Living in the Fast Lane

Born to Race

Before Scripps Ranch residents Shawn and Jennifer Hudspeth even met, they both had racing in their blood. Jennifer grew up watching her dad on the track. “That’s where I really learned a love for racing, competition,” recalls Jennifer. “I always felt so proud watching my dad take home the checkered!”

Shawn was a racer from the word “Go!”—triathlons, dirt bikes, motor bikes. “You name it, I was in it,” says Shawn. “I just loved the whole competition of it all.”

For the Love of Racing

Fast forward a few years into marriage with two boys under 5 years old, the racing life was taking a different turn. Shawn was motor racing almost every weekend, and winning. “But motor biking is a dangerous sport. It worried me every time Shawn went out. After all, he was not only my husband, but also our number one dad,” says Jennifer, an elementary school teacher. “Plus, I was tired of him having all the fun,” she adds with a wink.

Like any good husband, Shawn heard the request and came up with a solution. With secret collaboration from Pops, Jennifer’s stepdad, he went out and bought a race car, of course. When Jennifer first saw the “surprise,” her reaction was not positive. “He immediately read the look on my face and spoke up,” remembers Jennifer. Before she could say anything, Shawn blurted out, “Honey, it’s a Rally car! It has two seats. You can be my co-driver/navigator.” Although more popular in Europe, Rally Racing consists of regular street cars racing from point A to point B on unmarked courses and unmarked roads.

While Shawn was responsible for driving at top speeds across rocky dirt roads, around trees, sand traps, and cliffs, Jennifer was in the passenger seat shouting the plan through their headsets—since the engine was so loud. “She would tell me how fast to go, where to turn, where we were headed,” says Shawn. “She was great!” They soon became the pair to beat, winning almost every race they entered.

In Rally Racing the driver gathers points, but so does the co-driver. “Jen actually won more than I did,” Shawn proclaims. Jennifer was awarded the U.S. Rally Championship Co-Driver trophy two years in a row. With all this excitement, it didn’t take long for Tanner, the couple’s oldest son, to want to get behind the wheel.

On the Right Track

Tanner was only 4½ when he joined the National Kid Kart circuit. Tanner, Shawn, and Pops would design and build each one of the specialized karts. “Tanner Hudspeth” quickly became a nationally known name among fans. He was even given a nickname—Tanner the Terminator.

They all remember when they heard the announcer bellow through the loudspeaker as Tanner crossed the finish line. “As soon as I won, I heard him say ‘…and Tanner the Terminator wins again!’ It was pretty cool,” grins Tanner.

His sweet smile and quiet demeanor seem worlds away from the strong, competitive streak needed in such a sport. But Shawn remembers the moment his oldest son proved his passion for racing. “We were testing a kart, and although everything can look great on the blocks, the true trial is on the track. After some steering and stopping problems, Tanner squealed into the pit, took his helmet off and started barking orders of what was wrong and what needed to be fixed to make this a winning kart. As his pit crew, Pops and I smirked at each other and immediately got to work.”

Tanner’s calm, level-headed, and will-to-win spirit earned him national recognition. His 100+ trophies—some taller than he is—include a few “Duffy” and Golden Eagle statues. “In the world of Kid Kart racing, that’s equivalent to winning several Golden Globes,” explains Shawn. Tanner became the Grand National title holder by the time he was 8 years old!

Having the Drive

Although racing is a family affair, the Hudspeths are your normal, busy, community-involved Scripps Ranch family of four. Jennifer teaches 3rd grade at Jerabek. Tanner is a freshman at Scripps Ranch High School, while Gavin began 6th grade this year at Marshall Middle School. But despite Tanner racing around the track, “Gavin has always been the busiest one of the family,” says Jennifer. “The boy never stops.”

So when in 3rd grade Gavin began limping and favoring one side, Shawn and Jennifer became concerned. “We noticed that his limp was getting worse and his energy level was at an all-time low.” The once speed-running, scooter-driving dare devil suddenly was having a hard time walking from his classroom to the lunch tables. By the end of the day he could barely make it from the car to the house.

After months of testing and visiting specialists throughout the country, Gavin was diagnosed with CMTJ4J, a rare neuropathic disorder. Gavin is one of less than two dozen people in the world with the condition, and is the only one with his particular subtype. “There is no official prognosis for Gavin since he is the only one to have this particular strain of the disease,” explains Jennifer.

Most of the kids with this diagnosis are in wheelchairs, but Shawn and Jennifer are determined to find a treatment to keep Gavin’s illness from progressing. “Right now, our hope lies in gene therapy. Since this is such a rare disease, there is a lack of interest by drug companies to develop treatments,” says Jennifer. “Fortunately, the CureCMT4J Foundation has developed a cutting-edge gene therapy that is hoping to go to trial soon, pending funding.” The Foundation aims to raise another $1.2 million to fund the trial. “Gavin’s diagnosis threw us off track. It seemed like our lives came to a screeching halt,” admits Jennifer. “But the more we find out about it and the more we share, the more our hope for a cure grows.”

Every day is a physical struggle for Gavin, but his smile and determination to be a typical kid keep him going. “Even though his legs want to give up and his body wants to lie down, he refuses to let it stop him,” says Jennifer. Gavin wants nothing more than to drive like Tanner. With the work and support of the CureCMT4J Foundation, the Hudspeths keep their eye on the prize—that one day Gavin’s health can improve so he could be strong enough to race around that track.

When Drifters are Winners

The Hudspeth family now manages two of the country’s top Drift drivers and their cars. Drift racing involves more skill than just crossing the finish line first. Drivers receive points for fancy maneuvers, speed, and competitive edge on the track. There are only 32 Drift drivers in the United States, but it is quickly becoming the top motor sport in the world.

For the last year Shawn and his team focused on designing and building the number one “swap car” in the world. Known as the GT4586, this Toyota car body has a Ferrari engine that leaves a trail of smoke and hot rubber wherever it revs up. With more than 70 million views on YouTube, the famous car is a fan favorite and is featured in movies and showcased around the world. In fact, one of the perks of winning a Drift race is being able to take the GT4586 for a spin.

Now 14, Tanner has put his winning karts in park and is ready to jump into the driver’s seat of a Drifter. “Drift driving is something I’d really like to start training for,” Tanner says. Even though he’s not yet 16, Shawn explains Tanner can legally start training on the track in a few months, “as soon as we finish building our own Formula Drift Pro-Car.”

A family Drift car is in the works, being built from scratch, wheel-nut to steering wheel and everything in between. With the top Drift drivers as team members, Tanner knows he’ll be trained well so he can join the talented few on the track. These positive parents are so very proud of both Gavin and Tanner. As Shawn says, “In their own, individual ways, they represent the ‘winning spirit’ in all of us.”

Jen Marchesini