Everyone takes a different path to the race track, but upon arrival, the mission is the same — winning. Hailing from the Bluegrass State, Leticia Hughes developed an appreciation for Ford’s pony car from her husband that eventually blossomed into her taking the reins of their race car in the name of quicker elapsed times.
“I have always had a love for Mustangs, my first car was a V6 but still a Mustang,” Hughes said. “My husband has always had a Mustang of some sort since we’ve been together. So, I would say my interest just built off of his.”
Many were drawn to the potential of the restyled 2018 Mustang and the potent, dual-fuel Gen 3 Coyote under its hood. Her husband was one of those people, and he immediately set out on a mission to put his Oxford White machine into the 10-second zone without a power adder.
“…My husband, Rick, bought the 2018 with the intention to build for him to race. However, in the process of trying to push it into the 10s naturally aspirated the first year, we quickly realized the weight difference was enough to allow me to be faster than him,” Hughes recalled. “Every night at the track it was a competition between us to see who was faster, I always was. Since then, Rick has stepped aside after seeing my love for racing and the industry, and three years later here we are.”
Suspension Upgrade List
Steeda Mustang IRS Subframe Bushing Support System (PN 555-4437)
Steeda Mustang IRS Subframe Alignment Kit (PN 555-4438)
Steeda Mustang Billet Aluminum Vertical Links With Delrin Bushings (PN 555-4121)
Steeda Mustang IRS Subframe Support Braces (PN 555-5754)
Steeda 2015-2020 Ford Mustang Hardcore IRS Differential Support Brackets (PN 555 4050)
Steeda Mustang Adjustable Rear Toe Links (PN 555-4120)
Steeda Mustang Rear Lower Control Arm Spherical Bearings (PN 555-4117)
Steeda HARDCORE Mustang GT ProFlow Closed Cold Air Intake (PN 555-3220)
Steeda S550 GT/GT350 Mustang Drag Front K-Member (PN 555-5060)
Steeda Mustang GT Drag Springs – Linear (PN 555-8231)
Steeda S550 Mustang Pro Action Adjustable Shocks & Struts GT/V6/EcoBoost (PN 555-8157)
Steeda S550 Mustang Billet Rear Shock Mount – 12mm Adjustable Pro Action Rear Shocks (PN 555-8152)
Steeda Mustang Rear Adjustable Camber Arms (PN 555-4123)
That shows you just how dedicated her husband was to achieving his drag strip goal, and just how much Hughes had fallen in love with Mustangs and racing. Needing an outlet for their stallion to gallop, the couple participates in a number of all-motor classes and, at times, in NMRA’s thriving QA1 True Street class, where she has seen success.
“In the beginning, that seemed like the easiest class to focus on since it was just an average of the runs and your reaction time didn’t matter,” Hughes said. “Now, I truly love showing people that a 9-second, all-motor car can still make the cruise and put down three back-to-back consistent passes.”
Of course, the path to that success didn’t exactly travel in a straight line. In fact, before the car started clicking off the kind of consistent runs needed for victory in the grueling True Street ranks, it wasn’t responding to the reins quite the way Hughes wanted it to.
“I made it a goal from the beginning to learn all I could about my car and the entire S550 platform,” Hughes said. “I quickly realized how crucial the suspension would be with the IRS setup in order for the car to work efficiently.”
Ultimately fate intervened at the right time and Hughes met someone who could steer her S550 straight. It was none other than Steeda’s Director of Manufacturing, Scott Boda, who was also competing in QA1 True Street behind the wheel of the company’s famed drag race development 2018 Mustang GT, the Silver Bullet.
