Hughes claims 2016 USMTS national title
Jason Hughes wrapped up his third USMTS National Championship in seven years during the 2016 racing season, and if he’s in the hunt for a fourth title in the future it’s hard to imagine it being any closer than this year’s climax.
Hughes was dominant during this year’s regional action leading up to the Hunt for the USMTS Casey’s Cup. In addition to sweeping the MSD Central Region, Production Jars Southern Region and RealTruck.com Northern Region titles, he won 10 of the 37 races in those regions while registering 25 top-five and 34 top-ten finishes.
In all three regions, it was Cade Dillard settling for second place and the 2014 USMTS Rookie of the Year would experience the same fate at the end of The Hunt.
In a battle for the ages on opening night of the 18th Annual Featherlite Fall Jamboree—the final USMTS points race—Dillard trailed the defending champ by 10 points coming into the Thursday night clash at the Deer Creek Speedway.
The 42-lap feature saw Hughes on the front row while Dillard began five rows back in 12th. Hughes swiped the lead from polesitter R.C. Whitwell to earn an all-important bonus point for leading a lap. Meanwhile, Dillard was marching toward the front.
With Whitwell setting the pace up front, Dillard pulled even with Hughes for the second spot on lap 13 and then quickly reeled in Whitwell to take the lead on lap 22. Dillard’s advantage over Whitwell was more than a straight-away and even more back to third-running Hughes when the yellow flag waved with six laps to go.
For the moment, Dillard would best Hughes by a single point for the series title if the race ended now. But, in reality, it was just beginning.
Hughes didn’t need to pass Dillard to repeat as the USMTS national champ; he just needed to be the runner-up, but his Hughes Racing Chassis was surrounded by four MB Customs Race Cars on the restart, including two drivers—Whitwell and Josh Angst—hungry for their first-ever USMTS victory, and Dillard’s teammate, Chris Brown.
But this was the 94th USMTS feature race held at Deer Creek and Hughes owns 14 of them—more than any other driver at the track—and Oklahoman swept all three nights of last year’s Featherlite Fall Jamboree.
When the green light came back on, Dillard again flexed his muscles and pulled away from his pursuers while Hughes flew around the outside to steal the second position away from Whitwell. With Dillard cruising to victory, Hughes had his hands full with Brown but his mount slid up the track in turn two and Hughes drove underneath to regain the second spot and Whitwell coming along to third.
Dillard did everything he had to do. He passed 11 of the toughest dirt modified racers on the planet to take down his first Featherlite Fall Jamboree win and first-ever at ‘The Creek.’ The $5,000 triumph was Dillard’s 10th career USMTS win, tying him with Brown on the all-time list of winners, but his team’s celebration was somewhat tempered with the news that Hughes had bested him for the season-long title by a mere three points.
Meanwhile, for perhaps the first time in his 16 years on tour, Hughes and his crew were elated with their second-place finish—one that came with a $25,000 paycheck for becoming the 2016 USMTS national champion.
As a positive consolation for Dillard, Ryan Gustin finished second in the points in two straight seasons before capturing two championships in a row. What’s more, Rodney Sanders was runner-up to Gustin in 2012 and had a near-miss to Hughes in 2015 to book-end his 2013 and 2014 titles.
After 64 career wins and chasing Kelly Shryock around the nation’s dirt ovals for nearly a decade, Hughes is now a three-time champion of the United States Modified Touring Series and Shryock’s all-time USMTS wins total looks to be within striking distance.
Trailing 182 to 146, Hughes is just 36 victories shy of matching Shryock’s win total and nearly double that of his nearest challengers—Gustin and Sanders—who have 78 and 75 career USMTS triumphs, respectively.
Hughes, 42, pocketed nearly $120,000 during the 2016 campaign, including a one-fifth share of the Mesilla Valley Transportation Road Warrior money for competing in every USMTS event. He split the $10,000 prize pool with Brock Bauman, Cody Bauman, Dillard and Jesse Sobbing.
Hughes will pad his bank account by another $25,000 for winning the USMTS National Championship.
He’ll also garner contingency awards from Argo Manufacturing, COMP Cams, CP-Carrillo, Fast Shafts, Kevko Oil Pans & Components, KSE Racing Products, RacerWebsite.com, RealTruck.com, VP Racing Fuels, AFCO Racing Products, Allstar Performance, Bell Racing Helmets, Beyea Custom Headers, Driven Racing Oil, Eibach Springs, FK Rod Ends, Genesis Racing Shocks, Keyser Manufacturing, PBM Performance Products, Quarter Master, Sybesma Graphics and Wehrs Machine & Race Products.
Hughes led the most main event laps in 2016, crossing beneath the flagstand in first place 445 times with the checkered flag waving on 13 of those. He also helped propel Mullins Race Engines to their fifth COMP Cams Engine Builder of the Year title.
Other award winners during the 2016 USMTS grind include Arizona’s Ricky Thornton Jr. who captured the Grant Junghans USMTS Rookie of the Year crown. Dillard was tops in qualifying throughout the year and earned the Sybesma Graphics Pole Award while Rodney Sanders earned the season-long KSE Racing Products Hard Charger Award. MB Customs Race Cars locked up the Manufacturers Championship by one point over Hughes Racing Chassis thanks to Dillard’s win in the Featherlite Fall Jamboree opener.
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