MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Ron Hornaday is currently not competing in NASCAR, but the four-time champion appears to be as busy as ever. And racing remains his focus.
Hornaday, winner of a series-best 51 victories in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series, is more hands-on these days, building dirt Modifieds for grandson Slater McCray and teammate Billy Workman Jr. as well as several other competitors.
There are those who kick up the dust and ride the cushion on local tracks in the Carolinas, Kentucky, Indiana and various other venues who put their faith in a Hornaday-built entry. Given their success, it seems that trust has been well placed.
A recent Saturday night outing at Fayetteville Motor Speedway indicated as much -- the top three in the Open Wheel Modified division were built by Hornaday Race Cars.
"Back to building dirt cars and having fun again," Hornaday said recently from his race shop, surrounded by cars in various states of progress. "Back to doing a little bit of everything, I guess."
It's been two years since Hornaday made his last start in the Truck Series, running what turned out to be an abbreviated schedule with the former Turner Scott Motorsports group and NTS Motorsports.
He has competed in all three of NASCAR's national series -- Sprint Cup, XFINITY as well at Trucks. Last year, he made five attempts with The Motorsports Group in Sprint Cup, but qualified for only one race.
"That was helping a team get started and all that stuff," he said of the brief return. "It didn't seem to work out. I was always the guy, I told my wife that I'm not going to go out there and ride around just for a paycheck. If I wasn't competitive I wasn't going to do it. That (opportunity) didn't work out.
"But I've got a lot of opportunities. People call me and say, 'Hey, do you want to drive (a truck) Martinsville?' I said 'Yeah, I'd love to.' And they'd say, 'Well, how much money can you bring?'
"That ain't racing to me anymore so ... it's back to dirt racing and having fun."
Hornaday, 57, enjoyed not one but two successful careers in the Truck Series. From 1995-99, he competed for Dale Earnhardt Inc., becoming the series' first two-time champion with titles in 1996 and '98 while winning 25 times.
After several years that saw him race in Sprint Cup (for team owner A.J. Foyt) and the XFINITY Series (for DEI and Richard Childress Racing among others), he returned to the Truck Series with Kevin Harvick Inc.
At KHI, he won two more championships (his four career titles is a series record) and 25 more races between '05-11.
"A.J. was the easiest," Hornaday said of his various career stops. "He's always snappy; he sounded like my dad. I'd tell him, 'A.J., you'd still be driving a car if you could fit in the window so don't yell at me no more.'
At DEI, founded by seven-time premier series champion Dale Earnhardt, Hornaday said, "With Dale, come Monday morning you didn't have to have excuses, he already knew it, (knew) what happened -- if you messed up or the truck wasn't set up right or something like that.
"And I put Kevin (Harvick) in that same category. If our competitiveness wasn't right there or our performance wasn't, Kevin would build a new truck and show that we could still do it, go down the right path.
"I owe Kevin and DeLana (Harvick, Kevin's wife) a lot. ... To rejuvenate my Truck Series deal when Kevin started the team and that actually led to a lot of wins. I guess the most memorable was five wins in a row; that was pretty awesome."
In '09, Hornaday and his KHI team reeled off a string of victories that stretched from Milwaukee to Memphis to Kentucky to Indianapolis to Nashville. The streak finally ended with a third-place finish at the series' next stop at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Recollections of winning the first championship for KHI stand out, he said. "Kevin and DeLana, owning their own team and seeing (Kevin) on the backstretch waiting for me," he said, "getting out of the truck and getting a big ol' hug from him."
Harvick calls Hornaday "one of my racing heroes as I grew up." He watched the fellow Californian compete at tracks "up and down the state" in the Southwest Tour.
"He has been very successful at what he has done," Harvick said earlier this year. "He did a lot of that on his own.
"I think as you look at where we were as a company ... he made our company legitimate from a racing standpoint. Because you brought in a champion, a winner and he continued to win. ...
"He brought that instant approval of a winner and a proven champion and proven winner in himself. We knew we just had to get our stuff right and we were able to be successful together. It was fun to see him be successful at the end of his career."
Hornaday's first Truck Series title, in '96 while driving for DEI, was sealed with a 10th-place finish in the season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
It was an off week for the Sprint Cup Series and Earnhardt was spotting for Hornaday. But the driver couldn't make out what his owner was saying on the radio during the final few laps. It seemed Earnhardt was trying to spot while also making his way down for the championship celebration.
"There's a tunnel underneath the race track and all I hear is (garble)," Hornaday said. "By the time the checkered flag dropped, he was already in Victory Lane. Big old hug and champagne going everywhere. A lot of memorable moments."
Earlier this year, Hornaday was named one of 25 nominees to be considered for election into the NASCAR Hall of Fame for its class of 2017. He is the first Truck Series competitor to be nominated and one of five newcomers on the list.
There was no Hall of Fame when he began his driving career in 1979, so there were no Hall of Fame aspirations.
"I did this to put food on the table," Hornaday said. "At the time, we went race track to race track, and if we didn't make enough money, we didn't go racing.
"My wife says it's a big thing (to be nominated) and yeah, but I don't know what it means. Did I do my job? Did I make a good living for my family?
"I was just a guy that was fortunate enough to drive for a lot of great teams and a lot of great owners. I worked with a lot of unbelievable people that made my talent show, I guess, because you're only as good as the equipment you drive and I was fortunate enough to go down the right path."
His is a career that's come full circle. A journey that began with short-track Saturday night shows has come back to just that.
"You look at it and I say I did what I wanted to do I guess," he said. "I don't know. I'm still having fun doing it."