“I had gone with a different suspension company in the beginning, but after some issues, we were at our wit’s end. The car didn’t seem to be able to leave the line without breaking something, and it was becoming unsafe due to driving left when leaving the line,” Hughes confessed. “Scott Boda and I had met in NMRA Bradenton in 2019, and we had built a relationship all that year. I was committed to trying to make the suspension on the car work, but things simply weren’t. I reached out to Scott regarding the issues, and I had parts two days later. It was at that point, when I hadn’t bought one single part from Steeda, that I saw what a great company they were. They truly just wanted to help. We then made a full swap to Steeda suspension, and even took the car there to have them align the car. The entire experience was eye-opening. They went above and beyond to not only ensure I was effective at the track but safe.”
“She was looking to correct parts failures and bad customer service from another suspension company,” Boda added. “Once we connected, she knew she could always reach out and myself and the Steeda team were only a call or text away.”
While you might first associate Steeda with its line of street performance and handling gear, they have long offered parts to improve straight-line performance, which fall under the apropos Hardcore banner.
“Here at Steeda, our bread and butter is increasing the performance capability of your Mustang without increasing noise, vibration, and harshness. The NVH part is likely the most difficult part of engineering and designing our parts. All Steeda parts go through rigorous testing on our in-house test mules before they hit the catalog and ultimately your car,” Steeda E-Commerce Marketing Director Chris Cervenka said. “With that said, there have been many instances when our dedicated race cars are more geared toward performance than minimal NVH. Meet the Steeda Hardcore line, where you can get full all-out performance benefits from the upgraded parts, with less focus on things like NVH. Steeda Hardcore parts are for those enthusiasts out there who want the max potential out of their cars whether on the drag strip or road course!”
While the line has its origins dating back long before the S550 era, the company’s efforts really ramped up with the arrival of the 2018 Mustang.
“The Hardcore line started back in the early 2000s when we developed some in-house hardcore parts as we knew there was a void in our product line. We focused on anti-roll bars, weight-jacker lowers, and race uppers for the Fox platform. It was instantly successful as three of the 2005 Fun Ford Weekend Champions ran Steeda suspension. We have kept the product line small as our main customer is the everyday enthusiast,” Boda said. “When the S550 came out, we released a handful of parts that did increase NVH, and when we ultimately got the Gen III Coyote we wanted to bring that product line back to the forefront and support the drag racing community. Hence plastering ‘Hardcore’ down the side of the Silver Bullet. We wanted something in your face, something to remind the enthusiasts that Steeda does know how to take your car to the next level on the drag strip as well. All we do is race and Glen (Vitale,Vice President, Operations at Steeda) finally listened and let us play at the 1,320 once again…”
Surprisingly, as well known as the car that Boda himself pilots has become for its record-setting performances on the drag strip, it was not the first car used to develop the company’s line of straight-line performance gear.
“Believe it or not, it was the #20 Road Race car that was used for most of the development work. When it was originally purchased, Glen promised it was the ‘new drag car.’ So, we strapped a GoPro under it, some sticky tires, and found where the weak links were. It was super important to see what was going on with Ford’s new IRS and we learned a ton,” Boda revealed. “First to market with IRS braces, subframe and differential inserts, vertical links, toe links, camber arms, and the list goes on. We have 100-percent lead the way with parts development for the S550. The Silver Bullet helped fine-tune the products — like the first-ever K-member designed specifically for the S550, tow hooks, the Steeda ProFlow Closed Lid Cold Air Intake, and even torque converters from Circle D — for the yellow car, that eventually was built into the #20 Road Race car you see today.“
Of course, it was the Silver Bullet that spread the Hardcore brand across the internet by pushing the 570-plus-horsepower, naturally aspirated Gen 3 Coyote deep into the 9-second zone. Doing so obviously required a suspension that could efficiently plant the power to deliver those times.
“Weight and the public misconception that IRS cars can’t 60-foot at the drag strip…” Boda said of the modern Mustang’s perceived shortcomings. “This isn’t a Camaro, Supra or Challenger. Ford simply hit it out of the park with this setup! All the comforts you want on the street and proven results at the drag strip. Jon Lund Sr. has been 1.16 to 60 feet with our setup and there are street Whipple setups running 1.18, which is absolutely insane from 3,700-plus-pound IRS cars.”
