By Phil Whipple,
RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer. Photo By: Rachel Plant
BELTON, Texas — Earning race wins and points championships can be addictive for those fortunate enough to outpace their weekly rivals on a consistent basis. While feature wins are special, a points title is the ultimate proof of a top-notch program and superior performance throughout an entire season.
For 45-year-old James Hanusch, championships are what it's all about. The incredibly busy plumber from Belton kicked off his ninth year of racing last Friday night at Heart O' Texas (HoT) Speedway after winning the IMCA Southern Sport Mod title at Cotton Bowl Speedway (CBS) in 2020.
Hanusch also finished second in points at HoT last year and is striving to add a title at the famed 1/4-mile high-banked oval near Waco to his resume in 2021. He kicked off his new season with a fifth-place finish in Sport Mods, along with a solid runner-up finish in Outlaw Street Stocks.
“We definitely had a strong first outing in Waco,” Hanusch said. “We took the lead on the fourth or fifth lap in the Outlaw Street Stock feature. I led it until lap 13, but at HoT they revert back to the previous lap to determine a restart order following a caution.
“I took the restart in second, but with only seven laps left and a one-groove track, I couldn't get back around Cody Daniel. I was having some kind of ignition issue with the engine, so it was only running on seven cylinders. I was up to third at one point in the Sport Mod, but ended up finishing fifth.”
In last year's abbreviated 11-race schedule at Cotton Bowl due to the pandemic, Hanusch earned one win, seven top-five and nine top-10 finishes in Sport Mod. He claimed the title over Joe Maple by a narrow three-point margin, the tightest battle of 2020 at the 3/8-mile oval in Paige.
“I should have had a couple of more wins, but circumstances just didn't allow it to happen,” he said when reflecting on last season. “We stayed very consistent all year at Cotton Bowl. Racing at HoT on Friday nights and at CBS keeps us on our toes. It's a lot to tackle, but I have some very good help.
“I've finished in the top five in points at HoT for the past six years, and finished second there last year. I love competing at both tracks, even though they are completely different layouts. It's a ton of fun.”
In just eight years of racing, Hanusch has built a very impressive resume. His career highlight to date is an IMCA National championship in 2019, a great source of pride for the easy-going driver. That year, he also won a track title at 281 Speedway in Stephenville, Texas.
“My family has been involved in dirt track racing since I was a baby,” he explained. “I've been exposed to it all my life, but eventually my family members retired from it. I picked it up in 2013 driving one of my Dad's old IMCA Modifieds in Killeen. I started my ninth consecutive year of driving last weekend.
“In 2017 I won the Texas state championship, and in 2019 I won the National title. Last year, I was able to add the title at Cotton Bowl, but it came right down to the wire. In fact, I was there last Sunday and received my trophy. It is absolutely beautiful. I need to thank Mary Ann and her staff for a great 2020.”
While most racers do well to own and maintain a single race vehicle, Hanusch actually has three in his fleet. He's blessed to have a separate Sport Mod for HoT and CBS, plus a tricked-out pickup truck.
“I got that truck in a swap with Robert Stewart,” Hanusch explained. “I traded a Sport Mod for it. He used to run in on the asphalt at Central Texas Speedway. When I got it, it still had Plexiglas windows and the left frame rail was full of lead. We had a make a lot of modifications to race it on dirt.
“As for the Sport Mod, I actually have two of them. I have a Hellion chassis I run in Waco that Brian Walker out of Lorena built. There are about seven or eight of them racing at HoT on Friday nights, including 2020 champion Jeff Shepperd. I also have an IRP chassis from Jason Ingalls I run at CBS.”
Having two separate cars for two completely different race tracks make life a whole lot easier.
“I don't want to have to change a rear-end out after running the 1/4-mile on Friday night before we can load it back up for the 3/8-mile Cotton Bowl on Saturday. I did that for a while, and it kills you. When you have two cars, you can have one setup specifically for each track. It makes things a lot better.”
Hanusch may have a tremendous amount of natural talent behind the wheel (in whatever he drives), but he also has some key people and partners working behind the scenes to keep his racing program active.
“I need to thank my Dad, Mike Hanusch, and my uncle, David Hanusch, for all they do for my race team,” Hanusch said. “I could never do this without them. I also have a special thanks to my partner, Tiffany Carter, who's had my back for all nine years of racing. Her support is essential for me to race.
“I also have to thank Brian Walker, of Hellion Race Cars; Keith White, of Champ Race Fuels; Jason Ingalls at IRP Race Cars, Precise Plumbing, Tri-City Lawnscapes, Surface Source Design Center, Natemare Wraps, Flyn-B-Fabrication and Hubbert Roofing. I truly appreciate each and every one.”
With Heart O' Texas already in action and Cotton Bowl set to open the gates this Saturday, Hanusch is about to be as busy with his racing program as he is with replacing damaged pipes from the big freeze.
“I really want to earn a track championship at Heart O' Texas,” he concluded. “My family has never won a title there. If I could do that, it would make my Dad and my uncle very happy. I have three uncles who were all involved in the sport, along with my Dad. I want to make them all proud.”