Tyler Hughes always liked to go fast.
At age 3, he was powering a little go-kart around an asphalt track in a neighbor's backyard on the Eastern Shore.
At 5 years old, he was whipping quarter-midget racecars around dirt tracks in Maryland and Delaware. At age 10, he was racing 600cc modified lite dwarf cars around Seaford, Del., picking up seven wins as the youngest rookie driver.
Now, the 16-year-old from Cordova in Talbot County has been named NASCAR's 2012 Virginia Rookie of the Year in the Whelen All-American Series, a points championship for local NASCAR-sanctioned racetracks.
"I was very happy to win that award," Hughes said. "It's something I could put on my resume. And maybe potential sponsors will say 'He did all that when he was that young?'"
In 18 races at Old Dominion Speedway, he had one win and 17 top 10 finishes. He's the 18th-ranked Whelen Series driver in Virginia and ranked at No. 182 in the United States.
And while Hughes, a junior at Easton High School, plans to go to college, he said he can't imagine giving up the sport he's been passionate about for so long.
"Racing," he said, "is really all I know."
Hughes said he inherited his love for racing from his father, Don Hughes, a salesman for a fork-lift manufacturer who worked for a top National Hot Rod Association fuel team in the 1970s.
Now the younger Hughes wonders if he can turn his lifelong love of speed into a means of making a living.
"Every NASCAR driver's dream is to go professional," Hughes said. "To do that, I would need a sponsor. I need someone to put me under their wing. Racing can get very expensive. We go through a set of tires every week."
The tires alone, Hughes said, run about $680 for a set of four. Add in pit passes, fuel, equipment and repair costs, and it's a pricey pastime. And that's not counting the cost of fuel for the RV that hauls the racecar on its trailer.
The Rookie of the Year awards banquet was held Dec. 8 in Charlotte, N.C., in a hotel ballroom in the back of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Drivers from some 30 states were in attendance. Hughes walked away with an impressive-looking 20-pound trophy, topped by a big block of glass and illuminated by an LED light.
And he was surprised to discover that he was one of the youngest drivers to win the award.
"I honestly thought there would be more younger drivers," he said. "There were only about five guys my age. I was kind of taken aback by how many adults were there. And I thought about how lucky I was to receive that award at age 16."