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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Marshall man was familiar voice, conferrer of nicknames as announcer at local and area auto racing tracks

Friday, September 21, 2007

John Hughes, left, laughs prior to planting a big kiss on Bill Utz, center, after Utz won a feature in 1973. The flagman on the right is Jack Guthrey. The fans in the background seemed to enjoy the extra-funny show for the night of racing.
(Contributed photo)
Editor's note: This article is another in a series of stories looking at the people and history of Saline County's auto racing scene.

An excerpt from a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article published on April 15, 1973, tells about a Marshall man who became a familiar voice around local tracks in the 1950s and 1960s.

"If you drive out Sedalia way and happen upon a little red-faced, white-haired Irishman doing a jig along the side of the highway, it won't be a leprechaun," said John Sonderegger in the article. "John Hughes, the likeable publicity man for a group called Professional Auto Racing Promotions of Missouri, may call on his Irish heritage to fend off any possible rains."

Hughes said he watched the track and the dreams of two men, Junior Copas and Bill Mikels, turn into reality.

"There weren't any designs," Hughes said about the track. "It came out of their heads." Charlie Gauldin did a lot of the earth-moving. The grandstand was built by locals at the time. "Everything was done locally," he said.

The track gave the people of Marshall and surrounding areas a "great evening of entertainment, camaraderie and clean fun." The track was a "tremendous asset for what it brought to the community."

He reminisced about the drivers at Sportsman's Speedway. He mentioned Jim Raines, Chet Dooley, Shorty Pace, C.H. Hines, David Gauldin and "Fireball" Jim Jenkins.

"I gave him that name," Hughes said. "I can't believe it has stuck as long as it has." He also nicknamed Aubrey Techmeyer as "The Mayor of Forest Green," and that stuck too.

"I was not interested in who won the race," he said.

He announced and never said a bad thing about the drivers, he pointed out. "If they ran last or ran first, they were the best. I never down-graded a driver."

"They weren't always winning the races but they were racers and they were proud of it," he said. "It gave them a sense of pride and recognition."

Bill Utz, Russell Hibbard, Roy Hibbard, Ken Taylor and Tom Corbin were "really a class of their own."

Hughes announced at many tracks across several states.

In The Lincoln Journal-Star on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 1968, they wrote "The colorful Hughes, a walky talky of excitement and racing vernacular during the summer months, will hit Ohio, Illinois, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa in addition to Nebraska as he tours the racing circuit for National Speedways of Florida, Inc."

He said he was announcing when Bill Billingsly went airborne at Sedalia, when Norm Paul lost his arm in Spencer, Iowa, when Aldo Andretti lost his eye and a couple drivers lost their lives.

A friend of Hughes who was apparently as ornery as he made a poster for him with "moves under cloud of an Irish jinx" in big letters at the top.

By 1968, he had announced in 17 different states.

While announcing, he did several jobs in the promotion line. He was also the editor of Building More, a magazine in 1964, for the Builders Association of Kansas City.

But this was only the beginning for an unusual, yet rather funny man.

Hughes laughed as he thought about his life and the roller coaster ride it was. He either was flying high or low. There was no in-between when it came to "scratch" or as most call it, money.

"I either flew first class or road the bus," he said. "That is the history of my life."

Hughes' life in promoting events was extraordinary.

He made his debut around 1976 with the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show.

Chitwood was a daredevil in his own stunt show that was a big success. He was also hired by Hollywood film studios to either do stunt driving for films or to act as auto-stunt coordinator. Chitwood appeared in the 1950 film about the Indy 500 titled "To Please a Lady" starring Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck.

Prior to Chitwood's career in stunting, he started racing race cars in 1934 at a dirt track in Winfield, Kan. From there, he began racing at tracks all of the United States.

Between 1940 and 1950, he competed at the Indianapolis 500 seven times, finishing fifth on three occasions. He was the first man ever to wear a safety belt at the Indy 500.

The well-known Hughes has a unique picture hanging on the wall in his house of him and former President Harry Truman taken in April 1954. He has meet many interesting people in his lifetime and looks forward to meeting many more. He still loves to travel and joke about the good ol' days.

When asked about his age, he slyly remarked, "I am about two years younger than Roy Hibbard." He finally admitted to being 85 years old.

Contact Rachel Harper at


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