La. Sports Hall of Fame: Paul Candies had a need for speed, a knack for success

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Paul Candies

Written for the LSWA

Paul Candies may have made his fortune on the water with his ever-growing fleet of tugboats, but he earned his fame and notoriety on land with a bunch of really fast cars.

A small town boy from Des Allemands, Louisiana, Candies, who died in 2013 at the age of 72, was an entrepreneur who helped turn his father, Capt. Otto Candies’, company from a one-boat business into one of the largest marine transportation companies in the country. He also helped build another of his dad’s legacies, the International Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo, into the cultural and economic boon it is today.

But Candies also liked fast cars and the people who made them go. So, in his “spare” time, Candies became part of one of the most successful drag racing partnerships in history – Candies and Hughes, the name emblazoned in a signature gold leaf on stock cars, funny cars and dragsters, as well as the trucks and trailers used to haul them across the country.

The unique combination of impact on Louisiana’s sports world has resulted in the posthumous Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction of Candies on Saturday, June 30 in Natchitoches. Already a member of the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, Candies will join world motocross champion Freddie Spencer as the only two motorsports figures enshrined so far in the state’s hall.

The Candies and Hughes team was a staple at the old Southland Dragway in Houma, giving generations of young men their own need for speed.

“They were my heroes,” said Houma native Steve Robicheaux, who used to ride his bicycle to the track to watch the fun and last year organized a Southland Drag reunion for old drivers, pit crew members and fans. More than 400 cars and 5,000 people turned out.

Robicheaux also grew up down the street from Leonard Hughes, the other half of the tandem, the one-time driver who kept the engines running and led the crews in the pits at raceways throughout the country.

“We had some good times,” said the now-80-year-old Hughes. “It beat working for a living.”

Back in the early 1960s, Hughes was racing a ’57 Chevy and “doing OK,” but he wanted to do more. The problem was, he had to actually work for a living, first as a mechanic at a car dealership and then in his own auto shop. When he finally connected with Candies, though, he was able to put in the time needed.

That’s because Candies was the business man, schmoozing his way around the tracks in search of sponsors.

“He was out getting us the money,” said the now 80-year-old Hughes. “He didn’t have nothing to do with the cars, which was good for me. I think he came to the shop maybe four times in all those years. That’s why it worked.”

Candies and Hughes won 45 major events between 1970 and 1994, including 28 NHRA titles in the Funny Car and Top Fuel divisions. Their reign started with the 1970 Gatornationals win in their new 1970 Barracuda and the 1971 Summernationals Funny Car win. With Ohio-native Mark Oswald driving, they would become the first team to win both NHRA and IHRA Winston championships in the same year.

The team finished with five IHRA championships, two NHRA championships and had nine top-five seasons. Both men were inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 1999.

“Paul was always at the forefront of racing because he attracted big sponsors, more money and he progressed the sport in that manner,” Oswald said. “He always had the nicest cars. He was the utmost professional, just like he was in business.”

That meant, Candies always tried to surround himself with the best.

“Certainly, he was the guy that helped further a lot of careers,” said Phil Burgess, the editor of the NHRA web site. “He made championship drivers out of a lot of guys. He had an eye for talent.”

Burgess said Candies was well known around the tracks as a friend to all and an all-around great guy.

“The guy knew how to meet people and how to impress people,” Burgess said. “Their cars were always well-funded – when they weren’t out of Paul’s pocket. He always had big sponsors. But he was just a regular guy. He was out there with a rag in his back pocket like everybody else. As well off as he was, he was just the nicest guy, a true southern gentleman. He probably set the high bar for gentlemen drag racers.”

But Candies’ home was on the water and his other love was fishing. His father Otto started the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo in the 1930s. Son took over in the 1960s and helped it become the annual event that draws more than 15,000 fishermen and tourists to the tiny island in the Gulf. Candies died four days before the 2013 event as he was preparing to host a group of friends on a fishing trip.

Candies also was known for his generosity. On the track, he would lend a hand or a tool to anyone, even opposing drivers. When Grand Isle was going through a major water shortage, he used his shipping company to bring water to bring water to the island. He also donated the land where the Tarpon Rodeo pavilion was built.

“Jefferson Parish and Grand Isle lost a tremendous ambassador,” Jefferson Parish Assessor and former Tarpon Rodeo president Tom Capella said at the time of Candies’ death.

The Candies name still lives on as Otto Candies, a multi-million-dollar marine transport business, which also sponsors the Hahnville High School American Legion team (Candies’ alma mater).

“The guy never forgot where he came from,” said Joe Teuton III, whose father, Joe “Big Joe” Teuton Jr. was a car dealer, fellow racer and personal friend of Candies. “The guy treated everybody like he wanted to be treated. He never acted like he was better than anybody. He was just a good, honest man and his two hobbies were drag racing and tarpon fishing.”

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