Three decades have come and gone since Kevin McHugh last entered a quarter-mile competition, and at this weekend’s Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event at Maple Grove Raceway, the Northeast-based Managing Director for Navigant Consulting is connecting the dots from past to present by trading suit and tie for firesuit and gloves as he slides in behind the wheel of the McHugh Racing GT/GA ’92 Camaro.
McHugh, who re-licensed at Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School earlier this year, is reclaiming rookie status with a serious eye on success; the return to Super Stock is with the guidance of multi-category racer and two-time Lucas Oil Stock Eliminator world champion Lee Zane, a veteran driver with 30 NHRA victories on his scorecard and a plan already in motion to step up to Pro Stock in 2013 in the McHugh Zane Motorsports Pontiac GXP.
“Lee has been a tremendous help, and I’m very happy to have him as a racing partner,” said McHugh, who will arrive at Maple Grove Raceway to participate in the Test & Tune session the day before the Northeast Division race is scheduled to begin.
“We spent some time at Atco Dragway a few weeks ago, and it went really well. Lee’s coaching is invaluable; he took me to the starting line and he showed me the roll-out on the staging beams, we took a ride in my truck down the track and he showed me the turnoffs and the shutdown area, and he made sure I was very comfortable with the track itself. Lee took the car down the track for the first pass just to make sure everything was okay, and then I got to drive.”
It had been a very long time, but a refreshed McHugh began gaining comfort quickly with the help of his re-education at Hawley’s school and enhanced training with Zane. In his last two passes at Atco Raceway, McHugh was off the starting line with quick and respectable .004 and .038 reaction times.
“It all went well,” said McHugh. “I’m definitely excited, and I’m very grateful that Lee will be there coaching me along the way there at Maple Grove.”
McHugh and Zane will both be racing at the event and will be competing alongside MZ Motorsports future Pro Stock crew chief and Zane’s brother-in-law Brian Van Poppel, Van Poppel’s father-in-law Don Kennedy, and Zane’s Stock Eliminator car owner Joe Lisa to form a large, dynamic and diverse group.
“I think it’s great to be part of such a strong group in my first race back,” said McHugh. “Everybody in the racing community since we purchased the car, including Dan Fletcher, Bill Kennedy, Angelo DiTocco, Dean Riberio, Rod Lightner, Jack Sepanek, Jack Matyas, the Worner and Morehead families, Arnie Martel Jr., and the NHRA Division 1 team of Dave Mohn, Ryck Campbell and Dave Ley, have been very supportive, and they’ve offered their time and help and assistance – it’s just been very encouraging.
“I’ll also have a lot of family there for support. My wife Mary will be there, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law Frank and Roseanne, and my brother Ron, a former Stock Eliminator competitor from Alexandria, Va. Everyone is coming out to see and support my inaugural run, and it’ll be really neat to have them there.”
Maple Grove Raceway is actually a facility where McHugh competed in his early days of drag racing and even collected a handful of round wins. In his 2012 debut, McHugh will be seeking more as he commands the GT/GA Camaro built by Bob of Ed Quay Race Cars. The car, originally built for the Moreheads, a prominent Northeast Super Stock racing family, has also been piloted by Rod Lightner and then Arnie Martel Jr. – who sold the car to McHugh – and it rides on Mickey Thompson tires and wheels.
“I hope to qualify well, and I hope to go rounds,” said McHugh. “That’s my goal. I would love to win the race, but for my first time out in competition we’ll see how it goes. I’d like to be successful this year and hopefully win a Wally at a divisional or a national event.
“This race is only the beginning; we plan to do the rest of the divisional events in the Northeast, with the exception of Epping, N.H., and the car will be at the Englishtown national event with Lee driving. That’s going to be a great weekend, too, because we’ll be taking delivery of the Pro Stock car there, and we’re both really excited about that. Our future looks extremely bright, and I’m very much looking forward to this journey. This dream would not be possible if it was not for the support of my family, Mollie, Ryan and my granddaughter Avery ('Avie Pickles'), and the support, commitment and love of my wife Mary.”