Jeff Letson has been a force on the modified scene in the Deep South for decades. He knows just about every trick, every track and every set-up tip imaginable. He is passing his knowledge to step-son Parker Pugh, and Pugh is putting the teaching to use by quickly rising up the ranks in the Modifieds of Mayhem.
Pugh began his career wheeling quarter-midgets as a six year old, and slide in the window of a high-powered modified car for the first time at the tender age of 14.
Letson loves the opportunity to race against the younger, up-and-coming drivers - especially Pugh.
“That’s what we do this for, to try to win," Letson said. “We love the competition and everything leading up to it. When we get on the track, we try to outdo the other. It’s just what we do.”
While Letson is among the top contenders each time the Modifieds of Mayhem hit the track, Pugh is still learning the ropes. The 20-year-old driver finds himself racing against men who were in racing suits at the same time he was in diapers.
Pugh welcomes the challenge.
“I love it because the competition level is so high,” said Pugh. "When you go to the track your five or six drivers that can win it every weekend. You have to be on your game to run up front and win. When you do beat them, you are on top of the world. They are on their game every week, you have to be prepared.”
While still trying to get over the hump, Pugh doesn’t have to look far for help. He has one of the nation’s best parked right beside him in pit area each weekend. Letson is always willing to help Pugh at any time.
“If I have a question, he will answer it,” said Pugh. “However, our driving styles are completely different. If you look at his and my car, nothing is the same. Entering the corner or picking up throttle happen at different spots for each of us.”
Letson echoed Pugh’s comments.
“I’m trying to give him a head start on some stuff,” Letson said. “He’s only been doing it for a little while. Out here, he is racing against some really experienced and tough guys. Anything I can do to help him a little bit, like race advice or something, I try to do it.”
Friday evening, Letson will be in search of his fourth Snowball Derby Modified win, while Pugh is aiming for his first December triumph.
At the end of 75 laps, if Pugh and Letson are battling for the win, each has their own opinion of what might come to happen. When asked if he would move Pugh for the win, Letson paused, thought for a moment and replied with fatherly answer.
“Probably not,” Letson said. “He was ahead of me once, and the crew told him I was behind him. He kind of moved over and let me go. He was plenty good enough to win it, but I think he got a little intimidated because i was behind him. We will race clean and hard if it comes down to us.”
However, Pugh said contact could be a possibility.
“If it came down to it, we would trade paint,” said Pugh. “We have done it before. It’s a bragging rights thing between us, not an ‘I’m going to let you win thing.’ It’s all about racing and taking pride in what you do.
While the family may disagree on the motive of winning, if either member is able to park their machine in victory lane Friday, he will be greeted by a familiar face.
"If he wins, I’ll park mine behind the front stretch and run up there,” Pugh said with a smile. “If I win, I’m sure he will do the same. We cheer each other on all the time. If I win, he is always the first one up there to give me a hug and tell me congrats, and the same thing goes for me.”
“If he wins it, I might beat him to victory lane because I will be so excited,” said Letson. “I’ll be the first one there. No doubt."
Race fans can watch all of the feature racing from the 52nd Annual Snowball Derby presented by BJ's Wholesale Club by clicking here.
-Story by Ryan McCollough, Speed51 Gulf Coast Correspondent - Twitter: @RyanLMcCollough
-Photo credit: Speed51