Eunice track founder gets one last lap
When Sam Hodges passed away last Thursday, so did a piece of Eunice’s history. Though he was only 56 years old, Hodges is the reason Eunice has Cardinal Speedway.
Today, the people of Eunice and those who race at Cardinal Motor Speedway will get one last chance to honor Sam as the family holds a memorial service in his honor in the winner’s circle. Like the start time on race night, the memorial service will begin at 8 p.m. Racers are expected to begin lining up their cars on the track at 7:15 p.m.
“It will be incredibly hard (to be at), but I feel like it is going to be an amazing tribute to him,” said Sam’s daughter, Casey Hodges. “He doesn’t, he never, we would always tell him how loved and respected he was within the racing the community and in the Eunice community and he never really knew the depth of his impact on people. So to see the people come and pay their respects and have a tribute to him, it will be amazing, but incredibly hard.”
While the loss of her father is still new and the heartache is still fresh, Casey said she is looking forward to the memorial.
“For us to see just how loved he was and the mark he made, on our community as well as the racing community,” Casey said. “The racing community, that is your second family. They will take care of you and they look out for their own. I know that he will be able to look down and see it, but it is going to be truly amazing to see everyone come together and honor him. All the racers are going to come with their cars and line the track one more time for h i m .
He will take the green flag one more time.”
For someone who loved racing, having a racetrack in his town was a dream. According Casey, her dad was not a procrastinator. She said that Sam’s lifelong dream was to open a racetrack and in 1999 he decided to make it happen in Eunice.
Having already been to most, if not all, of the racetracks around the area, including Odessa, Lubbock, Carlsbad, Artesia, Abilene, and tracks in the Dallas area, Sam knew what he wanted for his. Now, most of those tracks are gone.
When Sam first mentioned it to Casey, she thought her dad was crazy.
“I was in elementary school when he first started building it,” Casey said. “He loaded us all up and took us out there and told us one day, there is going to be a racetrack here. … I was sitting there thinking, you are out of your mind.”
Where the track sits now once looked a lot different.
“It was a big pasture with mesquite bushes and dirt,” Casey said. “That is what it was. It was an overgrown pasture.”
Getting it done was not easy though. Sam put in hours upon hours of labor to make his dream a reality and he did that in addition to working his regular full-time job.
“He worked for the same company since he was 19 years old,” Casey said. “He did not know what a sick day was. He went to work no matter what. He would come in after working all day long and go out there and work until well after midnight, until he just couldn’t anymore. Then, he would get up in the morning and do it all over again.”
He didn’t do it alone though. Sam’s brother-in-law, Mike Lord, was right there working with him. According to Casey, Lord would come over from Seminole, Texas in the evenings, if he had the night free, as well as every single weekend to help Sam with the manual labor.
“He was a hard-working dude,” Lord said. “We spent a lot of time out there, just me and him.”
“They are honest to goodness, the two of hardest working men I have ever seen in my entire life,” Casey added. “If you called (Mike), he would say Sam would work circles around you.”
But that didn’t stop Sam. He wanted something and he worked for it until he got it. He started work on what would become the track in October of 1998. Nine months later, Sam’s track was ready.
“There are not that many people who can make that kind of turnaround from a pasture to a full-blown, operational racetrack,” Casey said. “It was amazing to finally see all that hard work, literally blood, sweat, and tears, come to life. What he built was better than anything he had taken us to. The attention to detail that he and my uncle (Lord) put into it, the things that he did and how he went above and beyond for his fellow racers and family, was truly incredible.”
“We built the surface then we built the stands, then we built the lights, we built everything out there,” Lord said. “I am talking about everything out there, me and him. I am talking about welding it and everything. We were trying to treat people right.”
Cardinal Motor Speedway, an International Motor Contest Association-sanctioned track, opened its Eunice turnstile and dropped the first green flag on July 9, 1999.
“The first night we had probably 1,000 spectators and racers,” Lord said. “For about nine or 10 years, we raced every Saturday from April to September. Then, for about three years, we went every other Saturday.”
The competition of the track didn’t mean the end of working. In fact, once the track opened, it became even more of a family affair.
“It became a family run operation,” Casey said. “Every single person in my family worked out there.”
Casey said she worked in the ticket booth and the concession stands. Her mother ran the ticket booth. Casey and her sister, Cari Coy, both worked as lap counters as did her cousin. Her brother-in-law was the flagger. Lord did the track pressing and watering along with Sam. Sam’s brother, Cody, was responsible for the trash.
“My entire family was out there every summer,” she said. “We planned weddings and babies and vacations and prom – to take pictures on prom, we had to go out to the track. My limo literally pulled out onto the track to take a picture with my dad on prom night. It was really cool, but that is just how life was for the 10-15 years that we ran it.”
Next month, the track will celebrate its 19th birthday. While the Hodges family doesn’t run it anymore, they are still involved with it.
“We leased it out to Chris Meyers and Toby Herring and they have run it the last six years,” Lord said. “Me and Sam took the dirt work part of it back over this year.”
Right up until the end, Sam was involved with the Cardinal Motor Speedway. He didn’t race this season, but he was still at the track. He was Eunice’s Iron Man in terms of never missing a day at that track. After 19 years of being at the track every race weekend, the sickness finally caught up to him and he missed his first weekend.
“My dad, up until the race before this past Saturday, that was the first night he had ever missed out at his track,” Casey said. “He didn’t go out there and do the prep himself, point his fingers and tell everybody how to do it and to get mad when they didn’t do it the way he told them and then go back and redo it himself. He was very much a control freak and he would tell you exactly how he wanted it done. You would do it exactly how you thought he wanted it, and more often than not, he would come change something about it. He was out there every single night it was open. He only missed one night and that was because he was to weak to go.”
Last season, Sam won his final track points championship, winning the hobby stock class.
“He raced last season, every single night and was the points champion,” Casey said. “He went out there and had so much fun. … He did not race any this year. He sold his car at the end of last year.”
Even with the cancer already working against Sam, that didn’t let it stop him from doing what he loved. He might not have been racing in 2018, but he was still making sure the track was ready for everyone else.
“Sam was a one of a kind,” Herring said. “He worked his butt off. He loved it so much. He wanted to maintain the equipment and work the dirt. I had to tell him to take a break because I was afraid they were going to find him out there. I kind of think that is what he wanted.”
The next scheduled race at the Eunice track will be on July 7 when it hosts the regular racing program as well as DFC and Hobby Stock racing. Herring said the track honored Sam at its race this past weekend and is working to try and put together a memorial race in Sam’s memory, but nothing has been set as of yet.