Smiley’s Racing Products Southern SportMod crown is captured by much-traveled Hanusch

James Hanusch followed a typically ambitious 55-race schedule en route to his career first Smi­ley’s Racing Products Southern SportMod national championship this season. Speedway Motors President Clay Smith is at left, IMCA President Brett Root at right. (Photo by Bruce Badgley, Motorsports Photography)

BELTON, Texas – A career that started with an old chassis rescued from a weed patch has seen James Hanusch race to the IMCA’s Smiley’s Racing Products Southern SportMod national champion­ship.

The Belton, Texas, driver followed an ambitious 55-race schedule that took him to eight tracks in three states, collecting five feature wins, another 23 top five finishes and the 281 Speedway crown as well this season.

“We were leading at 281 and doing well in national points. Everybody wants feature wins but I also know that top fives will get you a long way,” said the first-time national champ, who has typi­cally made 50-plus starts a season during his career in the class. “We did a lot of traveling.  We were on the road a lot. We strategized how to get the most points out of our late season starts and it worked out for us.”

The E3 Spark Plugs Texas State champion two years ago, Hanusch logged most of his Lone Star out­ings at 281 and Heart O’ Texas Speedway, working in visits to Abilene Speedway, Cotton Bowl Speedway, Kennedale Speedway and Big O Speedway.

His out-of-state stops were at Southern Oklahoma Speedway, during the Red River Tour, and at Texarkana 67 Speedway in Arkansas for their big Fourth of July event.

“Heart O’ Texas is my closest Friday night track at 45 minutes. Every Saturday track is between two and four hours away and we’ve been doing that for six years,” he said. “Our highlight this year had to be winning (on season championship night) at 281 and then going to Abilene, starting last and finishing fifth.”

Hanusch grew up in a racing family, following the circle track exploits of his father Michael and uncles David and Paul – David and his dad now crew for him – and ran a short first season in a Modified before the Southern SportMod caught his eye.

“I’d been around racing since I was little and got into it myself seven years ago after I pulled one of my dad’s old cars out of the weeds,” he explained. “I saw a Southern SportMod at the track. I told my dad that was the class I knew I wanted to be in and we bought one at the end of the sea­son.”

“The thing I like most about them is less maintenance. The Southern SportMod has a simpler setup and cost is a little easier on the pocketbook,” Hanusch said. “In my opinion it may be the most competitive class there is. There are a lot of good Southern SportMod drivers out there. The majority of the drivers in this class are so equal that you have to be on your game to have good finishes.”

Four of his feature wins came at Stephenville, the other in late July at Big O. 

“How big an accomplishment winning the national championship is hasn’t hit me yet. I’m still kind of feeling it hard to believe,” Hanusch said. “It will probably hit me when I get to the banquet.”

Starts 55            Wins 5          Additional Top Five’s 23

HIS CREW: Father Michael and uncle David.

HIS SPONSORS: Precise Plumbing and Pat McGuire/McGuire Trucking, both of Belton; Brian Walker and Hellion Race Cars, Lorena; Jason Ingalls and IRP Race Cars, Longview; Earl Baxter and 41 Shocks, Pearland; Eddie Tabor and Rhine Rear Ends, Mission; J.P. Dowell with Speed Secrets of Killeen; Keith White and Champ Race Fuels of Little River Academy; Nate Lemire and Natemare Wraps of Copperas Cove; Tri-City Lawnscape of Temple; and Jacob Pirkle and Custom Racing Suspensions of Midlothian.