Daddy Bob Hughes
Madison and his engineering
firm became second priority during
Carol Hughes struggle for life
MADISON, Ind. For years, Bob Hughes diligently
worked his way up the corporate ladder, first as a tool and die worker,
and later as co-founder of his own company, Clifty Engineering.
An admittedly poor student in high school, he did even
worse at college, dropping out after only a few semesters. He instead
relied on hard work and his knack for salesmanship to win customers
and build a thriving business on the Madison hilltop that today boasts
clients within a 150-mile radius.
In 1965, Tony Steinhardt asked Hughes for financial and machine shop
support for the struggling community owned Miss Madison hydroplane race
boat. Hughes not only obliged, but within five years was serving as
president of Miss Madison Inc., the teams governing body.
That boat would have died a long time ago were it not for Bob
Hughes, said Steinhardt, a former team manager and previous president
of Miss Madison Inc. who still serves on its board.
Bob was a great leader and inspiration, and he was there whenever
we were short of funds or needed help of any kind, Steinhardt
He has spent untold thousands keeping that boat in the water,
buying parts and paying for equipment repairs, said Hank Bentz,
a Miss Madison Inc. board member for 25 years and a former WORX radio
broadcaster of hydroplane racing events.
When the boat was sponsored, we did OK. But during the years when
we had no sponsor, Bob Hughes contributed his own money, time and business
talents to keep us going.
The job of president quickly put Hughes at the center of hydroplane
racing and among the movers and shakers of the Unlimited Hydroplane
Racing Association circuit. He was soon traveling to cities all across
America with the Miss Madison racing team, rubbing shoulders with the
sports top drivers, owners and sponsors.
He also has been active over the years in many charitable groups, serving
as president of the local United Way chapter and the boards of the Madison
Area Chamber of Commerce, Lide White Boys and Girls Club and the City
of Madison Port Authority. He is a member of the Elks and Moose lodges
and the Madison Country Club.
But there was one job for which Hughes could never totally prepare
that of caretaker for his ailing wife, Carol, who, for a period of several
years suffered nine heart attacks before dying in November 1999 at age
Carol nearly died in 1997 when she suffered her seventh heart attack
in her husbands arms. He performed CPR and resuscitated her long
enough until the ambulance crew arrived and brought her back to life
with cardio-pulmonary paddles. He sat by her side for six weeks as she
lay in Louisvilles Jewish Hospital.
This month, Hughes will mark his first Madison Regatta without his wife
of 46 years, a locally popular woman who was herself an avid race fan
and a primary supporter of Hughes many business and charitable
She was the woman behind the man, and he dearly loved her,
said Betty Helton, Hughes secretary, treasurer and personal assistant
at Clifty Engineering for 34 years.
We thought we had lost her several times, but her will to live
was remarkable, Helton said. She just kept coming back after
each heart attack, though not as strong. And she never once complained
about her predicament.
At this months Madison Regatta on July 1-2, Clifty Engineering
will dedicate two races of Sundays unlimited hydroplane racing
schedule to Carol Hughes as a tribute to her love for the sport.
Carol loved boat racing, and she was an absolute inspiration to
all of us, said Steinhardt, marketing director of this years
She was a sweetheart; she was kind and patient those are
the two words that come to mind when I think of Carol, said Bentz,
now regional marketing director for Ivy Tech State College.
Hughes, meanwhile, still struggles to maintain his composure when talking
about his late wife, who in her final year was confined to a wheel chair.
Living without her has been a transition that has taken some getting
used to, said Hughes, 66.
He recalls ESPN television crews frequently filming Carol during boat
races because, in the early days, no one could keep track of the laps.
Carol would cling to a rope and tie a knot for each lap.
Everyone was always asking her how many laps the boats had run,
Hughes said. She was quite a race fan.
Hughes recalled the Miss Madisons 1971 Gold Cup victory in Madison
as the high point of the couples hydroplane racing experience.
I yelled so much I couldnt talk the next couple of days.
Years later, with Carols health deteriorating, Hughes in 1997
bought a large motor home and took her on a 6,000-mile tour of the western
United States. They also spent more time at their vacation home in Fort
In 1998, he took Carol on yet another trip, this time a 4,000-mile journey
through the eastern United States. They also visited Branson, Mo., and
attended several sporting events.
She was a big NASCAR fan. She loved Jeff Gordon, Hughes
Carols eighth heart attack occurred in January 1999 while the
couple was vacationing in Florida. Ten months later, on Nov. 22, she
suffered her ninth heart attack. She died four days later.
Helton described Carol Hughes as a very sweet lady who idolized
her husband, and he in return.
Hughes spent many of his early years building his business. But during
the last three years of Carols life, he made a complete turnaround,
He gave his time totally to her as her sole caregiver and provider.
It was a side of Bob that none of us knew existed, and it was beautiful.
Bentz said he, too, saw the transformation in Hughes. He started
Clifty Engineering in a small garage and spent a lot of his time building
up that business. But when Carol became ill, he was there for her.
Hughes business, meanwhile, continues to thrive, and since the
couple had no children, he says he will leave it up to his core group
of executives his extended family once he
retires to keep Clifty Engineering going. He already has begun selling
company shares to certain employees as part of that transition. The
companys association with the Miss Madison, however, is uncertain.
Helton said that despite what some might think, Clifty Engineering did
not profit financially from its support of the Miss Madison.
She said that because of Hughes involvement, many Clifty Engineering
customers developed an interest in hydroplane racing.
Inviting clients to the Regatta became part of our customer relations.
Bentz said, He has 115 employees, but he buys 450 Regatta badges
On a personal level, she described Hughes personality as laid
back but who can be forceful in business when necessary. Hes a
friendly man who enjoys calling people on special occasions to wish
He has an executive planner on his desk that is filled with peoples
birthdays and anniversaries, Helton said. Hell call
them up or draw a card that reflects their age and send it to them.
Hes very good with PR; he was a born salesman.
Charlie Grooms, the Miss Madison team manager and a Clifty Engineering
employee, calls Hughes the glue that holds (the Miss Madison team)
together. I run the board meetings now and the team, but everything
goes back to Bob Hughes hes the guy.
For that reason, Grooms said Clifty Engineering employees and racing
crew members affectionately call him Big Daddy Bob Hughes.
Grooms has worked alongside Hughes for many years and describes his
style as direct and firm.
The greatest part about Bob Hughes is that if you take a problem
to him, he solves it right away. You may not like the result, but it
gets done and you move on.
In recent years, Hughes has started to slow down. He just bought a 52-foot
houseboat that will arrive soon at Rivercrest Marina. He still belongs
to four private country clubs and enjoys his social outings with friends.
He also keeps a full-time schedule at Clifty Engin-eering and says he
will continue working there as long as my health holds up, at
least until Im 70.
Though Hughes legacy is well-established in the Madison business
community, few residents may be aware of his longtime contributions
to local charities.
Few people I know have given back to Madison as much as he has,
and without the recognition, Bentz said. He doesnt
seek it, but it is well-deserved.
Hughes associates say that he learned to relax when he was taking
care of Carol, and they are happy to see him enjoying life more.
Regardless of when he retires, Hughes says hell always cherish
the memories from his association with the Miss Madison racing team
and the Madison Regatta.
Carol and I have met so many people and been so many places that
we would have never met or visited otherwise, he said. And
it has allowed us to share some very special times together.
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