By Roger Diez
Nevada appeal motorsports columnist
Carson City racer Bobby Hodges is a young man on the move. A recent graduate of Manogue High School in Reno, Hodges has been racing since he was 11 years old.
He started in the Bandolero cars at Champion Speedway in 2001 and captured the track championship in that division in both 2002 and 2003. He was old enough to graduate to Legends cars in 2004 and took Rookie of the Year honors in that division, backing it up with Most Improved Driver in the track's final season in 2005.
With no local place to race, Hodges moved up to a late model stock car and soon became the youngest driver (at 16) to start a main event in the history of NASCAR's WestCar series. He also quickly became the youngest WestCar competitor to finish in the top 10, the youngest to finish as high as third, and the youngest ever to lead a lap. He finished 13th out of 57 drivers in points in 2006, and backed it up with a sixth in the point standings in 2007, as well as a nomination for Sportsman of the Year.
Hodges has two wins, 12 top fives, and 24 top 10s in 29 races over 3 seasons with WestCar, at six different tracks in California and one in Arizona. He is running only at Altamont Speedway this season, on a limited basis.
"It's a good place to race if you're not doing the full schedule," he says. "They have four different points races running simultaneously. I'm leading the 'Big Dog' points race, and running second in the 'Tri-Holiday' points."
In his most recent outing at Altamont he led most of the race from the pole, driving his 1996 Phil Perry chassis with Chevy Monte Carlo bodywork and a Howard Long crate motor.
"Howard gets about 50 more horsepower out of the stock crate motor, doing what he says Chevy should have done," Hodges said with a laugh.
After leading the whole event, Hodges lost the lead on the final restart, and finished a close second, his third runner-up finish of the season.
Although he has aspirations of someday running in NASCAR's top echelons, he's realistic enough to know that a good education is, at the very least, a good backup plan. To that end he will enter Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo in September with a Mechanical Engineering degree his goal. He may also decide to go for a second major in Aeronautical Engineering, "so I'll have the most aerodynamic car out there," he said with a laugh.
Indeed, the young man already has a lot of mechanical engineering under his belt. He is the third generation in his family at the Nevada Automotive Test Center (NATC), which is currently run by his father, Henry Hodges Jr. Bobby splits his time between NATC and subsidiary NFAST, where he builds race cars and restores classic automobiles. His duties at NATC include design work on military vehicles used by the U.S. Marines.
He proudly displays a miniature of a Universal Gunner Shield, which he helped to develop. This shield is deployed on the Marines' MTVR and the Army HMMWV (Humvee) combat vehicles deployed in Iraq. NATC currently spends about 70 percent of its time working on military projects, up from 50 percent prior to the Iraq war. Bobby has worked on the latest of these projects, the Combat Tactical Vehicle (CTV), intended as a replacement for both the Humvee and the MTVR.
"I really like working with the guys coming back from Iraq and solving problems for them," says Hodges.
He plans to finish out this season, running one final race in September after school starts at Cal Poly. In addition to NATC, he runs with sponsorship from No Coast Custom (who provided a most unusual helmet paint job), USMC, Vital Signs, Sierra Racing Products, and RWW Fabrication. Of course, a racer can never have too many sponsors, and there is room on the car for more. And a company could do a lot worse than sponsoring a young driver with the talent and goals of Bobby Hodges.