Youth Will Be Served: Hornish Edging Closer To All-Time Record LEBANON, Tenn., Friday, July 13, 2001 - Sam Hornish Jr. is closing in on history. Another good finish in the Harrah's Indy 200 -- the inaugural Indy Racing Northern Light Series...
Youth Will Be Served: Hornish Edging Closer To All-Time Record
LEBANON, Tenn., Friday, July 13, 2001 - Sam Hornish Jr. is closing in on history.
Another good finish in the Harrah's Indy 200 -- the inaugural Indy Racing Northern Light Series race at the new Nashville Superspeedway on July 21 -- will move Hornish into a commanding position to become the youngest national champion in the history of American open-wheel racing.
Hornish, who drives the canary yellow No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, celebrated his 22nd birthday on July 2. He would be only 76 days beyond that Sept. 16, the date of the season finale at Texas Motor Speedway.
No champion since 1909, when the first one, George Robertson, was crowned, has been that young. This covers the days when AAA sanctioned open-wheel racing, follows through the USAC period from 1955-79 and includes all of CART's champions.
Hornish, a native of Defiance, Ohio, carries a 60-point (309-249) lead over defending champion Buddy Lazier heading into the first appearance of Indy-type cars in Tennessee. Hornish won the first two races of the season and has finished second in the last three.
Four races remain on the 13-race schedule after the Nashville event.
There is a three-way tie at 24 for the youngest national champion. Louis Meyer won the title in 1928 at that age, Billy Arnold did likewise in 1930, and then it wasn't until 1995, when Jacques Villeneuve took the CART championship, that a driver so young earned the crown.
Meyer was born in 1904, Arnold in 1905 and Villeneuve in 1971. Meyer won the Indianapolis 500 three times (1928, 1933 and 1936) and Arnold (1930) and Villeneuve (1995) each once. Meyer died at age 91 in 1995, Arnold died in 1976, while Villeneuve moved to Formula One after his Indianapolis 500 and season championship triumphs, won the F1 World Championship in 1997 and still races in that series.
Meyer's son Sonny and grandson Butch (they are Louis Meyer Jr. and Louis Meyer III, respectively) work in the engine department for Team Menard, which fields the No. 2 Johns Manville/Menards Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone for 1999 Indy Racing champion Greg Ray in the Northern Light Series.
Sonny Meyer told an interesting little story about his father in 1928. Louis Meyer made his debut at Indianapolis as a relief driver for Wilbur Shaw in 1927, but the next year his car owner purchased a car intended for Shaw, and Meyer drove it to victory at Indy. Prior to the race, Meyer bought a home in Walnut Park (now Huntington Park), Calif., and the address was 2814 Broadway.
"In '28, car No. 14 put him on Broadway," Sonny Meyer said with a laugh.
The youngest Indy Racing League champion is Buzz Calkins, who was 25 when he shared the inaugural three-race series title with Scott Sharp, then 28. Both still are competing, and Sharp holds down fifth and Calkins ninth in the standings.
Last year's Indy Racing champion, Lazier, was 32. Ray was 33 when he won the Indy Racing crown in '99, Kenny Brack 32 in '98 and Tony Stewart 26 in 1996-97.
Al Unser, who is driving coach for the Indy Racing League, became the oldest champion when he won the CART title at age 46 in 1985. Mario Andretti had won the year before at 44 and Unser's second of three championships came in 1983, also at 44. Andretti also won at 25 in 1965.
Incidentally, George Robertson won what is considered the first championship in 1909 at 25.
Since joining Panther Racing after last season, Hornish has made an incredible jump in the standings from his 2000 rookie season when he drove in eight races and finished 21st with 110 points.
Since the Harrah's Indy 200 will be the ninth race of the present season, equaling the nine of all of last season, it is interesting to compare driver points with 2000 after eight races.