Bobby Hodges has had an “interesting” season to date, with good runs, but less than hoped for finishes. But with the next event at Kern County Raceway Park (CA) coming up this weekend, the Carson City, Nevada racer has reason for optimism.
Hodges will be competing in the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series full time this season, while looking for his first championship in stock cars. Throughout his 16 years of racing, the fun-loving driver has only raced for championships on a couple of occasions. He hopes this season will bring a much coveted title back to his NATC, Naake Motorsports, JRi Shocks and No Coast Customs sponsored team.
Hodges began his racing career in the Bandolero division at Champion Speedway (NV) in 2001. He won his very first race and followed that up with championships in that division the next two seasons beating his older sisters amongst others.
“I raced against my older sisters, so it was a family thing. Whenever they would beat me, however, I would hear about it for weeks and it happened more than once,” Hodges told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “It was a lot of fun racing with them back then.”
Hodges moved on to INEX Legend cars the next two seasons winning Rookie of the Year and Most Improved Driver awards. In 2006 and 2007 he moved into the West Car Late Model Series participating part time throughout Northern and Central California. He took home top 10 finishes in 75% of his starts and had multiple top-five finished in his first years in stock cars.
The following season Hodges turned 18 and felt that was a turning point in his career, even though he had a lot of them to date.
“We ran the West Car Series at Altamont Raceway against some of the largest fields in the country. One week we had like 48 cars and I think I finished second,” he explained. “That’s when I started feeling comfortable in the car and started to really race for wins. That was when racing was really fun. It was just me, my dad (Henry Hodges) and one other crew guy and it was all about having fun.”
Hodges would finish the season with eight top-five finishes in nine events and a second-place finish in West Car points.
During the 2009 season he picked up two wins in the West Car Series at All American Speedway (CA), finishing third in points despite missing two events. In 2010, the team scaled back their operation, running one Late Model event at All American Speedway. He set fast time, won the dash and visited victory lane in the main event for a clean sweep. He also made his first SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series start at Irwindale Speedway (CA) finishing 28th after an early incident.
The most memorable win of Bobby’s career came the following season in a SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series race at All American Speedway. Bobby led only one lap of the event, but it was the most important one.
“I remember the last lap, we were sitting in third then Jacob (Gomes) and (Mike) Kanke got together on the back straight and there was just chaos after that,” recalled Hodges. “Jacob was up high by the wall and Kanke was down low. I just shot the gap between them and raced Kanke to the line for the win. It was surreal even looking back now, racing hard with (Jim) Pettit, (Derek) Thorn, Kanke and (Eric) Holmes for the win. I will definitely remember that one forever.”
It was a big win for his family-owned team as well.
“I really have to thank my parents. They have done just a ridiculous amount for me to do this and put up with all these shenanigans that I put them through. I can’t thank them enough. It’s only because of them that I can do this and sometime I forget to thank them enough,” Hodges surmised.
Hodges spent the next several years mostly racing in the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series as well as select Super Late Model events in California with success at many of the events. He was also having fun, but as competitive as Bobby is he was also looking for even more success.
“After that win we kind of struggled just a little bit at times with just our family-owned team. This SRL series is no joke and you have to come ready to play.”
In 2014 Hodges got together with West Coast shock guru Mike Naake to form a new team.
“I first met Mike at the Win River 100 at Shasta Raceway Park (CA) in 2011,” said Hodges. “We finished third in that race when Mike helped us out. He also helped us out at our SRL win (All American Speedway), when he tuned our shocks for that race. He is definitely someone you remember. He has that presence, knowledge, experience and leadership that when you meet him, you can definitely pick that up. Since teaming up with Mike, we have definitely come a long way with our confidence and feel capable of running in the top five in each event and even challenge for the win.”
The team had high hopes in 2014 with a talented driver and a fast race car, but the team experienced a lot of bad racing luck not of their own doing. Bobby led laps during the season, but wasn’t able to get the finishes they were capable of because of that “racing luck.”
2015 was a different story however as the team hit their stride in its second year together. Bobby started off the season with a 10th-place finish in the Winter Showdown amongst a field of 54 cars. He would score two top-five finishes in three starts in the Pacific Challenge Super Late Model Series (PCS) and four top five’s in six starts in the SRL. He would finish his SRL campaign with consecutive runner-up finishes at Kern County Raceway and The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (NV).
Coming into the 2016 season, Bobby felt really good about running for a championship in the Spears Southwest Tour Series. The team has continued to show speed everywhere they have been, which is a great sign. They have yet to hit full stride, but each race they appear to get better, especially in their SRL car.
“It’s been an interesting season so far. We had a lot of momentum coming out of 2015, but it hasn’t started as well as we hoped,” state Hodges. “In the (Winter) Showdown we were running well and creeping up to the top 10 when we got taken out by a wreck. At the Madera PCS race we were up to fourth when an ignition box shorted out on us. We had the rain shortened race at Vegas where we didn’t get a chance to show how good we actually were, (finishing ninth) but we were really fast. In that one, we think we were competitive enough to challenge for the win but we didn’t get a chance too. Then we went to Irwindale, and I’m pretty happy with how we came out there (finishing seventh), mainly because it’s my worst track. I was able to get out of there in one piece and was finally able to get used to the track, so that’s a good thing. I think we will be alright, it’s been an okay start so far, but I think we can get it going and get some top five’s and challenge for some wins.”
In addition to challenging for wins, Bobby will continue to have fun and be one of the most personal and popular drivers at the track. This is great for the fans, but can sometimes be embarrassing for the driver.
“Back at Altamont in 2008 we were running well and having fun and there was this girl in her teens who worked at the track who was the daughter of a family that worked at the track. They were a great family and their daughter kind of had a crush on me. So one weekend she made me a batch of her award winning cupcakes. She was so proud of them and they were really good, but because of that I developed the nickname Cupcake. The crew wouldn’t let me live it down and were making fun of me, so that was my nickname through the end of the year,” Bobby remembered fondly.
Entering the “Bulwark-FR – Westex by Milliken 150 presented by 51 Fifty Energy Drink” at Kern County Raceway on May 21st, “Cupcake” finds himself sixth in points. He enters the event with a lot of confidence at the half-mile paved oval in Bakersfield, California.
“We show up at Kern the most confident of any track we go to,” said Hodges. “We have that place figured out pretty good. We’ve had some good finishes there and led some laps. I think we’ll show up there ready to rock and look for a win in that one. I’ve learned a lot from watching Derek (Thorn) and David Mayhew who are so good there. I’ve got a chance to race with them a couple of times there now, and I think we will be able to run with them, in this next race, and see if we can come out on top.”
If last season’s results, a second and fourth-place finish are any indication, Hodges should be a strong contender for the checkers in the 150-lap event. And at the end of the season, don’t be surprised to see him in the thick of the championship battle when the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series rolls into Las Vegas for the season finale. With a dedicated and talented crew, to go along with a real wheelman in the seat, the sky is the limit for this third-year team.
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Sal Sigala, Jr.