but through his work experiences and his adventurous spirit.
Hodges grew up in a racing family, the son of Henry and Mary Hodges, with two sister racers, Jennifer and Kelly. By the age of 10, he was already spotting for his father’s Late Model efforts at Champion Speedway (NV) amongst a sea of grizzled veterans. He soon took to the track himself, participating in Bandoleros, Legends, the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Models and finally the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series.
Despite driving Late Models since 2006, Hodges has only competed for a full season twice in his career, instead opting to concentrate on his college education and future career in the family business.
In 2013, Hodges graduated from Cal Poly State University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He returned to his hometown of Carson City to work for the National Automotive Test Center (NATC), under his father’s watchful eye. NATC is a facility that is designed to provide an efficient and productive environment for total vehicle evaluation, and for Hodges it was a job that included his love for speed, adventure and pushing the limits.
Hodges’ current position as the Vehicle Performance Engineering Deputy Program Manager has seen him travel not only nationwide, but worldwide as well. His recent trip to Montana is just an example of a typical adventure he has had on his job.
“We were in Montana for two months, testing for the Marine Corps,” Hodges told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We were testing for various traction aids on the Marine Corps trucks, and one of the tests I got to perform was driving an eighty-ton vehicle. I basically drove it down an ice lane, hit the brakes and saw what happened after doing so. That was pretty exciting and fortunately nothing rolled over, but it was pretty nerve-wracking. I would say it is pretty comparable to going toe to toe with someone like Derek Thorn on the track. With driving a vehicle like that, and putting it on an ice lane, there is definitely a pucker factor, but it was still a lot of fun.
Hodges’ job and personal adventures have also taken him to a multitude of foreign countries. Some of the locations he has visited include: England, Ireland, Germany, The Netherlands, Luxemburg, The Czech Republic, Belgium, Greece and the Middle East. His international travel for work has been a fascinating and eye-opening experience for the second-generation driver.
“It’s really interesting to experience the working relationship with different cultures and different perspectives. It is very personal. You become like family, but the intensity comes out when it comes to the actual work, more than anything I’ve ever experienced in the States. When the meeting is over, everyone is like family again. It is pretty amazing.”
Outside of work, Hodges definitely has a fun and adventurous side. His hobbies include snowboarding, downhill mountain biking, dirt bike riding and having fun in the desert. His more audacious side finds him travelling to Black Rock City, a temporary city erected in the Black Rock Desert in Northern Nevada, for the annual Burning Man Festival with his wife Cami. The event is described as an experiment in community and art, with 10 main principles that include radical inclusion, self-reliance and self-expression, community cooperation, civic responsibility and gifting to name a few.
“We have gone to Burning Man for three years in a row now. It’s a worthwhile experience that I would recommend to anybody,” Hodges reminisced. “You pretty much go out there and let your freak flag fly. It is interesting in that there is a lot of transfer from my work with testing, in regards to the soft soil, and getting stuck. People go out there with their nineteen seventy something Bugs or Beetles. And there are a lot of people who get stuck out there in the desert, or who have various breakdowns. This last year I pretty much found myself as the designated car repair and excavation guy.”
“It’s interesting the first time you go out there, into the middle of nowhere, with 70,000 people wearing dragon outfits or sometimes even nothing. I myself dressed up in these flaming pirate pants, and I also had this caveman outfit. Mike Naake (Hodges crew chief) has this photo of me in the flaming pants, and every time I do something stupid on the racetrack, he shows it to me, and says, ‘this is what you look like on the race track right now”. But you definitely get to meet a lot of different people, who may have a different perspective than you do.”
In addition to an adventurous fun-loving personality, Hodges’ is also one of the most personable drivers in the garage. The 2016 season saw that pay off in spades with Hodges winning the inaugural Speed51.com Most Popular Driver Award for the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series. He was also the winner of the SRL’s Ninth Annual “Bob Elliff Award”. The award is presented in honor of SRL Chaplain Bob Elliff who lost his battle with cancer in 2009. Bob’s presence at the racetrack made the series a “better place,” and with that distinction the award is presented annually in his name. Hodges joined Bob Elliff, Jim Pettit, Robert Perryman, Ken Benhamou, Norm Griffith, Ron DellÓsso, Jeremy Doss and Kevin Peters as the previous award winners. These two awards meant a great deal to the veteran driver.
“When Brian (Olsen) announced the winner of the Most Popular Driver Award and the Bob Elliff Award, it was just very humbling, because I never thought of myself as that kind of person,” Hodges expressed. “What was really cool was that we were really struggling (at Thursday’s Winter Showdown practice), and we weren’t that good on the race track, so we were kind of down in the dumps. They really picked me up when I needed it, and I really appreciated the awards. I really have to thank the SRL and Speed51.com for doing that, it was so awesome.