While it is great that the company’s project car exceeds the expectations of a modern car with IRS, it is translating those learnings to customers that is the company’s ultimate goal. Through that chance meeting it Bradenton, Boda began working with Hughes on eliminating frustrations she had with her own 2018 Mustang’s performance.
“First, we wanted to see what she was working with. We know there are only so many ways to make a part, but the difference is in the details and we know what our parts are capable of. Once we knew her issues, we knew where to start addressing her suspension,” Boda said. “Then in November 2019, they made the trip down for Mod Nationals. At this point, we were able to square her rear and get her in a Steeda K-member and do a custom drag alignment that would ensure she would go straight. The car instantly responded, and she took the 11-second win at the event.”
“After replacing the front K-member, as the stock one seemed to be a big issue with the car, the front end felt drastically better. With the rear suspension swap, the weight finally began to transfer effectively and it was very obvious,” Hughes added. “The car finally left the line straight, hooked and went A-to-B drastically differently. This immediately led to the Winner’s Circle two days later at Mod Nationals 2019.”
She also went on to collect wins in NMRA QA1 True Street as well, and those were the results that she and her husband sought from the beginning.
“There is zero doubt that having Steeda gear on my car has contributed to my success this season,” Hughes said. “The car is finally doing everything it is supposed to go down the track. It handles the aggressive launches and shifting that Rob Shoemaker has in the tune without any issues. I know that when I pull to the line and let go of the transbrake, that the suspension is going to do its job.”
“Straighter, harder launches and a more enjoyable ride without NVH,” Boda added. “Her car, like many others, instantly became much more enjoyable to drive and race once she switched to Steeda parts.”
Aside from the K-member, one of the other parts that really improved the performance, longevity, and enjoyment of her race car, which is lovingly dubbed White Trash, was a simple one that solved a really serious issue.
“This modification has pretty much stopped the bending and breaking of the differential bolts, which has happened a lot prior to putting the brace on,” Hughes revealed about installing the Steeda rear differential brace.
Of course, more than just adding the parts, Hughes gained access to the support and experience that Boda and his team developed over the years.
“When you have two cars competing for the same record, the support they have continued to show us is overwhelming. I know I wouldn’t be where I am without the advice, mentoring, and support of Scott Boda and the entire Steeda team,” Hughes concluded. “To know that they are my biggest supporters, despite having the same goal, means more to me than they could ever know. It shows me that they only want their customers to be successful in the end. I have said it many times, I couldn’t do what I do without the team I have in my corner, and I am thankful Steeda is part of that team.”
As you would expect, Steeda is proud of its customers’ accomplishments and the parts the company produces. Parts that find their way to the race track are often sold without a warranty, but these bits carry a lifetime warranty, which definitely provides some peace of mind when you drop the hammer three times in a row during QA1 True Street competition.
“We take the time to test our parts rigorously before they hit the shelves. Our in-house road racing and drag racing programs allow us to do just that. We’re proud to beat the absolute snot out of these cars so you don’t have to!” Cervenka said. “But, if you do intend to push your car to the limit, then you can trust we’ve done the same to our test mules. This is why we’re proud to back our products up with a lifetime warranty — it’s truly a no-brainer!”
“We beat the snot out of these parts so we can offer our lifetime warranty to our customers. Also being a manufacturer, we are able to ensure that we use the highest quality materials and parts available,” Boda concluded. “We want to always offer the absolute best, otherwise we will not make or offer the product. Truth be told, we were the first to market with basically every suspension component for the S550 because of our experience, passion, and drive to be the best. We know the first weekend a new car comes out someone is racing it and the next minute they want to go faster. Our job is to make sure that they do.”
Hughes certainly took that mission to heart in her 2018 Mustang with appearances in the NMRA Winner’s Circle to her credit and more stops there planned for the future.