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Ride and Seek

Teenagers Bailey and Jaiden Hughes are not just spinning their wheels driving 1,500-pound machines around the track; the sisters are in search of groundbreaking success.

Richard Linihan
Marc Rains
April 29, 2017

The strangest thing happened at the Chili Bowl last year as hardened professional race car drivers were flying around the dirt track in Tulsa. A teenage girl was seen in the restricted racing area, head down in a book, studying for the upcoming week at Edison High School.

Had she wandered into the area by mistake? Would she be OK as cars blasted past her at speeds that would have gotten these drivers arrested on most highways? How could this happen?

Believe it or not, 17-year-old Bailey Hughes was exactly where she was supposed to be. Not only was she not phased by the madness surrounding her; only minutes before, she was a part of it.

Hughes and her car had been entered in the Chili Bowl by her father, Jason, to try to qualify for the main show of the weekend, with more than 200 drivers trying to earn a spot in the final 25. This tiny, lovely high school girl wanted so badly to race among the likes of NASCAR champion Tony Stewart and Sammy Swindell, grizzled veterans of decades and multiple winners of this race. Hughes probably hits the scale at about 100 pounds with her heavy clothes on and has freckles that belie the countenance of this tough, rough sport.

In her qualifying heat, she and another driver got in tight and tangled tires. It flipped Bailey’s car and she tumbled three or four times before landing upright.

What must she have been thinking while her 1,500-pound car was bounding down the track with her head facing south and her tires toward the roof? “I was hoping the car was all right,” she says.

“Yeah, me too,” says her dad. “It cost us $5,000 to rent the car for the race, and if you tear it up, you have to buy it.”

Bailey and Jaiden started driving dirt bikes first, then moved on to four-wheelers, and now micros and sprint cars. (Photo: Marc Rains)
Bailey and Jaiden started driving dirt bikes first, then moved on to four-wheelers, and now micros and sprint cars. (Photo: Marc Rains)

“I’ve had harder wrecks,” Bailey says.

And how many broken bones over almost a decade of racing now? “None,” she says. “Knock on wood.”

So here she was studying for school while cars were speeding past her, just another day in the Bailey Hughes hood.

Believe it or not, she may be trying to qualify against her 16-year-old sister Jaiden in this event in January 2018. Both of them have been racing since they were 7 and 8. Not in these cars, but in some form or another.

Jaiden has been driving microcars and sprint cars for a while even though she didn’t yet have a driver’s license for the street. You can qualify to drive a race car at 14.

“We started driving dirt bikes first, then moved on to four-wheelers, and now micros and sprint cars,” says Bailey, who was preparing for her graduation from Edison High School in May. “I told my dad when I was 8 years old that I was born to race.”

Jaiden followed right behind her big sister. “Anything she did, I wanted to do,” says Jaiden.

Oh, they tried girly girl things.

“Yeah, we did ballet but after the first class, we decided that wasn’t for us,” says Jaiden.

And if you’re lucky enough to be a guy at Edison High School who gets to know one of these two, there are perks.

“Yeah, one time one of our guy friends called us up with a flat tire and we went out and changed it for him in about 10 minutes,” Jaiden says.

That qualifies them to work in the pits if they wanted, but what they really want to do is someday fire that baby up and go about 150-200 mph.

“I think we’ve reached about 90 mph on the track so far,” says Bailey.

And how about in Dad’s car? They both look at each other and laugh very loudly. “I’m sure it’s about 120 mph,” Jason says.

Virtually every Saturday these two head to a racetrack somewhere. You can see them in June at Sapulpa’s Creek County Speedway. On June 3, 10 and 17 they will be racing champ sprints. On June 15, they are competing in ASCS. And June 24, they go to Salina Highbanks Speedway for OCRS competition.

Their goal is to make it to the Chili Bowl this winter and perform well enough to impress the other drivers and make it to the final 25.

Bailey has won over $6,000 in a season and plenty of trophies while balancing school and racing. (Photo: Marc Rains)
Bailey has won over $6,000 in a season and plenty of trophies while balancing school and racing. (Photo: Marc Rains)

They battle against some guys who are 6-foot-4, 300 pounds. They also race against some guys who are three times their age.

“I’m graduating early from Edison,” says Bailey. “I’m only a junior. So I have to take those times in the pits or on the sidelines of races to study. I’ll be going to OSU in the fall, and I want to study to be a pediatrician if I can’t make a racing career.”

The funny thing is that neither girl knew who Janet Guthrie was — the first woman to drive in the Indy 500 — nor do they have a favorite professional driver that you might see on the NASCAR, Formula One or Grand Prix circuit.

“We don’t have much time to watch TV when you think about it,” Bailey says. “We race most every weekend and when we’re not racing, we have to study and then we spend four hours in the garage on Saturdays staging for the race, fixing anything that needs to be fixed on the car and getting it ready.”

Mention NASCAR’s Danica Patrick to them and there is a bit of a lukewarm, but respectful tone in the girls’ voices.

“She’s obviously done a lot for women in racing,” Bailey says. “But …” the girls look at one another again and laugh, but it’s fairly obvious they want to be the first female racer who wins on a major circuit. “Yeah, we like winning,” Bailey says.

Both girls have dozens of champion trophies from their sports. Bailey has won more than $6,000 in a season and Jaiden $4,800.

Judging from the way they are attacking life with racing goals and vocational aspirations (Jaiden wants to be a dentist), they — along with their parents — are already winners.