IRL: Rookie Sam Hornish, Jr. shows uncommon maturity

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2000 - If you let Sam Hornish Jr. share his philosophy on life and racing, you'll find it hard to believe the guy is only 20 years old. Indy Racing rookie Hornish shows maturity and driving skill ...

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2000 - If you let Sam Hornish Jr. share his philosophy on life and racing, you'll find it hard to believe the guy is only 20 years old. Indy Racing rookie Hornish shows maturity and driving skill not common in people his age. He will put those traits on display in the cockpit of PDM Racing's G Force/Aurora/Firestone entry at the Indy Racing League's season-opening Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway on Jan. 29. Hornish completed his rookie test Dec. 6 at Walt Disney World Speedway in a PDM-prepared car. Hornish signed to drive for PDM for the Disney event less than two weeks after the test. When asked why Hornish stood out from the many other drivers that completed their rookie test with PDM Racing, Chuck Buckman, co-owner of PDM, emphatically said, "His talent. "Sam got in the car and was quick right off the bat, and he even provided good feedback on the car," said Buckman. "We were a bit awestruck at how talented he is. Think about it - Sam is only 20, but it doesn't seem like it. He's patient, smart, and quick. You would think he has had 10 years experience in Indy cars." Hornish, from Defiance, Ohio, has already put up impressive numbers in a driving career that started getting serious about the time he was in fifth grade. He notched 110 top-five finishes and 35 wins in just 146 starts over three years of World Karting Association competition, and won the WKA U.S. Junior Class Championship, U.S. Grand National Championship and Canadian Grand National Championship all in 1994. Hornish earned another U.S. Grand National Championship in 1995. Following his impressive karting career, Hornish spent three years in U.S. F2000 competition, earning seven top-10, six top-5 and two podium finishes. In 1999, Hornish stepped up to the Toyota Atlantic series, competing the entire season for Shank Racing, and won Rookie of the Year honors. He added to his reputation for consistently running up front by earning, in only 12 races, nine top-10 finishes, two top-5 finishes and a victory, at Chicago Motor Speedway. Hornish won at Chicago by using - you guessed it - patience. Air temperatures soared in Chicago during the hot August weekend, and all the teams were having problems with tires blistering, said Hornish. "I started on the outside pole and held back early in the race," he said. "Everybody's tires predictably started blistering, and with about 13 laps to go I took the lead. My tires blistered with about four laps to go, but by then I had a good lead and still won by seven seconds." Hornish credits his entire family, and particularly his father, for helping set his course in motorsports. His family owns Hornish Brothers, Inc., a trucking company that primarily transports auto parts for General Motors. Hornish started working for the company at age 13 doing odd jobs such as washing trucks, and is now a metal fabricator and fabrication shop supervisor. "My father has been a big push in my life to get me in this direction," said Hornish. "Every time I raced go-karts, he was my mechanic, and he's never missed a race. Mom still gets nervous, but I talked her into coming to almost all my races last year." Despite his busy racing schedule, Hornish still tries to enjoy as much of his youth as he can. However, two loves in his life, snow skiing and motorcycles, have taken a back seat to his career. "I used to like to ski, but now there's so much riding on me not getting hurt," said Hornish. "And I love motorcycles. Street bikes, though - no dirt bikes because that's another chance to get hurt. That is stuff that will just make a team owner cringe." Looking ahead to the 2000 Indy Racing League season, Hornish is confident without being overly cocky, and rightly so. At the Walt Disney World Speedway Open Test earlier this month - his first official test in Indy-style cars - Hornish turned a fast lap of 161.681 mph, fastest among rookies and 13th fastest overall. He sounds like a veteran when describing the tough 1-mile tri-oval Walt Disney World Speedway, and his goals entering the Delphi Indy 200, his Indy Racing debut. "My game plan right now is just to finish," Hornish said. "That's why we're here. The track will bite people because they try to set up the car for all the corners. You can't do that because if you're set up in Turn 1, it's going to be loose in Turn 2. If you're good through (Turn) 2, you'll have a push in Turn 1. You have to pay attention and find a happy medium between all the corners to be fast at Disney." Hornish said the biggest adjustment factor in his rookie year in the Indy Racing League will be the transition from the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway to the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the second and third races on the schedule, respectively. "The hardest thing is going to be the Vegas superspeedway, picking up that much speed from the short tracks," said Hornish. "I don't think Indy will be as much of a problem because I will have become familiar with the speed. "But some drivers say Indy is easy, and others say it's the hardest place they've ever raced at. And usually the good drivers say it's a hard place to race. There are so many places on that track where, if you're just a few inches off the groove, it's worth tenths of a second." Although many observers, including PDM Racing co-owner Buckman, find Hornish's talent, work ethic and dedication to his career remarkable, Hornish credits experience for the ability to adapt quickly and be successful. "I'm not sure if this is uncommon or not, but I think it's because I have so much experience in open-wheel cars, especially on ovals," he said. "I think we will do well because of the team's knowledge and hard work. "I've never worked with expensive budgets, so I've learned to work with a little bit less and get something out of it. There were a lot of times I had to settle for second or third place. But at least I had a finish that pays off and got us enough money to get to the next race." If Hornish continues in his winning ways, he shouldn't have to worry much about having enough money to get to the next race.

-IRL/IMS-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Sam Hornish Jr. , Sam Hornis