Cody Hodgson has not given up on his Daytona dreams.
The 22-year-old Escalon High graduate still has the goal of reaching the highest levels of auto racing, having parlayed two regional go-kart championships into a season in the big time, moving to North Carolina, and running the NASCAR K&N Pro Series in 2011 as a teenager.
But he also learned that big-time dreams carry big-time stresses and demands, which sent him back home, back to school and back to a level of racing where fun remains paramount.
This weekend, his journey comes all the way home, because the Modesto Grand Prix (the local name for the SuperKarts! USA SummerNationals) will give Hodgson a rare home game. He’ll be competing in the event’s top level, the S1 Pro Stock. The S means he’s driving a shifter kart, with shifters making up half this weekend’s eight classes.
“It’s still a dream for me to race, but right now, I’m back to where I’m doing it for pure enjoyment – for the fun of it,” Hodgson said. “There’s not another feeling in the world for me that matches preparing for a race like this.
“What I love about karting, even over NASCAR, is the energy on the grid when people are getting ready to go out for the main event. It’s very intense because karts are about racing from the heart instead of racing for ego.”
And even at his young age, he’s experienced enough to be able to have lived that statement.
Hodgson first stepped into a racing kart when he was 6, winning races at various levels while climbing in the sport. He also wrestled and played football at Escalon High, but when he got the chance as a high school senior to start racing full time, his days in prep sports were over.
“I look back on high school and miss that I didn’t get to play my senior year because that’s when my racing took off,” Hodgson said. “I miss football and I miss wrestling, and those were the only two sports I could do because of my racing schedule.”
Within a year of graduating, Hodgson got what he hoped would be his big break in racing, signing with Dave Davis Motorsports in the NASCAR K&N Pro East Series for the 2011 season.
“My plan was to work up the ladder, and while I got lucky with the opportunity I got, and came into some funding, the following year I couldn’t find the funding to keep going,” Hodgson said. “I decided to come home, go back to school and take a break from racing, to get started on a different path. I’m still racing, just not as much – just one-off races here and there with stock cars, karts and stuff.”
He’s attending San Joaquin Delta College and is aiming to transfer to UC Santa Cruz to study business, but racing is never too far out of the picture.
“When I came back home, I sat on the couch for a little while, got a job, was going to school, and I decided I needed to get back in the go-kart,” Hodgson said. “We’ve been hitting races here and there, and this year we’re doing the full SKUSA pro tour. We just built a sprint car and will be doing that as well.”
In many ways, Hodgson is the quintessential kart racer. The racing card this weekend in Modesto will be filled with young drivers whose skills are just emerging, and that was Hodgson 10 to 12 years ago.
It will offer competition for racers looking for the big break into full-time racing with NASCAR or IndyCar, and that was Hodgson five years ago.
Finally, it will offer a place to compete for some of the nation’s top kart teams, some of whom have had a taste of elite racing and want to keep their über-competitive wheels spinning.
And that’s where Hodgson is right now.
“If I could, I’d make a career of go-kart driving. It’s the most fun type of racing out there,” Hodgson said. (Two-time Indy 500 champion) Dan Wheldon said that karting was the purest form of motorsports, and at an event like this, you’re racing against the best in the United States, and they’re driving the best equipment. In a race car, if you have a crappy car, you’ll run crappy. In karting, talent can keep you in the race.”
And right now, as a young yet veteran racer, that’s all Hodgson wants to do – stay in the race.