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Aumann: Hornaday remembers first Truck win in Kansas

June 03, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

Ron Hornaday won six races in the inaugural 1995 Truck Series season and his 47 wins is a series record. (Getty Images)

On a blistering hot afternoon, Hornaday held off Ruttman on Kansas road course

Ron Hornaday grew up in a region of Southern California where the summer temperature frequently climbs into the triple digits. So he's used to hot weather. But even Hornaday was shocked by his first visit to Kansas in 1995, when the NASCAR SuperTrucks came to Topeka's Heartland Park for their road course debut.

"You couldn't see the truck in front of you going down the front straightaway because the heat was so intense," Hornaday said. "I just remember how hot those races were back then."

Heartland Tailgate 175

Results
Pos.DriverMake
2.Joe Ruttman Ford
3.Terry Labonte Chevrolet
4.Todd Bodine Ford
5.Mike Skinner Chevrolet

Hornaday came up through the short-track stock car racing ranks at Saugus Speedway, but he did have the opportunity to hone his skills at one of the premier road courses in the country, nearby Riverside International Raceway.

"I got an opportunity to run Riverside the first time in the late '80s," Hornaday said. "It took me three or four tries to get the hang of it. When they came out with the Jerico transmission, it really made my job a lot easier instead of that heel-toe [shifting and braking]. I took advantage of it pretty quick."

And he needed all of those acquired skills in the 1995 Heartland Tailgate 175, in a field that included Cup champions Terry Labonte and Darrell Waltrip, former NFL coach Jerry Glanville, and the fathers of two current Cup drivers: Butch Gilliland and Bob Keselowski. Also making his series debut in Jack Roush's Ford, and finishing fourth, was future champ Todd Bodine.

Hornaday also remembers getting to race against one of NASCAR's most famous car owners 16 years ago.

"The best part about it was racing Mr. Rick Hendrick when Rick drove the No. 25 truck down there," Hornaday said. "That was a lot of fun. It was a great road course. You could hook your tires off the corners. It was a fast road course, down that front straightaway into the hard left hand turn and it was pretty slippery. I wish we could go back. That's what these trucks need is a good race on a road course."

Hornaday won the pole and led right from the drop of the green flag. But he soon found himself with two problems. One was the constant pressure being applied by Joe Ruttman, who had moved up to second place after starting seventh. Two -- and more pressing -- was an issue with his fuel pickup, which was causing Hornaday's engine to sputter.

Truck Series

Most Starts
Rk.DriverStarts
2. Terry Cook314
T3. Dennis Setzer297
T3.Jack Sprague297
5.Ron Hornaday282
6.David Starr272
7.Matt Crafton254
8.Mike Skinner230
9.Mike Bliss203
10.Ted Musgrave192
T11.Todd Bodine172
T11.Joe Ruttman172
13.Brendan Gaughan169
14.Stacy Compton158
15.Lance Norick154

In an effort to keep costs down for the inaugural season, there were no scheduled pit stops. Instead, NASCAR officials stopped the races at the halfway point to allow crews to make adjustments and refuel the trucks. And that was a huge break for Hornaday, who had just given up the lead.

With an opportunity to troubleshoot the issue, Hornaday's crew was able to make repairs in the five-minute stoppage. And when the race resumed, Hornaday shot past Ruttman on the drag strip that doubled as the main straight and regained the lead. Despite heavy pressure from behind, Hornaday never relinquished the top spot and won by .78 seconds.

"I've got the trophy sitting in my trophy room," Hornaday said. "It was a great honor to win that race, especially as hot as it was. The trucks were running hot and guys were changing helmets.

"I remember changing from an open-faced helmet to a closed-face helmet on pit road, just trying to get some more coolness. It was definitely a fun road course."

Hornaday and Ruttman were followed to the line by Labonte, Bodine, Mike Skinner -- who recovered after spinning on the first lap -- and Waltrip, who was subbing for Ken Schrader.

The Truck Series made a total of five visits to Heartland Park before Kansas Speedway opened in 2001. Saturday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 250 marks the 400th race in series history. Hornaday won the 100th and 300th race, and he's looking forward to the chance at adding another milestone victory.

"It's going to be nice and slick and the track's getting age on it," Hornaday said. "So the best-handling truck's going to win that thing. You're going to have to do your job in the pits and everything, but it's not one of these cookie-cutter tracks. Both corners are different and you run a completely different line getting into the corners. It's a unique race track and everybody loves going there."

Truck Series at 400

Top 10 Races (as voted upon by media members)
Pos.Race No.DateResult
2.11 July 15, 1995First photo finish is recorded at Colorado National Speedway. Television replays were used to determine that Butch Miller beat Mike Skinner by the depth of the paint on his front bumper cover. The race pre-dated the use of electronic scoring, so no official margin of victory was available.
3.1Feb. 5, 1995First race, first finish of less than a 10th of a second (0.09) by Mike Skinner over Terry Labonte.
4.352-356June 20-July 24, 2009Ron Hornaday wins a series-record five consecutive races -- only third NASCAR national-series driver to do so -- at Milwaukee, Memphis, Kentucky, Indianapolis and Nashville.
5.389Oct. 30, 2010Kyle Busch beats Aric Almirola and Johnny Sauter by .002 seconds in a three-wide battle to the finish line producing the closest finish in series history since the introduction of electronic timing and scoring.
6.366Nov. 13, 2009A fourth-place finish at Phoenix gives Ron Hornaday a 215-point advantage over Matt Crafton and a record-breaking fourth series title.
7.342Nov. 14, 2008Johnny Benson finishes seventh at season-ending race at Homestead with Ron Hornaday in eighth. Benson wins the championship over Hornaday by a mere seven points.
8.123Feb. 18, 2000Daytona is added to the series schedule in 2000. The race produces several spectacular accidents, 31 lead changes and Mike Wallace's slingshot pass of Andy Houston on the final lap to seal the victory.
9.217Nov. 14, 2003 Carl Edwards lands a seat in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford and won twice to capture the 2003 rookie of the year honors.
10.243Feb. 18, 2005The 2005 season begins with Jimmy Spencer in Victory Lane at Daytona -- only to be replaced by Bobby Hamilton, who drafts past Spencer a split-second before the race was ended under caution.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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