The Tuff Trucks and Mud Drags competition took place at the Stanislaus County Fair on Saturday, bringing with it a whole lot of mud, some stiff competition and for two local families, special moments.
For the Souzas of Denair, the love of motorsports is something that runs in their blood. The Journal spoke to Jeff and Hunter Souza, a father and son monster truck duo, in May, but on Saturday it was Jeff’s daughter Cheyenne’s turn to get behind the wheel in the Mud Drags contest.
“This is my first time competing,” said Cheyenne, who caught the motorsports bug from her father. “Just seeing him driving and being around everything got me interested.”
It was night number four at the Food Maxx Arena for Jeff, who competed in the previous nights’ monster truck events alongside Hunter, who drove as a mini monster truck driver. To prepare his daughter for her first event, Jeff and Cheyenne practiced driving “anywhere there was mud and snow.”
“She drives in the hills a lot,” explained Jeff. “Preparation is just to have a heavy right foot – this competition is all throttle.”
At just 15 years old, Cheyenne was the youngest driver in the Mud Drags competition. Since she doesn’t yet have her driver’s license, Jeff rode alongside her as she plowed through the mud, taking home a second place finish in the six cylinder portion of the contest.
In the Tuff Trucks competition, Debbie McCormick’s truck “Hope” stood out from the crowd with its bright pink exterior. As a seven-time cancer survivor, “Hope” stands as a symbol for both McCormick and others fighting the devastating disease. Along with its pink hue, “Hope” is also adorned with various colored ribbons representing different types of cancer and a flag reading “Crush out breast cancer.”
Though the truck belongs to McCormick, she was unable to participate in the competition due to her osteoporosis. That’s where long-time neighbor and family friend Mario Santa Cruz stepped in.
“He’s like my son,” said McCormick of Santa Cruz, who travelled from Stockton to compete for McCormick.
The two were neighbors in Turlock for years before McCormick moved to Stevinson and Santa Cruz relocated to Stockton. While the two families are close – they raced tuff trucks side by side for six years – the timing of Saturday’s competition was particularly touching for Santa Cruz for another reason.
“Driving the truck today means a lot since my mom just passed away from cancer last year,” said Santa Cruz. “It’s also special since we’ve always been treated like family by the McCormicks, so we appreciate them, love them and support them.”
Santa Cruz ultimately finished sixth in the open portion of the Tuff Trucks competition, but winning isn’t why McCormick continues to enter her truck into competitions.
“It’s all about having fun and family,” she said. “It’s our family tradition.”