The return to Dominion Raceway for Tyler Hughes this season will be about more than just running for a track championship.
Hughes last ran a full late model season at the Woodford, Virginia, track in 2017, when he won five races and finished second overall in the standings, narrowly missing his shot at the track title.
“It came down to the last race,” Hughes said. “We were ahead in the second-to-last race of the season, and we got caught up in some trouble. We wrecked our race car pretty bad. The last race of the season was I think a month later and we had just built a brand new race car that was just a chassis and a body sitting in our shop, and we had to throw that thing together to get to the last race.
“We were actually two or four points out of the lead, so we basically had to go in and win the race, and we had to have Doug Barnes have a little bit of bad luck. And it was just his night. He got caught on a good invert. He started up front, he kept his car up front, and I just couldn’t get to him. It ended up falling his way that year.”
Hughes spent the 2018 season traveling to other tracks around Virginia, including Langley Speedway and South Boston Speedways, to build up a notebook of other tracks, but he’ll return to Dominion this season, with one goal in mind.
“Just being that close and being able to almost taste it, it kind of makes me have a little bit of revenge in the back of my head,” he said. “Just working harder every day to try to go and win this thing this year.”
Dominion Raceway is a 0.4-mile asphalt oval track located about midway between Richmond, Virginia and Washington D.C. Hughes lives about two hours north of the track on the Eastern Shore in Maryland. He began racing at Old Dominion Speedway, which was located in Manassas, Virginia until 2012 when it closed.
Even though it’s a ways from his home, Hughes considers Dominion a home away from home for him and his family.
“I’ve had a lot of success there in the past, won quite a few races,” he said. “Back at Old Dominion, me and my parents, we had a motor home and we’d go up on Friday nights and camp out. It was just kind of like a good atmosphere for us as a family. You kind of get that same atmosphere, or at least I do, when you go back to Dominion. Go up on Friday nights and practice and kind of hangout with your friends and go racing on Saturday.”
Hughes began racing go karts when he was five and his neighbors had a track in their backyard. He eventually moved into a quarter midget and legends car before hoping into his first late model when he was 15.
He raced Late Models with his dad for two years, but struggled against bigger teams with more money. In 2015, his current team owner Paul Green gave him the offer to drive his late model at Langley. The first year they won one race and ran upfront throughout the season. Hughes and Green have been together ever since, with sponsors Row6 and Simpson Racing.
“I wouldn’t really be racing or where I’m at without him,” Hughes said of Green. “I’m thankful for all my guys that come to help each and every week.”
Hughes was racing for Green in 2017 when he had the heartbreaking defeat in the final race.
There’s another reason beyond his own revenge that Hughes is fighting for a second shot at the Dominion title this season. Hughes’s father passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer just a few weeks after the final race that season.
“So that’s also part of the revenge too is being able to go get that for him,” Hughes said. “Because I wanted to do it that year and it just didn’t happen.”
Last year, Hughes’s team partnered with Sellers Racing, home of former Whelen All-American Series national champion Peyton Sellers. Hughes said he and his team learned a lot in their year away from home, a lot of which can be carried over to their home track this year. That was proven at the end of 2018, when he ran the two races at Dominion and came away with two wins in two different cars.
While he said not much from a driving perspective can be carried from track to track, Hughes said he feels really good about where his team stands heading into the start of the season.
“I think this year we’re in a lot better spot than we were two years ago when we ran for a championship,” he said. “And we’re a lot smarter and I just hope that we can have even better success this year.”
Dominion Raceway will start the season on Saturday night with Late Model Stocks, Modifieds and Legend Cars.