Gentleman Driver

Five weekends a year, look for Ed Hugo on the racetrack

Published in 2019 Northern California Super Lawyers Magazine — August 2019

On a typical day, you’ll find Ed Hugo at his desk—or the courthouse—defending products liability, toxic tort, and a variety of other mostly civil-side cases.

But for 10 days in October, the San Francisco litigator made other plans: He headed to Mexico to race his cherry-red LT Special at La Carrera Panamericana, which takes a meandering route of nearly 2,000 miles from Oaxaca to Durango.

Winning the 2012 Bahamas Speed Week Revival in the '08 Viper
Winning the Bahamas Speed Week Revival

Hugo calls it a “racing adventure,” similar to the 2011 Chihuahua Express, also in Mexico, in which he raced in his 2008 Dodge Viper. These events, he says, “combine international travel, interaction with people from all over the world, different ‘rules’—cultural and sporting—and the ability to see remote parts of a foreign country, as well as big cities, from a perspective that very few people can ever experience. … Multi-day events maximize your seat time and muscle memory and allow you to become one with the car.”

Ed with partner Heidi, sons Marc and Alec
Ed with partner Heidi, sons Marc and Alec

Though Hugo has always been fascinated by autos, the racing bug didn’t hit until 2002, when his wife (and law partner at Hugo Parker), Heidi Hugo, gave him a gift certificate to drive his 1974 Porsche 911 Targa at the Sears Point race track in Sonoma, California for a half-day. He upgraded to a three-day racing class, went on to an advanced course, and got hooked. When each of their sons, Marc and Alec, graduated from high school, Hugo gave them a racing class as a gift. Now, the three often race together. Marc is his dad’s co-driver at La Carrera Panamericana.

As a “gentleman racer,” Hugo spends about five weekends per year racing, focusing for the past decade on vintage cars. His favorite cars, other than his Viper, are a 1963 Porsche 356 B and a 1958 Corvette. What he loves most about the sport, he says, are the speed, competition and focus. Hugo’s best finishes include first place at the Classic Sports Racing Group’s Season Opening event at Sears Point in April 2019, in his 1958 Corvette (see video).

Though racing is a break from the legal arena, he sees definite correlations.

Hugo's '58 Corvette
Hugo's '58 Corvette

“As a trial lawyer and race car driver, you perform at your best when you are calm, confident and in control,” he says. “In order to … fully hear and appreciate the witness’ answer or the engine’s RPMs; accurately see the jurors’ reaction to a witness’ testimony or the off-camber pitch of an upcoming turn; regularly anticipate your opponent’s closing argument and undercut it in advance or another driver’s passing line and ‘close the door;’ you must be as relaxed as possible.  

“The execution is the same,” he continues. “One question too many is the equivalent of one mph too fast. An overly conservative examination is the equivalent of going too slow. Failing to address a critical issue is missing a shift.

“You are finding the limits of control in the pursuit of victory.”

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