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SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW—SunCoast Performance 8.60 Street Race Driver Leticia Hughes Proves What She Is Capable Of In Cockpit Of Her Car

Posted By: Steve Baur
INTERVIEW BY MARY LENDZION
PHOTOGRAPHY BY THE FSC STAFF

 
Leticia Hughes saw her fair share of Mustangs while growing up in the small town of Brownsville, Kentucky. She was fully fascinated by her brother’s Mustang when she was in her early teens, and she had her own Mustang by the time she was in high school.
 
With increasing interest, Hughes went on to have another Mustang, that time with a ProCharger and manual transmission, that she drove around town with her two small children in the back seat. The next step was the biggest, as she climbed into the cockpit of her current Mustang, a 2018 Mustang with a Coyote engine and an automatic transmission. She’s been racing the wheels off it ever since.
 
Hughes also racked up remarkable accomplishments in the car, in the NMRA, and at various events. She has run as quick as 8.60 with her current combination, a 5.0-liter Coyote engine with a TKM Performance short-block and a 3.8-liter Whipple supercharger.
 

Hughes is incredibly and inspiringly motivated to accomplish even more as a team driver and brand ambassador for SunCoast Performance and as a creator of the NMRA SunCoast Performance 8.60 Street Race category, which debuted in 2022.
 
Hughes wants to be known as a racer and not a female racer. She wants to be taken seriously, and she works hard to ensure that she is. She gives it everything she has at all times, whether she is working on her car, or behind the wheel of her car. Hughes thrives on racing the best of the best in the country because she feels that it improves her performance.
 
Read on for more about Hughes, who recently won in All-Female True Street presented by Baer Brakes with a 9.20 average at the NMRA Ford Performance Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio. When she’s not racing, the water-lover spends time at a lakehouse near her Smiths Grove, Kentucky home with her husband, Rick, and their children, Ashton and Abbey, where they go boating, tubing, and swimming.
 
WHEN DID YOU REALIZE THAT YOU LIKED CARS?
 
My first exposure to cars was through my older brother, Robert. He bought a purple 1995 Mustang when I was 13, and I remember thinking it was very nice and very fast. Unfortunately, when I was a passenger in the car while my brother’s now-wife was driving, we were hit by a car that ran a red light. I was still in high school at the time, and we were on our way to go shopping in Bowling Green, and we never made it. I had a concussion and the car was totaled, but my brother bought it back from the insurance company, rebuilt and kept it for several years.
 

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CAR?

 
When I was 16, I knew I wanted a Mustang, and I ended up getting my mom’s car — a 1995 Mustang with a V6 engine. It was silver, but they had it painted yellow 
for me. They would have never let me modify it, but that was fine at the time. I was just happy to have a car that I loved, and that other people in my town loved. I had it through high school.
 
WHAT KIND OF CAR DID YOU PURCHASE AFTER THAT? 
 
I got a Jeep when Rick and I got married. It had a manual transmission and I learned how to drive it on the way home from the dealership. When my husband and I had our son and daughter, I had mom cars for a while and then I got a black 2003 Mustang GT with a ProCharger and a manual transmission, and it was my daily driver for a while, even with my two kids. I drove it back and forth to work and classes at Western Kentucky University, and it was one of my favorite cars. My husband was making modifications to the car, and we drove it around, took it to car shows, and drove it to an NMRA event to watch.
 

WHEN DID YOU PURCHASE THE CAR THAT YOU CAMPAIGN NOW?

 
We bought it in 2018 with a Coyote engine and automatic transmission, and originally, my husband was going to race it. Well, obviously that changed quite a bit. He started racing it locally at Beech Bend Raceway and in NMRA True Street, and then I raced it locally at Beech Bend Raceway. It was something that I instantly fell in love with and was passionate about. It gave me an outlet, and it changed my life. I noticed that when I was going down-track, I wasn’t thinking about being a wife, a mom, or an employee. I was thinking about being a racer. We started modifying the tuning, headers, and exhaust. We were taking turns in the driver’s seat, and it was funny because he would run a personal best, and then I would run a personal best, and it became a contest to see who could go faster. Then we had one of the fastest all-motor Coyote-powered cars in the world, and we ran with that and built our reputation on that, so to speak.
 
WHEN DID YOU BEGIN TO GET EVEN MORE AGGRESSIVE WITH THE CAR AND COMBINATION?
 
It was not long after I first started racing it. We did heads and cams, but we kept it naturally aspirated at the time. I started running NMRA Mod Muscle, NMRA True Street, and All-Motor Shootouts in Alabama, Ohio Tennessee, and Texas, and I started running OSCA Hot Street. I got my first win in True Street Bracket at an NMRA race in 2019. Since then, I have had wins in NMRA All-Female True Street last year and this year, and I won Mod Nationals back-to-back in True Street and Grocery Getter. I went to the winner’s circle seven times in 2021.
 
HOW HAS THE CAR’S PERFORMANCE CHANGED THROUGH THE YEARS?
 
I ran an 11.70 my first time down-track, and then I went 9.55 when I was naturally aspirated, and I picked up to an 8.60 when we went to the Gen 3 Coyote engine with the TKM Performance short-block and 3.8-liter Whipple that we began running in January of 2022. I’m running a 10R80 transmission freshened by SunCoast Performance and Johnnie Brady.
 
WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE TO ADD A POWER ADDER TO YOUR PREVIOUSLY NATURALLY ASPIRATED COMBINATION?
 
