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Retro: Hornaday's mantel awaits milestone trophy

September 16, 2011, Mark Aumann,

Truck Series veteran looks back at 49 wins, four championships in 16 seasons

Three years ago, Ron Hornaday celebrated the Big 5-0. This weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, Hornaday has a chance to reach a similar milestone as the first driver to win 50 Truck Series races.

Hornaday admits he doesn't remember the specifics of his first win at Tucson in 1995, because "it's been so long ago." But he remembers how he landed the ride with Dale Earnhardt when the series was being formed.

"Some day we'll sit on the back porch in a rocking chair and show the grandkids the tapes and the trophies and tell them stories."


A native of Palmdale, Calif., Hornaday had won two Southwest Touring Series championships in 1992 and 1993 but was a virtual unknown to the rest of the country. But that all changed when he competed in a series of races known as Winter Heat at the end of the 1994 season -- and Earnhardt got a glimpse of Hornaday's talents.

"I think somebody was down there and told me they'd talk to Dale for me," Hornaday said. "The second-to-last race there, Dale gave me a call and I was racing trucks. I came out here in 1994, and in 1995, we started the Truck Series."

Four championships and 49 victories later, Hornaday is appreciative to have been given that opportunity.

"I'm fortunate enough to have a beautiful house with a trophy room," he said. "We've got a little mantel that I put them on, so when the next win comes, it goes up there and replaces the previous one. I was getting a little tired of looking at that last one from Texas, so it was good to have the one from Atlanta.

"Seriously, they're all pretty special."

But there is one trophy that means more to Hornaday than the others.

"It's the first championship one when Dale was spotting for me [in the last race in 1996]," Hornaday said. "The last 10 laps, I could hear Dale panting a little bit, like he was running somewhere. He kept saying, 'You got it. Just keep going.'

"I come down pit road after the checkered flag and Dale's already in the pits. I asked him, 'Who was spotting for me?' He said, 'You didn't need any help. You had it under control.' "

That was also the season when Hornaday won at New Hampshire despite leading just one lap: the final one. He was running third when Joe Ruttman and Jack Sprague tangled in Turn 3 while racing for the lead.

"That race was kind of funny," Hornaday said. "We were terrible. We were junk. After about 10 laps, we were pushing so bad. I was so slow in the corners that I was grabbing a gear.

"Mike Skinner blows up, and he gets on the radio and yells, 'That damn Hornaday went by me and he's shifting gears, and I'm the one who blowed up!' "

Hornaday's chief rival that at time was Sprague, who apparently had a long memory when it came to race victories that got away.

"Sprague -- when he had 20 wins and I had 21, we were back and forth -- he came to the house one day," Hornaday said. "He saw the trophies and he'd say, 'That one should have been mine. You stole it from me. See that one? I should have won that one, too.'

"It's funny how some people remember those things. I try not to remember the last race. I just think about the next race coming up and see what I've got to do. The last race is in the record books and we've got to make sure we concentrate on the next one."

Hornaday is known as "Restart Ron" for his amazing ability to dominate at the drop of the green flag. However, he said it's harder to get an advantage these days.

"Now NASCAR has a rule with gears and stuff, but it was just a matter of paying attention to the guys in front of you and who you were racing against," Hornaday said. "Some guys slow the pace up, some guys like to take off. Now with the gear ratio rule, it's much tougher. I liked having four gears instead of three, because I'd start off in first instead of second. That gave me a little bit of an advantage."

Change is inevitable, and Hornaday's seen a lot of it in 16 seasons.

"It's so different now," he said. "When we were racing back then, it was all short-track racing and you could lean into each other and move them out of the way. These bigger tracks that we go to, it's much harder to do that. Aerodynamics is a big deal."

What hasn't changed is his tenaciousness on the track.

"I'm still probably one of the hardest guys to pass," Hornaday said. "I hate being passed. I don't care if I'm terrible or the truck's not that good. Everybody complains about passing Hornaday, but I'm still giving it 120 percent when I get on the track.

"Sometimes I make mistakes because I'm pushing it too hard. And sometimes there are those weekends when you can't do anything wrong."

Hornaday hopes to stay No. 1 in the Truck Series record book "where nobody can catch it," although he said "that Busch kid can catch anything right now."

And what will Hornaday do when his career is over?

"Some day we'll sit on the back porch in a rocking chair and show the grandkids the tapes and the trophies and tell them stories," Hornaday said. "But right now, there's no stories to be told except that we're racing as hard as we can to keep winning."

The Big 5-0. It's just a number to Ron Hornaday. And a chance to add another trophy to the mantel.