DEFIANCE, OHIO CELEBRATES SAM HORNISH JR. DAY THOUSANDS UNITE TO CELEBRATE INDY 500 CHAMPION BEFORE RACE AT MIS BROOKLYN, Mich. (July 27, 2006) -- For the residents of Defiance, Ohio, Wednesday, July 26 was like Christmas, Easter, and ...
DEFIANCE, OHIO CELEBRATES SAM HORNISH JR. DAY
THOUSANDS UNITE TO CELEBRATE INDY 500 CHAMPION BEFORE RACE AT MIS
BROOKLYN, Mich. (July 27, 2006) -- For the residents of Defiance, Ohio, Wednesday, July 26 was like Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving all rolled into one evening. Their Indy 500 champion and more importantly, their native son, was back home.
After two IRL IndyCar(R) Series championships and his recent Indianapolis 500 win, Sam Hornish Jr. has proven to be anything but the typical aloof superstar. As he stood before thousands of people during Wednesday's Sam Hornish Jr. Day in the charming northwestern Ohio city, the 27-year-old IndyCar Series points leader accepted the praise of his neighbors with a refreshing air of astonishment and humility as they all gathered to celebrate his historic win in the 90th Indianapolis 500 back in May.
"I've always been a big fan of my hometown. I remember coming out for the Halloween parade, but I never thought I would have a Sam Hornish Day parade," said Hornish. "It's something I never would have expected in my entire life, so to have it happen is a little bit different. The way I look at it, I'm really honored that they wanted to do it. Outside of winning the (Indy) 500, this is probably one of the best days of my life. I was worried that there weren't going to be many people."
With business presumably his focus in the form of his upcoming start in the Firestone Indy 400 at Michigan International Speedway, the driver of the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Honda still kept his fans in mind, waving to children and adults alike along the Clinton St. parade route and later, posing for pictures and signing autographs in the mall parking lot well after the evening's on-stage activities had wrapped up.
"Sam's a special individual. He's never forgotten his roots and he's remained a loyal supporter to the citizens of our community. On and off the track, Sam Hornish is a champion," said Defiance mayor Bob Armstrong.
The celebratory parade included a collection of Corvettes, the MIS pace car, historic Indy cars, and even a visit from the original Batmobile. The car driven by Hornish to victory at Indianapolis was pulled on a trailer, and groups of Shriners from around the Buckeye State entertained the crowd throughout the festivities. The half-hour parade could have been "made into a three-hour parade if we wanted to," said Armstrong.
With his hometown celebration now behind him, Hornish turns his thoughts to the next thing: winning at MIS. Despite all his success in open wheel racing, Hornish has never won a race at MIS, Nashville or Motegi. A win in this weekend's Firestone Indy 400 could knock one of those tracks off his list.
"We've been very fast on the mile-and-a-half's this year, and we were fast at Indy, so I think that if all things continue that way, we should be quick up at Michigan," said Hornish of his long track success. "The big thing is to make sure we don't get it taken away from us at the end like we did there in 2003. All 400 miles is the goal. I think that if we can do that, we'll be in the top five and if we can do that, we can have an opportunity to win. Hopefully, we'll be able to get a win in Michigan and pad that points lead."
The points lead Hornish speaks about is certainly one admired by the Ohio native's rivals. Andretti Green Racing's Bryan Herta, currently tenth in points, knows a thing or two about Marlboro Team Penske's 2006 dominance; it was his AGR squad that won series championships with Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan in 2005 and 2004, respectively.
"They're a bunch of dirty buggers," Herta said of Team Penske. "Seriously though, as a competitor, you can respect what they're doing right now. They're not showing any weaknesses. Every type of track, they're on pace and they're difficult to beat every single weekend right now."
Entering the Firestone Indy 400, Hornish comes to a track at which he has experienced reasonable success. In four starts, he has finished no lower than seventh, and his highlight finish came in 2003 when he finished second to Alex Barron by 0.0121 second, the closest open-wheel finish in track history. He is just one of two drivers to have finished in the top 10 of each of the four IndyCar Series races in MIS history. As he comes to the Irish Hills to race again at the speedway located just 70 miles from his hometown, he hopes to repeat his Indy success.
"We've had so many hometown people at Michigan in the past. Hopefully someday I'll win there," said Hornish.
If Wednesday's supportive crowd has any say over Sunday's winner, look for Hornish in Victory Lane.