Ron Hornaday, Jr.’s induction into next year’s NASCAR Hall of Fame gives other series standouts hope long-term
Leader of the Ford powerhouse (Robert Yates). The mastermind behind the Rainbow Warriors (Ray Evernham). Multimedia pioneer (Ken Squier). World War II pilot turned champion (Red Byron). Unsung West Coast icon (Ron Hornaday, Jr.).
Those five new individuals were announced as NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018 at Charlotte, North Carolina Wednesday.
This upcoming class differs from other classes as there are only two drivers (Byron and Hornaday). The other three contributed in the sport at different outlets, one was a broadcaster (Squier) and the other two were workhorses behind the scenes (Evernham and Yates).
For one of the two drivers, his induction signaled an optimistic future for drivers who made their mark at different NASCAR divisions.
I’ve mentioned Hornaday as the “unsung West Coast icon” for a reason. When fans talk about NASCAR’s best drivers from the west coast, fans instantly bring up Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson who have a combined 11 championships and 175 wins in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Hornaday isn’t one that comes up of NASCAR fans list which is a bit unfair.
Hornaday was one of the reasons why the formerly known Craftsman Truck Series became a popular, old fashioned racing series fans grew to love today. His aggressive driving, his battles with Jack Sprague and his masterful restarts were a thing of legend. Hornaday was Kyle Busch before he ever arrived.
The difference between Hornaday and Busch was the former handled his aggression better and had the right people to channel his driving style appropriately. One of them being Dale Earnhardt, his boss from 1995-2000 and the guy who gave Hornaday his big break in NASCAR.
It didn’t matter what decade it was, Hornaday was the man when the series began driving the iconic blue No. 16 NAPA Chevrolet and continued to be the guy to beat when he returned driving for Kevin Harvick—who lived at Hornaday’s place when Harvick was just getting started in NASCAR—in 2005 (ran for Harvick from 2005-2011) and the numbers speak for itself.
Hornaday has the most Truck Series championships with four (1996, 1998, 2007 and 2009). He’s leads the series with 51 wins and collected 27 poles.
His induction however came with some backlash as his success wasn’t in Cup. Some fans criticized Hornaday’s induction as fans vouched for Cup drivers such as Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki—whom Hornaday beat via tiebreaker to be the fifth and final inductee—being worthier of induction than Hornaday.
Sure, Hornaday was a bust in the Cup Series after an abysmal rookie campaign in 2001—everyone except Harvick struggled including future Cup champion Kurt Busch—and briefly drank a cup of coffee in the Xfinity Series but his Truck Series career alone was outstanding.
Personally, the purpose of having a NASCAR Hall of Fame is recognizing people who were great in what they did, not just exclusive to Cup.
If the sport’s highest honor already has modified legends (Richie Evans and Jerry Cook) and Sportsman icons (Jack Ingram) in the Hall of Fame, why not have a truck legend? That question was answered and couldn’t be happier to see a truck driver get into the Hall of Fame.
Hornaday’s induction is a great sign for other NASCAR divisions who had a standout. Let’s stick with the Truck Series for example, Hornaday going in gives guys like Sprague, Greg Biffle, Todd Bodine and Mike Skinner an opportunity to get into the NASCAR Hall of Fame one day for their success in trucks.
People may laugh at the names I’ve mentioned because some drivers didn’t lived up their potential in Cup—especially Sprague who was let go Mid-Summer 2003—but they were strong in the division.
There may be drivers who were meant to be dominant at other divisions and it shouldn’t be frowned upon. It should be held in high regard because they’ve contributed to NASCAR’s success and Hornaday’s impact in the Camping World Truck Series laid the foundation to the series’ popularity.
Hornaday’s contributions to the sport doesn’t end in trucks, he played a role into Harvick and Johnson’s rise towards superstardom, which was well-documented in an ESPN article written by Brant James.
The two stayed together at the Hornaday household in the late 1990s. Hornaday’s place became a small fraternity for up and coming drivers who came from the west coast.
Hornaday’s love of giving back to the sport was my biggest takeaway. Hornaday has helped others in anticipation of drivers achieving similar success. More importantly, molding them to become men in the real world while working on their racing craft.
Hornaday was a difference maker not just for NASCAR but for West Coast auto racing. Hornaday’s accomplishments in trucks and helping other drivers are being recognized and served as a reminder that you can make a landmark outside of Cup.