Two-sport athlete: McCook's John Huffman excels on the stock car circuit, tennis court
Many athletes compete in different sports throughout the year, but John Huffman's athlete status may take him from the hometown dirt tracks to NASCAR cup.
Huffman is a two-sport athlete. He races stock cars and has competed on the Bison tennis team for the past three years.
Huffman ended the tennis season in the first round of the 2007 state tournament in doubles with teammate Scott Friehe and lettered in varsity for the last two years.
"He is a great kid that is fun to be around. I like his competitive mindset and positive attitude he plays with," said McCook High School tennis coach Matt Wiemers.
"We have to juggle the completion of the racing season and the start of the tennis season a little bit. I have no problem with working things out, as I know how much John enjoys racing and is usually in the lead for points.
"Believe me, I would rather have John available to play his position on the team, but he spends a lot of time racing all summer, so it would be selfish for me to not allow him to complete his racing season.
"I also see John pretty much all summer in tennis camp, so I know he is putting in the time to better his tennis skills and game. He is a very unique person with a lot of heart and "drive" to be successful in pretty much everything he does."
Drive is definitely what John does. After the racing season ended, he was named the 2007 Nebraska State Stock Car champion and was third in the nation as a rookie in October.
John's racing career actually began with motocross racing in 2001, with his brother, James. Along with the boys their father, Jim also raced motorcycles.
Racing on the hills near Fritz farms south of McCook, John honed his skills and picked up several awards. He was was named the Cornhusker State Champ in 2003 in the 65cc Junior racing and state points winner in the 85cc in 2004.
In 2004, John then started focusing more on the "four wheel racing, instead of the "two wheel" and took his first win in the mini-sprint cars as Rookie Points Leader that same year.
He then moved into the midget-lite cars, racing on both dirt and asphalt tracks in Colorado and Wyoming and in 2005, took Rookie of the Year.
After getting his feet a little wet with the smaller cars, John moved into the hobby stocks, racing next to his father, who also drives in that class. Jim is also part of his son's pit crew and includes John's mother, Ann and Tony and John Spilinek as well.
Nicknamed 'Milk Money' because of the family business and jokingly called 'shorty,' John started the first year in hobby stocks at 14 years old in the drivers seat and a little below the dash.
"I think the first year he drove, you could barely see him over the dash," joked Jim Lewis, Culbertson track promoter.
"He does a great job and is always a clean racer. He has a solid family behind him. He is level headed and seemingly understands the track rules."
In 2006, John was named the 2006 hobby stock national Rookie of the Year runner-up and had eight feature wins, proving his talent. "He's incredibly talented," said Jim. "We are very proud of him," added Ann.
With a another year of racing under his suit, national awards, John moved into the stock cars. At 16, John had over 150 main event wins in both moto-cross and cars.
The racing season begins in March and April for the Huffmans, with the team running nearly every Friday, Saturday and Sunday on tracks in McCook, Culbertson, North Platte, Norton, Lexington, Red Cloud and finally in Boone, Iowa for the Nationals in September.
"Monday mornings I sleep in," laughed John. "We race Friday night and Saturday morning we are back working on the car sometimes even in the pits before the race that night."
John does most of his own mechanic work along with his dad, changing out motors and switching gears for the next race.
"Just changing the gears is a good night for us," said Jim.
After the 2007 season ended with the race in Boone, John was officially named the Nebraska State Stock Car champion in October and took third in the nation as a rookie.
John received a plaque and coat in recognition for his achievement in Lincoln on Nov. 24.
"It's a black tie event," said Ann. "Very formal."
One of John's most memorable times this year, was his trip to the Buck Baker driving school in Atlanta, Ga., last spring. Along with other drivers, John made it past the first day driving real cup cars, like Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhart Jr., drive.
"The first day you drive the car with a coach," said John. "If you make it past day one, the second day, you get to take the car out along side another car and practice drafting and other techniques. It was a lot of fun."
John admires the late Dale Earnhart Sr. and Tony Stewart in the pro racing and Don Hagan on the local circuit. "He's always providing help for all the guys in the pits," said John. He's very encouraging."
John not only has his family support, but fan support as well. "We have a few hard core fans that come by every race," said John.
Sponsor support is a big part of the Huffman racing team as well.
"We make it a point to visit our sponsors and keep them up-to-date on what John's doing," said Jim. "Sponsor support is very important."
John writes letters to them (sponsors) and then a personal conference. At the end of the year they receive a full portfolio and a personal thank you. We keep them up on everything."
Racing will continue for the Huffmans in 2008, when John takes on the modified division.
John will be up against top racers like David Murray Jr. and Robbie Haines.
The new car is being built by WFO Racing in North Platte and is sponsored by Kleins Motor and Electric, New Holland Machinery, the Nebraska Dairy Council, Napa "North Platte" Ron Andersen race engines, Dirt Boss Chassis, Pearman Farms and Cumming Hay Farms.
Each sponsor will have a new decal added to the new car to show the Huffman's appreciation.
John is looking forward to racing in the modifieds.
"We hope for success there," said Jim. Lewis also thinks John will "be a force in the modified division."
While John tries out the modifieds, Jim plans to drive the stock car. "Just for fun," said Jim. "We'll have John drive in the bigger races."
As for future plans, John will continue racing and hopes that someday he will get noticed and given the chance at the professional racing level, maybe even alongside his idol Tony Stewart.