Auto Racing

Eastern Iowa race official happy to be waving flags - and occasionally arguing - again

You'll see John Huff officiating races at Hawkeye Downs, Independence and Benton County

John Huff waves the flag to start the first heat races during the season opener at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids on Frid
John Huff waves the flag to start the first heat races during the season opener at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids on Friday, May 3, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Some things are universal. Death, taxes and waving an imaginary checkered flag at the end of a race.

If you’ve attended a race at Hawkeye Downs, Independence Motor Speedway or Benton County Speedway in the last 15 years, you’ve probably waved your fake flag with the real flag man/race controller for all three, John Huff of Center Point.

“I’ve always had racing in my blood,” said the Alburnett class of 1990 grad. “When my dad quit racing in the early 2000s, I got into officiating.”

Huff’s father, Brad, raced in the Street Stock and Pro Stock classes before finishing his 22-year career in an IMCA Modified that he drove weekly at Vinton and all over Iowa.

Prerace, Huff meets with drivers to go through procedures.

“Now with race-receivers, I can communicate with the drivers as they’re out on the racetrack.” Huff said.

His girlfriend, Sheila, is a big race fan and goes with him to the three tracks, making it less lonely of a drive home if things get heated.

“I get yelled at every once in a while, but I still come back because I enjoy doing what I do,” Huff said.

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He’s learned that a lot of people get mad, quite frequently, but you just have to let it roll off and keep doing your job.

“I’m in a hard spot and have a minute second to make fast and good calls,” Huff said. “I’ve got some good corner workers and people that help me on the racetrack, trying to make the correct calls.”

Huff said that he watches for rough driving and disassembled cars during the races.

“Safety is very important because I’m the guy in charge of everything that goes on,” Huff said. “If I happen to make a mistake, just like this last race with 17-18 people in cars, I have their lives on the racetrack that I’ve got to take care of. If someone is stalled, I tend to be quick on the yellows, but that’s because I’d feel bad if I got someone hurt.”

Huff said he has a lot of respect for the drivers and hopes they have respect for him.

“They may yell at me, but I can still walk through the pits and talk to these guys at the beginning of the night before we start,” Huff said.

One of the drivers that he had to discipline last Saturday at Independence was his own son, Ian, a 22-year old IMCA Stock Car driver.

“People think we try to play favorites,” Huff said. “To me they are just a car number and we try to treat everyone fair and equal. At Indee we have a one-and-done rule and I had to send my own kid to the pits.”

Either way, Huff appreciates the ability to do what he loves thanks to the support of fans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If we didn’t have fans to put on a show, these guys wouldn’t have anywhere to race. It’s fan-oriented,” Huff said. “The crowd can get loud and will yell and scream at me, that’s just part of the game. If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

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Gates open tonight at Hawkeye Downs at 6 p.m. with hot laps at 6:45 and prerace ceremonies at 7:25. Independence will open their gates at 4:30 p.m. Saturday with racing at six and Benton County Speedway opens their gates at 4 p.m. with racing at six on Sunday night.

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