From Salesman to Sculptor

Madison’s Hungness
is passionate about his hobby

He captures beauty of racing
with his bronze masterpieces

By Tess Worrell
Contributing Writer

(December 2012) – Carl Hungness left home when he was 15 years old to follow his dreams for a better life. Over the years, the dream evolved from writer to publisher to sculptor. At every stage, his finely honed skills as a salesman enabled him to convince others to take a chance on his current dream – generally to the benefit of all.

Carl Hungness

Photos provided

Carl Hungness
carves his race cars
out of wood at his
studio, located on
Mulberry Street
in Madison, Ind.

Now living in Madison, Ind., the 68-year-old Hungness focuses on the latest dream of creating works of art. Looking back on a life filled with both triumph and challenge, Hungness says, “Now, I’m just looking for something to carve.”
Upon leaving home, Hungness took a job as salesman at Meyer the Hatter hat shop in New Orleans and soon became the store’s top seller. Hungness used his salesman’s prowess at every stage. After years of effort, he “sold” the University of Colorado on admitting him as a student, even though he had not completed high school.
During his senior year of college, Hungness produced Speed Wheels, a weekly newspaper in which he shared his love of racing with readers and began his long-running “Peeled Eye” column.
“The column ran for over 27 years,” says Hungness. “To this day, whenever I write a piece on racing, it’s under the ‘Peeled Eye’ heading.”
In conjunction with his racing writing, Hungness attended an Indy car race in Denver where he was introduced to United States Auto Club officials and first saw the USAC News, the racing organization’s newsletter.
“It was horrible. I thought that a club of that status should have a better paper.”
Sure that he could produce a quality newspaper that would bring USAC racing to life, Hungness created a dummy version and drove to Indianapolis to sell his idea. As luck would have it, officials were scheduled to have their semi-annual meeting the next day. Hungness presented his ideas and was hired on the spot.
As Hungness’ dreams and love of Indy racing evolved, he set his sights on producing an annual Indianapolis 500 Yearbook to capture the highlights and stories of the Indianapolis 500 race. Once again, his best sales skills were needed to convince a skeptical management team that he was the person to produce the yearly album.
After four years, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway management granted Hungness permission to produce the 1973 yearbook. Hungness’ excitement was short-lived. The race was considered both the longest (due to rain, it took three days to run) and the shortest (the race was called after 133 laps or 332 miles). To make matters even worse, accidents led to three fatalities.
“How was I supposed to make a yearbook out of that dismal race?” asks Hungness. Somehow, Hungness pulled together a yearbook and used his sales skills to convince a printer to put out 1,000 copies. Orders came pouring in. The yearbook became so successful that Hung-ness would produce Indy yearbooks for the next 27 years.
While Hungness was finding success in his writing and publishing career, he developed an interest in art. A childhood injury had left his right thumb immovable. Despite this obstacle, Hungness produced a bronze sculpture titled “Wheel of Life” depicting a life-size version of a racer’s hands grasping a steering wheel. He quickly sold three, providing the funds for him to undergo an operation to repair his thumb.
With his now fully functioning hand, Hungness approached Al Stancel, master violin producer, about doing an apprenticeship with him. Stancel accepted. Eighteen months later, Hungness produced a copy of a 1707 Stradivarius. His love of art rivaled his love of racing.
Upon seeing Hungness’ “Wheel of Life,” Jim Williams commissioned Hungness to create another sculpture. “He wanted a sculpture to commemorate the Roger Penske’s great achievement of putting three cars on the starting line of the Indy 500,” says Hungness. “I built it to one-eighth scale, including every detail of the cars. I’m really proud of that one. It greets visitors at Penske’s museum in Scottsdale, Arizona.”
The work sealed Hungness’ reputation as a sculptor. He’s added several more sculptures with racing themes to his repertoire.
Upon ending his career with the Indy yearbooks, Hungness moved to Madison. “I visited one Christmas and fell in love with the Christmas lights downtown and the people.”
He owns a studio, where he intends to pursue his love of art through more sculpture. “I’d like to move beyond racing,” says Hungness. “Right now, I’m considering a sculpture of a violin maker, perhaps testing his latest violin.”
The salesman in Hungness, however, still reigns. Hungness purchased a dilapidated building on Mulberry Street and lovingly restored it with a first-class pool hall on the first floor and luxury apartments on the upper floors. “I want to sell the pool hall to someone who can take it and make it a great success.”
Whether writing, sculpting or rehabilitating an historic building, Hungness finds the beauty in his subject and connects others to the beauty he sees. If all goes well, he will find something to carve – and a way to sell it.

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