MADISON, Ill., Aug. 21, 2001 - While Sam Hornish Jr. focuses on delivering an IRL championship to his teammates at Pennzoil Panther Racing, the Hornish family trucking business concentrates on delivering tons of cast iron to General Motors ...
MADISON, Ill., Aug. 21, 2001 - While Sam Hornish Jr. focuses on delivering an IRL championship to his teammates at Pennzoil Panther Racing, the Hornish family trucking business concentrates on delivering tons of cast iron to General Motors plants.
Whether Sam can wrest the Northern Light Cup from the tenacious grip of defending champion and chief rival Buddy Lazier is a question that will be decided in the next three races. But there is no doubt that Hornish Brothers, Inc. is winning in business. The company has been named a "Worldwide Supplier of the Year" by General Motors for seven consecutive years - the only U.S. trucking company among GM's 30,000 global associates that has been honored every year since 1994.
While the 22-year-old son of Jo Ellen and Sam Hornish Sr. drives Panther Racing's Oldsmobile Dallara in 13 Indy Racing Northern Light Series events, the company's fleet of 170 trucks and 400 trailers is on the road 24 hours a day. Founded in 1946, the Defiance, Ohio-based enterprise boomed when interstate trucking was deregulated in 1978. It now employs 130 people. Hornish Brothers specializes in delivering castings from foundries in Ohio to GM Powertrain assembly plants in New York and Ontario, Canada.
Before Sam became an Indy car driver, he was a grease monkey. "Sam has worked in the business since he was 11," recalled Jo Ellen Hornish. "He started off washing and servicing trucks. He repaired broken trailer doors and patched roofs. Then he learned how to fabricate the specialized equipment that we designed to carry castings without damage. Sam was involved in all of that."
Predictably, Sam remembers his apprenticeship from a slightly different perspective. "It seemed like I got the jobs nobody else wanted," he laughed. "I did whatever my parents asked me to do and tried not to complain too much. I never got to drive the big rigs, though."
The former fabricator has been the revelation of the 2001 racing season. An unheralded driver with only nine Indy car starts on his resume, Hornish was tabbed to succeed Scott Goodyear at Panther Racing in one of the IRL's premier seats. The faith of the team's owners was richly rewarded when Sam won the season-opening race in Phoenix. Three weeks later he scored his second victory in Homestead, Fla. He has led the championship standings since opening day, and enjoys a 25-point margin over Lazier going into the Gateway Indy 250 at Gateway International Raceway on Aug. 26.
Indy car aficionados may be surprised by Hornish's rapid progress, but his parents aren't. They actively supported Sam as he progressed from karts to open-wheel cars.
"I stayed at work and ran the company when he and his dad started racing go-karts," said his mother. "That was the first time I can remember my husband taking time for anything except work.
"We needed to get Sam out there so people could see what he could do," she continued. "We thought the IRL series was the best arena."
Although he is just a sophomore in a tough Indy car class, Hornish's racecraft has proven impeccable. Relying on the horsepower and reliability of Oldsmobile engines prepared by Speedway Engine Development, he has led more laps (556) and completed more laps (2,043 out of a possible 2,050) than any of his rivals. He has also earned $1.1 million in prize money, second only to Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves' $1.3 million payday.
"My parents told me that when I finally got a paying ride I didn't have to work at the trucking company," Hornish confided. "I still work just as hard, but the work is different now."
All work and no play haven't made Hornish a dull boy, however. He finds relaxation in racing - not the 220 mph open-wheel cars he drives on any given Sunday, but radio-controlled replicas.
"My radio-controlled cars run about 65 mph," Hornish said. "I race them mostly on ovals. I can work on my hand-eye coordination and keep my reflexes sharp without worrying about crashing."
Hornish is equally fearless in full-size race cars as he shuns the conservative approach favored by some title contenders. His wheel-to-wheel duels with Lazier in recent races have been spectacular.
"Every time I get in the car, I want to win," he offered. "I'm going to push the car just as hard as if I was 200 points ahead or 200 points behind."
Regardless of the outcome of this year's championship race, Hornish has shown his true grit. And in the tradition of his family business, Sam just keeps on truckin'.