Leonard Hughes: Nitro Innovator by ProQuest


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									                                                      Leonard Hughes: Nitro Innovator
                                                      A brief history of the first crew chief who won NHRA
                                                      world championships in Top Fuel and Funny Car and
                                                      one half of the famed Candies & Hughes team

by Kelly Wade
requested by Lance Peltier
Austin, Texas

     he year 1964 emerged as a period of

T    innovation. “Big Daddy” Don Garlits
     began pushing the limits and
exploring new territory, eventually
becoming the first racer to officially
exceed 200 mph on the quarter-mile, and
the legendary partnership between
Houma, La.’s Paul Candies and Leonard
Hughes was formed, laying the ground-
work for years of successful collaboration
and further advancements in the sport.
    Long before joining forces with
Candies, Hughes began his foray into
drag racing as a Chevy man, burning up
the strip in his first race car, a ’57
Chevy Stocker. Looking to go faster,
Hughes developed a partnership with
Candies, whom he had met a few years
prior at Candies’ engine-balancing shop.
Hughes left the slower shoebox behind
for the first serious Candies & Hughes        Teammates Leonard Hughes, center, and Paul Candies, left, were associated with winning from the early days of their partnership. In 1970, with
entry, an SS/A Plymouth with a 426-cid        Hughes at the wheel and calling the shots, they scored the Funny Car title at the independently hosted Super Stock Magazine Nationals.
Wedge engine under the hood, and when
the powerful Hemi engines hit the scene,      effective, and in 1968, Hughes set the          maneuvering a new ’70 ’Cuda into the                The following season, Hughes flexed
the duo stepped it up another notch for       national record with a 7.87 and claimed         winner’s circle. It was a glorious              his muscle as both tuner and driver to
heads-up racing. Eventually, the team         both low e.t. and top speed at the famed        weekend for the team, which had                 win the Summernationals in
graduated to the budding Funny Car            U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis with a           expanded to briefly include Larry Reyes         Englishtown, combining consistent six-
class, where it quickly settled in and        blistering 7.60 at 196 mph. The following       driving its ’69 Barracuda with Roland           second times with great starting-line
gained respect with Hughes at the helm        season, the first in which NHRA                 Leong turning the wrenches on it. The           launches and putting away the fearsome
with a wrench in one hand and the             contested a separate Funny Car race as          group pulled off an unprecedented one-          field-leading Ramchargers Challenger
steering wheel in the other.                  part of its regular schedule, victory           two sweep when Hughes expertly                  driven by Leroy Goldstein, as well as
    Though a win proved elusive for the       again evaded the team, but top speed            nabbed a giant holeshot in the final            entries piloted by Al Marshall and Phil
team in the early days, the combination       honors at the Winternationals (199 mph)         round and Reyes scurried to catch up,           Castronovo, before earning a final-round
of a Logghe Bros. chassis and a Keith         and again in Indy (208.81) supplied a           clocking an impressive 7.12 but lifting         victory on a holeshot over reigning world
Black Hemi engine at the heart of the         ray of hope.                                    early and possibly throwing away the            champion Gene Snow.
fiberglass Barracuda body was quite                                                           first official six-second Funny Car run.            Hughes made his way to his final
                                                      Here comes the sun                      At the end of the day, Reyes captured           money round as a driver but suffered
                                                         By the conclusion of the             the best times with low e.t. and top            traction troubles and was runner-up to
                                                      second event of the 1970                speed, but Hughes collected his first           Ed “the Ace” McCulloch at the 1972
                                                      season, Hughes’ efforts as a            win in historical fashion, and later that       Springnationals. Hughes again made his
                                                      tuner and driver were finally           season, he ran low e.t. and top speed in        mark in the NHRA history books by
                                                      recognized after skillfully             Indy with a 6.80 at 214.79.                     allowing “the Ace” a third consecutive
                                                                                                                                              win, an accomplishment never before
                                                                                                                                              recorded. The victory at the 1971
                                                                                                                                              Summernationals was Hughes’ last as a
                                                                                                                                              driver, but the team still had an
                                                                                                                                              incredibly bright future ahead of it.

                                                                                                                                              A new era
                                                                                                                                                 Hughes moved out of the cockpit and
                                                                                                                                              focused his attention on tuning, and from
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