FARMER CITY,IL (JUNE 13) â€“ The streak. It was the only thing Andy Hillenburg heard about for most of the last three seasons of competition with the Pennzoil World of Outlaws. He was following in the foot-steps of other sports icon's like Cal ...
FARMER CITY,IL (JUNE 13) – The streak. It was the only thing Andy Hillenburg heard about for most of the last three seasons of competition with the Pennzoil World of Outlaws. He was following in the foot-steps of other sports icon's like Cal Ripken, Jr. and NASCAR's "Ironman" Terry Labonte by competing every night. The pressure of maintaining a race-streak of more than seven years in length began wearing down the down-to-earth Oklahoma driver and when the streak finally ended, he could focus his attention back on winning races again.
"I never really thought too much about it until last season," claimed Hillenburg about his consecutive race streak from May 29, 1992 to August 14, 1999 (507 races). "Everyone started talking about me making 500 races in a row. The tough part was how it ended. I mean we missed the Amoco Knoxville Nationals. That's our biggest race of the year and to have to watch was pretty tough."
Hillenburg left Knoxville with the weight of the streak gone and the ability to refocus his race team. Hillenburg stuck gold in Chico, CA, by winning a preliminary race for the annual Gold Cup at Silver Dollar Speedway. It was his first victory of his new streak, and third preliminary after winning at Heartland Raceway Park and Red River Valley Speedway. The win in California helped the team finish the 1999 season and with a primary sponsorship from Luxaire coming, everyone was excited about the first season of the new millennium.
Hillenburg, who won the WoO Rookie-of-the-Year in 1988, has been a very consistent WoO competitor during his career. From 1992 to 1998, he finished sixth or better in the Outlaw standings. His 10th place finish in 1999 was his eighth consecutive in the Top-Ten, but he entered this season hoping get back to the Top-Six.
A pair of fifth-place finishes at Las Vegas were the only bright spots early in the 2000 campaign, but Hillenburg remained positive. After a solid six-week run in April and May, the team jumped back into the Top-Ten and have been regularly showing up in the Top-five.
"I think we're heading in the right direction," said Hillenburg. "We made some changes after our race at Texas Motor Speedway (3/26) that really helped us. We put a string of ten races together where we finished seventh or better. That really helped our confidence. We struggled a little through Pennsylvania and New York, but I feel good about the rest of the season." Making changes in the middle of the season isn't the preferred way of doing business for Hillenburg, but if it will help his race team, he will do whatever it takes. Following the TMS event, Hillenburg began using Hoosier Tires after a long relationship with McCreary Tires. He was hesitant about the move, but it paid off immediately as he finished 3rd and 4th at Houston. The upward trend continued and Oklahoma Andy Hillenburg jumped from 15th to eighth in the WoO Standings.
Last week, the Luxaire #2 team was forced again make changes on the fly as their crew chief, Ricky Warner, was hired to take over the same responsibilities for Jac Haudenschild. Hillenburg quickly replaced Warner with Jason Hageman and now Hillenburg, Keith Carlson and Hageman will work together on the car.
"I'm a firm believer in doing what's best for the team, so that's why we brought Jason in," said Hillenburg, of the recent team shakeup. "He's paid his dues working his way up to this point. Keith and I have been together for a long time and we'll work Jason into our team as fast as possible. The import ant thing now for us is to focus on the big races coming up. We've worked our way into the Top-Ten, and now our goal is to be prepared for the King's Royal, Silver Cup, and the Amoco Knoxville Nationals."
There is a sense of relief with Hillenburg this season. Maybe it's because the streak is over, or maybe it's because he's comfortable with the direction his team is heading. He's proven his competitive desire is obviously still burning strong and he'll need it to continue, because the World of Outlaws have become one of the most competitive series in motorsports.