IRL: Hornish shows his talent

FORT WORTH, Texas, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2000 -- Sam Hornish Jr. faced several problems - youth, funding, recognition and lack of a steady ride - in January as a rookie driver in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series. Today, Hornish, a...

FORT WORTH, Texas, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2000 -- Sam Hornish Jr. faced several problems - youth, funding, recognition and lack of a steady ride - in January as a rookie driver in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series. Today, Hornish, a 21-year-old from Defiance, Ohio, is looking ahead to the season-ending Excite 500 on Oct. 15 at Texas Motor Speedway and a shot at winning the Racesearch.com Rookie of the Year Award. He's a serious challenger for the rookie title despite missing the Midas 500 Classic in July at Atlanta. Hornish is third in the rookie standings with 107 points. Airton Dare leads with 124, followed closely by Jeret Schroeder at 122. Hornish' longtime rival, Sarah Fisher, is fourth at 105, and Shigeaki Hattori is fifth at 83. There are enough points available at Texas - a maximum of 55 - that Hornish can leapfrog the two front-runners with a good finish. "Definitely," he said. "I think there is a very good chance I can pull that off. It seems the Atlanta race was kind of a disappointment for us, because the two rookies I'm in contention with had a bad race there, and it definitely would have helped our chances out. But I think there's a real good possibility. "My goal is just to go out there (at Texas) and finish the race and have a decent finish. At this point, I don't think I really need to prove myself a whole lot. I think I've done that at the Las Vegas race (third-place finish) and Kentucky race (38 laps led). I've shown I can run up front at anytime during the season. "I always want to go out there and win, but (I want to) just go out there and get the rookie of the year points. And if I win that, that's a very big achievement." Hornish passed his Indy Racing rookie test last Dec. 6 and signed with the PDM Racing team co-owned by Paul Diatlovich and Chuck Buckman. He had placed seventh in the Toyota Atlantic standings in 1999 but arrived in the Northern Light Series with minimal fanfare because also coming into the league for the first time were two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. and 19-year-old female driver Sarah Fisher. Hornish needed financial backing to help launch his career and introduce himself to the series and fans as a capable driver. His family stepped forward and provided funding through its Hornish Brothers Trucking company. "My family helped me out the first three races just to get my name out there a little bit," Hornish said. "It seems to have worked. "At the end of last season we didn't have anything going. We met up with PDM, who wanted to do a rookie test. They seemed to see some potential in me, wanted me to come back. We did three races, which we partially helped pay for. And it turns out we went to four more races after that with money we've gotten from other people, picked up some sponsors. "I couldn't have done it without my parents' help. And I got my name out there to make me look like somebody that is supposed to be in this series and needs to have a future in this series." That future could be with the Pennzoil Panther Racing team. He is one of the candidates the team is considering to replace Scott Goodyear in 2001. "As of right now, there's nothing for sure yet," he said. "We're still talking. They've been very receptive. "As much as I can say about that, it's a very prestigious ride to be in. It 's definitely got a lot of backing behind it, a lot of history involved in it, and it would be a great thing to be involved in that. We'll just have to wait and see if it happens." Hornish also is keeping his options open with PDM, which is trying to build a sponsorship program with the U.S. Air Force. The race at Las Vegas in April was an early confidence booster for Hornish. He qualified 18th and quickly fell two laps down. But instead of panicking, he persevered, got one lap back and finished third. He said he might have returned to the lead lap by passing eventual winner Unser but noted that a driver doesn't gain the proper recognition by knocking out a hero like Unser while attempting a foolish pass. During The Belterra Resort Indy 300 on Aug. 27 at Kentucky Speedway, Hornish drove brilliantly, leading 38 laps and engaging in a spectacular side-by-side front-running duel with Jaques Lazier that lasted several laps. It brought the fans to their feet in excitement. But a fuel pickup problem and then a miscue during a pit stop removed him from contention. Still he finished ninth. Although veterans Buddy Lazier and Scott Goodyear ran 1-2 at the finish, the race was a breakthrough event for young guns Hornish, Fisher, Jimmy Kite and Jaques Lazier. They all led at some point in the race. For Hornish and Fisher, it was just the latest renewal of their battles that began when they were racing neophytes. "I've always been racing against Sarah," he said. "We raced against each other in go-karts quite a bit, had a couple years off. It's amazing we're so close in the rookie points, both have the same best finish. "We're going to try to do a little bit better in Texas than her and see if I stand out a little bit more."

-IRNLS/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Al Unser Jr. , Shigeaki Hattori , Buddy Lazier , Airton Daré , Scott Goodyear , Jeret Schroeder , Jimmy Kite , Sam Hornish Jr. , Jaques Lazier
Teams Panther Racing