Mississippi Racing Legend

Clint McHugh

“Clint McHugh was simply the best driver I have ever seen behind the wheel of a race car. Clint could get everything out of a car that it had to offer.” I have heard this statement from everyone I’ve met who had ever seen him drive.

Clinton Edger McHugh was born in Iowa on Dec 27, 1927. He started racing as a hobby while living in Iowa but never took it very serious. Clint found his way to the Mississippi Gulf Coast by means of the US Air Force in 1950. While stationed at what is now Keesler AFB in Biloxi, he was introduced to southern style modified auto racing.

One funny thing about the military, in their minds, there is nothing wrong with jumping out of a perfectly good airplane at 5,000 feet, but it’s too dangerous to drive a race car. The military warned Clint many times to stop driving at Pass Road Speedway, but he refused. He continued to race, many time under the name of Bobby Sessions. He also was alleged to have run moonshine from time to time and that too the military disliked. His military career was cut short in 1952 with a dishonorable discharge due to his love of auto racing. At this point Clint started racing full time.

In 1953, Clint fell in love with a Mississippi girl, Patricia Lestrade, got married, and attempted to settle down.

Also in 1953, Clint teamed up with Gulf Coast mechanic E.A. Enroth and car owner/promoter Eddie Kahler . Mr. Enroth was well known for building fast race cars. He and Mr. Kahler built car #348 for Clint and these three Mississippi racing pioneers quickly gained the respect of drivers, mechanics and owners all over Mississippi.

In 1954 Chicken McCombs of Jackson Mississippi was also well known for building fast race cars. Chicken had built car #631 for Ival Cooper and they were wining races and championships. Chicken decided to develop a two-car race team and bought the #348 from Mr. Kahler. Chicken and Mr. Enroth brought the car to Jackson, removed the motor, and replaced it with a highly modified Cadillac motor. They then renumbered the car to the now famous #248. In 1955 and 1956 this team of Clint McHugh, Chicken McCombs and Ival Cooper just couldn't be beaten.

The late Noel Wynne told me this story about the first time the 2 cars hit the track at Speed Bowl Park in Jackson. Below is his memory of that event:

“In my opinion Clint McHugh was the best driver I have ever seen. Chicken McCombs   had two very fast race cars, the   248   and   631. The great Ival Cooper was Chicken’s driver. Chicken asked Ival if it would be OK for Clint McHugh to drive one of the cars and Ival the other. Ival said sure. Clint asked Ival to pick his car, and he would drive the other. Ival chose the 248. Clint took car 631 and turned the fastest qualifying lap of the night. In the Trophy Dash, Clint won the race, beating Ival. After the race, Ival decided that he wanted to drive the 631 for the rest of the night. Clint then took the 248 to the checkered flag in the next heat race beating Ival again, which was now driving the 631. Clint went on to win the Championship Race and scored the maximum amount of points possible for the night’s race schedule. Clint was simply born to drive!”

By 1956, Clint had caught the eyes of the automobile manufacturers. NASCAR was becoming bigger and bigger, and they had sponsored a race at the Memphis-Arkansas Speedway , or Lehi Speedway, as it was sometimes called. Lehi was a 1.5-mile high-banked dirt oval track that was constructed in 1953. It was built near Lehi, Ark. which is just across the Mississippi River from Memphis. Despite being plagued by dust, the track was the second-biggest oval on the circuit after Daytona, and it offered up fast speeds and close racing. All the big manufacturers and NASCAR superstars would be there.

On June 9, 1956, 28 year old Clint McHugh of Biloxi, Mississippi would have his chance to show his stuff. He buckled himself into the 1956 Oldsmobile named "Hellzafire" and took the track for his qualifying run. Clint was driving close to 90 mph when he reached Turn 3. According to reports from the time, McHugh swerved, possibly from a blown tire, flipped and tumbled over a 3 foot guard rail and into a lake 50 feet below the embankment. Clint McHugh died from injuries received from this crash. He left behind a wife and 2 children.

Clint’s skills raised the bar for all the Mississippi drivers. You see, during the mid-1950’s, racing was very big in Mississippi. Most every business that had anything to do with automobiles sponsored a car. All the major cities like Jackson (with 2 tracks), Laurel, Hattiesburg, Biloxi, Brookhaven and Meridian had quality tracks and could draw a large crowd every week. They quickly learned that they needed to work together to get the quality car and drivers each week. From about 1952 to 1970, a good race car driver could make a living driving a race car 4 to 5 nights a week. Clint’s skills forced everyone from Memphis to Biloxi to reevaluate their driving styles and equipment.

Clint Patrick McHugh was a small boy when his father died. He had an unbelievable collection of 3 large scrap books, and 40 or so trophies that his father had acquired during his racing career. Like many other Gulf Coast residents, Hurricane Katrina struck and took it all away.   He is trying to rebuild his collection for future generations. If you have any information that you would like to share please drop me an email. I would be happy to pass his contact info along.

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