Last year, I had one of the fastest all-motor Coyote-powered cars in the world, and I wanted to prove that I could win under any set of rules. I ran by five different sets of rules last year, and I won under all five of them. Whipple, and Nick Purciello from Whipple, were ready to support me when I was ready to make the jump to a power-adder. I had built a relationship with Nick, and he believed in me, and he and Whipple wanted to be part of my program. My team and I decided it was a good fit and time to try it.
 

CONSIDERING HOW MUCH SUCCESS YOU HAD WITH YOUR NATURALLY ASPIRATED COMBINATION, WAS IT A DIFFICULT DECISION TO MOVE TO A POWER-ADDER COMBINATION? 

 
No, it really wasn’t a difficult decision. I felt like that’s what I needed to do to step up, and the support from Nick and Whipple was incredible. 
 
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE WITH SUNCOAST PERFORMANCE IN FLORIDA?
 
I started working with SunCoast Performance in September of 2021 as a team driver and brand ambassador. One of our big platforms is the 10-speed transmission. I did all of the R&D on that for them, and then I was brought on as a brand ambassador to help grow their brand and to help push the 10-speed transmission platform to the next level.
 
WHAT IS INVOLVED WITH THE RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE SUNCOAST PERFORMANCE TEN-SPEED PLATFORM?
 
It’s challenging, and it’s not an easy process, especially as you start to add huge amounts of horsepower to your combination, but we are making gains every time we go to the track. We are going to have failures and break things, but once we figure that out, it will benefit other racers. Raybestos Powertrain recently came on board, and they make the friction materials and clutches that go inside my transmission. Also, we recently added Whatever It Takes Transmission, and between these companies, there is no doubt we are going to make this 10R80 10-speed transmission work very well in our race car.
 

WILL YOU DESCRIBE THE IN-CAR EXPERIENCE WITH THE 10R80 TRANSMISSION?

 
I start in second gear and finish in sixth gear, and the shifts come quickly with this automatic transmission. The transmission does it all for me, and I want to stay with it, especially since we’re showing what we can do with a factory-style transmission instead of a full-blown race transmission.
 
DO YOU FEEL PRESSURE TO CONTINUOUSLY PERFORM AT PEAK LEVELS AS A TEAM DRIVER AND BRAND AMBASSADOR FOR SUNCOAST PERFORMANCE, AND HOW DOES IT AFFECT YOU IF YOU HAPPEN TO HAVE AN OFF-DAY AT THE TRACK?
 
I do feel pressure because I don’t ever want to risk making any of the people or companies we represent look bad, but everyone is supportive, and that helps a lot. We showed up at the NMRA/NMCA race at Rockingham Dragway in North Carolina in April with a hurt transmission. We attempted to repair it for the entire time we were there, and I never went down-track. It was actually a harness problem, but due to parts being on backorder, we couldn’t get it replaced in time. At the end of the day, these companies know that we will show up and do everything we can to get down track. 
 
YOU WERE INSTRUMENTAL IN CREATING THE NMRA SUNCOAST PERFORMANCE 8.60 STREET RACE CATEGORY FOR 2022. HOW DID THAT COME TO BE?


That came to be through persistence and an unwillingness to back down. I took the input of 50-plus racers who were interested in this type of category for street-appearing cars, and hearing what they had to say made me even more inspired to start this category. Rollie Miller and I talked about it at the end of last year, and I told him that SunCoast Performance wanted to sponsor the category, and we negotiated the rules until we came up with a set of rules that we wanted and the NMRA wanted. Mike Galimi was a huge part of that process. He and I had the same ideas for the style of cars and the spirit of the category. We developed it over the winter of 2021-2022. Racing is changing, and there are a lot of people with cars like mine that just want to line up next to someone and race. True Street is wonderful, but a lot of us want the tree and the reaction time to matter and to play a part in whether you win or lose. 
 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO SEE HOW WELL-RECEIVED THE SUNCOAST PERFORMANCE 8.60 STREET RACE CATEGORY IS BY BOTH RACERS AND RACE FANS?

 
It backs up what I was suggesting and why I was suggesting it when proposing the category to the NMRA. It is successful and exciting. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not easy. It’s very hard to run 8.60s consistently, and the category is very competitive, but I like the challenge and I want to be part of making this category work. While it’s not a points category this year, we are hoping it will be soon.
 
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF AS A RACER?
 
I can be high-strung, but once I get in that car and strap in, I feel calm. I’m a very detail-oriented person, and I think that is one of my best qualities as a racer. I pay attention to everything going on with the car. I will say that my team knows that when I come back from making a pass, I need a minute to write down details about that pass, and I need to relay that information to my team and my tuner. That is my process, and it works for me.
 
YOU HAVE A LOT GOING ON, BUT YOU ABSOLUTELY APPEAR TO THRIVE ON IT. WHO SUPPORTS YOUR EFFORTS?
 
My husband, Rick, is my crew chief, and he never stops. It doesn’t matter what part has broken or what needs our attention, or when. He takes care of it. I also have a lot of support from my son, Ashton, and my daughter, Abbey, as well as my tuner, Rob Shoemaker of Palm Beach Dyno, and Johnnie Brady, who builds my transmission. We have a lot of friends who jump in to help, and we have built a great relationship with my fellow racer Logan Day and his family. The SunCoast Performance crew really stepped up to help us this year. It means the world to me to have a team that understands my drive to make a race and to do everything we can to make it to the next round despite bumps in the road. I don’t give, and my team doesn’t either.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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