“As for the Most Popular Driver Award, I really need to thank my sister Kelly. I think she posted an update, for that award, pretty much every day, for three or four months. I think that was a determining factor in getting the vote out, I really want to thank her. Those two awards were really cool, and something I had never experienced before. They were definitely well received, and I really appreciated it.”
The 2016 SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series season was a good one for Hodges, one in which he was the only driver to finish every lap of competition. The season got off to a slow start, but the Naake-Klauer Motorsports Team improved throughout the year to finish strong and bring him home fourth in the final championship standings.
“You know, we came off of the 2015 season with a lot of momentum with two consecutive second-place finishes, but we kind of got off to a slow start in 2016,” Hodges stated. “The first half of the season we were just marred with a lot of bad luck on the track, but that is just racing. In some ways it’s good to have that, because it’s easy to start to think that you should be up front in every race with no issues. And unless you are Derek Thorn, it’s probably not going to happen because it’s pretty rare. Once the green flag drops, you just have to remember that there are things that are out of your control. You just stay positive, and realize there is not much you can do about some of it.
“The great thing about last year was that Mike (Naake) and the guys at Naake-Klauer Motorsports did the best job possible to prevent any of those mechanical issues from hindering us. We did our homework and we showed up at the track ready to play, in a position to compete for wins. You can’t ask for anything more than that. Fortunately, towards the end of the season, we got some momentum back and had a bunch of top five’s. That helped us carry momentum into this season.”
That momentum payed off at the first SPEARS Southwest Tour Series Event at Irwindale Speedway, when Hodges bested Thorn and Allen in a classic three-car duel to the finish. It was Hodges’ first SRL win since October of 2011 when he won at Roseville’s All American Speedway (CA). The win was at his self-admitted worst track on the circuit and gives him additional confidence headed to the Bulwark ‘FR / Timberland Pro 150 PRESENTED BY 51FIFTY Energy Drink at Kern County Raceway on April 22.
“At Irwindale we kind of found something there, where I found that balance of where it needs to cut in the middle, as well as have good grip off. Now that I have got that feeling back, I’m hoping that will translate to Kern and we will improve there. Now that we have figured out Irwindale, Kern is really our worst track, so hopefully we will leap frog again and keep improving everywhere.”
As of late, Hodges has struggled at Kern County Raceway, but it’s still one of his favorite places to race.
“Kern has definitely been a little tough the last couple of times for me, for whatever reason. When we first started racing there in the tour, it was one of my best tracks. But recently, we just haven’t found that right balance. Honestly, I think it is kind of my fault, because I always want the car so loose, because I want to get speed underneath it. It always seems to end up biting me in the race. The Irwindale race, however, has given me the confidence of having the right feel again.
“Kern is definitely one of the favorite tracks for almost everyone because of the speed. When you accelerate out of the pit area and you are banging through the gears, getting up to speed, there is not much of a better rush than that. It’s a great track, a great facility and has great people, especially now since Larry (Collins) is running the place. It’s definitely one of my favorites and if we start running better there, it will be even more of a favorite for me.”
Despite Hodges quick start to the season, his plans for the complete season are still up in the air. Hodges draws support from NATC, Naake Suspension Specialists, JRI Shocks, KB Fabrication, K&N Filters, MTFX Graphics, Stoptech Brakes and No Coast Customs, but his total season budget has been cut from the previous year. He will run through the midpoint of the season and then evaluate where the team stands.
“The win was definitely a great boost for the guys to keep them pushing and fighting,” Hodges stated. “But we are not changing our outlook of racing to the midpoint of the season. A lot of people, myself included, have a tendency to say, ‘hey, we are going to run for a championship, we are going to run the whole season.’ When you run for a championship, I don’t think you can go into it with that mentality. You’ve got to let it be fluid and take it race by race. At the end of the season, if you are in that position, then great. If not, then you weren’t pushing it and putting pressure on yourself from out of the gate. We are just going to keep doing what we are doing. We have four races that we are going to run for sure, and then we will reassess where we are at financially, and otherwise, and go from there.”
The eighth-ranked driver in March’s Speed51.com JRI Shocks Power Poll will hope to make it two SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series wins in a row on April 22 at Kern County Raceway. Front gates open at 4:30 p.m. with SRL qualifying at 5:00 p.m. There will be an on-track autograph session from 6:00 p.m. to 6:40 p.m.
Main events for the Michelob ULTRA Super Stock Series, Les Schwab Tires NASCAR Spec Mods and SPEARS Southwest Tour Series will begin at 7:00 p.m. Come out and watch Bobby Hodges i.e. “Bobster the Lobster,” “Cupcake,” “Captain Redbeard,” “Hodgepodge,” and the “Red Rocket” take on a talented field of 25 Super Late Model drivers for the $5,000 winner’s share of Saturday night’s purse.
-By: Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com