What are the odds that two former LAFD members would be honored by the National Hot Rod Association (NRHA) two years running? It did just that when it honored retired Engineer John Rasmussen in 2013 (see Sept. 2014 “Retired Guys” Grapevine article) and again in 2014 when they honored retired B/C Hugh Tucker at the 23rd Annual California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield. The annual event brings together many of the pioneers and legends of drag racing, along with thousands of their fans. The event kicked off on Oct. 17th with NHRA’s presentation of “The Wally” to Hugh and the other 2014 Honorees. Hugh’s entire family from Washington traveled south to witness this special event that was also attended by several of his close personal and fire family friends. The three day reunion included nostalgic drag racing at the Auto Club Formosa Raceway and literally hundreds of beautiful street rods and race cars on display. A true car enthusiast dream weekend!
Hugh retired in 1996 with 28 years on the department. Prior to joining the LAFD, Hugh had a love for cars, what makes them tick and drag racing. His first car was a 1949 Ford club coupe and after high school, he installed an Oldsmobile engine with six carburetors and a 37 Cadillac LaSalle transmission. In 1956, after selling the car and keeping the engine, Hugh found the body of a ’28 Chevy Roadster in a junkyard in Ojai, and mounted it and the Olds engine on a ’34 Ford chassis. He and some car club friends put the pieces of his soon to be famed 1928 Chevy Roadster together one weekend, and raced and WON with it in Santa Maria the following weekend. During that time, Hugh drove the car both on the street and at various area drag strips.
In the early 60’s, Hugh gained a reputation for building powerful Oldsmobile engines and ran with a 402-cid Olds with Stromberg 97carburetors. From those early “rock-n-roll” racing days, Hugh earned a reputation as a true competitor and his car quickly became the one to beat. By 1961, Hugh had modified his car to race only. After getting outrun by a supercharged car at his first U.S. National event in 1961, he replaced his car’s entire engine with a supercharged, fuel injected 476-cid Olds and the ’37 LaSalle transmission gave way to a B&M Hydro Stick. The following year, he swept his class and won his first major title of “Little Eliminator” at the 1962 Winternationals.
Before joining the LAFD, Hugh worked a variety of jobs as a mechanic and machinist. In 1963, he went to work for B&M Hydro and quickly built a reputation as a master machinist, mechanic, innovator and drag racing legend. In 1963, he returned to the famed Winternationals to win the “Junior Eliminator” title and later he won the “Middle Eliminator” title at the U.S. Fuel & Gas Championships in Bakersfield. After replacing the Olds engine in 1965 with a more powerful Blown Chrysler Hemi, the Roadster continued its winning ways when it won the “Super Eliminator” title at the 1966 Winternationals. In class competition, Hugh was undefeated at the NHRA Winternationals, NHRA Nationals and March Meet from 1962 through 1967. It was this tremendous success that led to his being honored by the NHRA at this year’s reunion.
After joining the LAFD in 1968, Hugh declared that his racing days were over and he sold his race car (minus the engine) in 1970 for $2,500. After retiring in 1996, he and his beautiful wife Charlene moved to Hansville, Washington on the Puget Sound. In 1997, Hugh’s son, Hugh Jr., located his dad’s original race car in an old barn (where else?) in Bellingham, just 100 miles from where Hugh lives today. Father and son spent the next 3 ½ years (and I’m guessing quite a few pesos) restoring the car to its original grandeur (and then some) and have never regretted a single minute of that quality time spent together. The fully restored ’28 Chevy Roadster had its’ coming out party in 2001 and shortly after headed to Pomona where it was placed in the NHRA Museum in time for the 2002 Winternationals. At the 2003Winternationals, Hugh took the car out of the museum, and just prior to Sunday’s drag racing finals, he drove it down the same track and in the same lane that he had won the1963 “Junior Eliminator” Title exactly 40 years earlier.
The 50th Anniversary of the NHRA Nationals Championships was held at Indianapolis in 2004. They selected the 50 most significant race cars in the history of that event and Hugh’s roadster was included. Father and son took the car to Indy on Labor Day weekend where it was on display and again driven down the track. Since then they have taken the car to the Seattle Nationals every year, as well as to numerous drag reunions and ‘cacklefest’ throughout the Northwest. The famed ’28 Chevy Roadster has earned its reputation as one of the most distinctive supercharged gas burners in quarter mile history.
CONGRATULATUIONS Hugh on your well-deserved recognition by the NHRA!
Note: You can see the car up close and personal in the NHRA Museum at the Pomona Fairgrounds. Hugh will return to Pomona for the 2016 Winternationals to take part in the 50th anniversary celebration of his 1966 “Super Eliminator” victory. From there, the award winning race car will return its home in Washington.
By Roger Gillis, LAFD retired