Hughes wins Demo Cross season opener at Perris Auto Speedway

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Built in 1996, Perris Auto Speedway is a state-of-the-art racetrack. Valley News/Courtesy photo

For the second consecutive year Weston Hughes won the season’s first Demo Cross main event at Perris Auto Speedway. In the May 1, 2021, race Hughes took the lead on the first lap and retained first place throughout the 20-lap competition.

“It handled pretty great,” Hughes said.

Hughes, who moved from Fallbrook to Wildomar eight years ago and currently lives in Lake Elsinore, drives a 1985 Jeep Grand Cherokee on the Perris half-mile dirt oval. All four of his career Demo Cross main event wins have been in that car he has driven since 2018. Hughes began his Demo Cross and Perris Auto Speedway racing career in 2015.

Perris Auto Speedway had one night of racing in 2020. During the Demo Cross heat race Hughes had handling issues which were eliminated before the main event by welding a broken steering column component. He began the main event in the seventh row, took the lead in the fourth lap, and won despite losing both left tires. Tustin driver Kyle Cox finished second with Homeland racer Garrett McCourt taking third.

The track opted not to have an official championship for the 2020 season. “I don’t care if it was just one race. It was still the championship of 2020,” Hughes said.

State and Riverside County regulations regarding spectators delayed the start of the 2021 season until a limited number of tickets could be sold. “It’s nice to see everybody out there again,” Hughes said.

The May 1 race was thus the first for Hughes in more than a year. “We did a little more prep work than we usually did,” he said.

The Jeep had different tires for the first 2021 race, and the fuel system and compression setup were changed. “Overall, it’s the same car I ran last year,” Hughes said.

Wildomar’s Weston Hughes holds up his trophy after winning the season’s first Demo Cross main event at Perris Auto Speedway. Valley News/Joe Naiman photo

Hughes was also prepared mentally. “I definitely have to give some credit to my girlfriend, Renee,” he said.

Renee George, who is also part of Hughes’ pit crew, provided a sign reminding Hughes to breathe. “That’s that it comes down to, taking it easy and not overdoing,” Hughes said.

Hughes crew also included crew chief Caleb Corrales, Dan Drowns, Fiona Drowns, Tod Hughes, Tracy Hughes and Brooklyn McAlexander.

Sponsors are currently not as plentiful for Hughes. “We’re basically self-sponsored this year,” he said.

Hughes was in the second Demo Cross heat race and began that six-lap competition on the inside of the second row. Whittier driver Michael Schattilly began the heat on the pole and took the initial lead. Schattilly was in front at the end of the first lap with Hughes in the second position and McCourt third. Those positions were not changed for the rest of the race.

“The car was doing really good in the heat race, but one of my wires was getting hot,” Hughes said. “It ended up being a short in my switch panel.”

The short was fixed between the heat and the feature. “The main event everything seemed to go pretty well,” Hughes said.

Hughes began the main event on the pole with Scott MacPhail of San Diego having the outside first row for the start and Schattilly taking the original green flag from the inside of the second row.

Hughes took the initial lead. “I have a little bit better motor,” he said.

After one lap Hughes was in first and McCourt was in second.

“I took the smart line. I tried to stay away from the boats,” Hughes said.

Before the start of the main event obstacles such as tires, boats, and water barrels are placed on the track. A red flag may be thrown to stop the race if a safety issue exists, but there are no yellow flag cautions to remove debris or inoperable cars which are added to the original obstacles.

Hughes started passing lapped cars on the third lap. “I had put some laps on everybody,” he said.

During the eighth lap Hughes tangled with San Bernardino’s Lanny Savage but did not spin the Jeep. In the 11th lap Trebor Stephens of San Jacinto was turned around. “He got out sideways in front of me, and my only option was to slow down or hit him,” Hughes said. “Naturally, I just hit him.”

Hughes avoided a five-car tangle on turn four of the 13th lap and hit the edge of the boat in turn four. “I’ve learned it’s better just to hit the boat rather than try to avoid it because if you go around it, your tire gets hit,” he said.

The Jeep was fast enough not only to maintain first place but also to avoid contact from cars behind him. “The whole race nobody even hit me,” Hughes said.

A red flag was thrown in the 17th lap due to a fire in McCourt’s car. McCourt had been second, and Schattilly took over second place.

Schattilly finished second with Josh Foote of Orange being the third driver to take the checkered flag.

“I can’t express how happy I am with how well my Jeep is holding together,” Hughes said.

Subsequent success will give Hughes an official track season championship. “I want my car to be up on the banners, so I’m going to work for it and make sure it happens,” he said.

Joe Naiman can be reached by email at jnaiman@reedermedia.com.