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By Fred Farley – Unlimited Hydroplane Historian
Unlimited hydroplane racing lost one of its most respected veterans on April 4, 2012. John Humes, the sport’s first African American crew chief, passed away, following a brief illness. He was 66.
“Big John” twisted wrenches for his hometown racing team, the community-owned MISS MADISON, for the better part of 50 years. As a member of the board of directors of Miss Madison, Incorporated, Humes worked closely with representative owner Bob Hughes, team manager Charlie Grooms, and crew chief Mike Hanson.
Humes occasionally assisted other teams, including the MISTER FABRICATOR in 1973, but the MISS MADISON was his first love.
In a 2009 interview with the DETROIT FREE PRESS, John credited the sport’s camaraderie as the reason for his long career in racing. Nowhere was this more apparent than in a trip with the MISS MADISON to a race in Guntersville, Alabama, in 1965.
Humes and his fellow crew members visited a local restaurant, looking for a bite to eat. The proprietor refused to serve John because he was a black man. The proprietor was told, “You either serve him or you don’t serve any of us.”
The entire MISS MADISON crew walked out of the restaurant en masse and took their business elsewhere.