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Minter: Hornaday Has Become King Of The Truck Series

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 3 2009
Ron Hornaday Jr. now belongs to a pretty cool club. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Ron Hornaday Jr. now belongs to a pretty cool club. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

If a modern-day driver is going to tie a mark held for 38 years by two giants like Richard Petty and Bobby Allison, it seems only fitting that an old-school racer would be the one to do it.

That’s exactly what happened at Nashville Superspeedway on Saturday as Californian Ron Hornaday Jr., 51, won his fifth straight race in the Camping World Truck Series. That tied the mark that Allison and Petty set in 1971, although Petty is the all-time leader with 10 straight wins in 1967.

Hornaday’s mark, an all-time record for the truck series, likely will carry an asterisk in many minds since he set his mark in the third-tier truck series while Petty and Allison set theirs in the elite Cup division.

Still, records are records, and Hornaday has earned a spot somewhere near Petty and Allison in the history books.

He’s become the Richard Petty of the truck series, holding many of the all-time marks, including most career wins. His 44 triumphs far surpass runner-up Jack Sprague’s 28. And with three titles already and a good start on a fourth, he’s proven that he can not only win races but accumulate points in the ones he doesn’t win, a trait that only the great ones seem to have.

Like Allison’s, Hornaday’s career is one that started in the lower short track divisions, and his moves upward were due more than anything else to his aggressive driving style, a career track that has become dated in a time when looking good for a sponsor seems to weigh heavily on hiring decisions. While some of today’s drivers are about as well-known for their TV commercials as their driving, when Hornaday’s name comes up, most people’s first thought is how aggressive – and successful – he can be on restarts.

It’s the kind of driving one often finds on short tracks across America, and that’s where Hornaday spent his formative racing years.

He had been slugging it out on the bull rings  around his native California, when he caught Dale Earnhardt’s attention during the Winter Heat Series at Tucson Raceway Park in 1994. Seeing something of himself in Hornaday, the Intimidator hired Hornaday to drive for his then-new truck team.

Hornaday didn’t disappoint. He won the pole for the first-ever truck race, at Phoenix, then won the next run, at Tucson, en route to a six-win season and a third-place finish in the final standings.

He won two truck titles for DEI, then moved to the Nationwide Series, where he won four races and had three top-five finishes in the points standings. He spent the 2001 season struggling a long in the Cup series in an A.J. Foyt-owned entry, then moved to Richard Childress Racing and campaigned a Nationwide car through the 2004 season. His best career break came relatively late in life when he joined the truck team owned by his long-time friend and fellow Californian Kevin Harvick beginning with the 2005 season.

The combination proved to be almost perfect for the truck series. Hornaday has had his best racing years since joining up with Harvick and his wife DeLana.

“I’m real fortunate to be driving,” he said. “Kevin and DeLana gave me a second chance.”

And even though he might not be quite ready to admit it, he’s raced his way to a special place in the NASCAR record books.

“You can never compare to the King and you can’t compare to Bobby Allison, but I’m just glad I’m in the same book they are,” he said.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 3 2009
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