Ron Hornaday Jr.
Saugus Speedway's Hall of Fame Connection
March, 2018 - Issue #162
courtesy of Shutterstock
courtesy of Shutterstock

"Word around town is that Hornaday still keeps in touch with some of his old pals from SAUGUS SPEEDWAY, and when the racing buddies get together they swap stories of the days gone by."
The rumble was part of the Santa Clarita Valley's charm.

Every summer Saturday, you could hear it from across the valley. At first it was rhythmic, as just one or two cars took afternoon hot laps to warm up for the evening races at Saugus Speedway, engines revving loudly in the straights before the drivers let off the gas to navigate the track's challenging, flat corners. As more cars took to the one-third-mile paved oval, the rumble built to a near-constant hum.

The rumble continued through trophy dashes, heat races and the main events, where human and machine brought good old-fashioned family entertainment to crowds of several thousand at a time. Then, the rumble would stop, and like a traveling road show, the participants would load their race cars onto trailers and haul them away until the next race.

Ron Hornaday Jr. was part of the rumble.

A big part.

If you visited Saugus Speedway in the 1980s and 1990s - before it abruptly closed for racing in 1995 - there's a good chance you saw Hornaday in his No. 97 leading a snarling pack of stock cars to the checkered flag. Hornaday, a Palmdale native, was among the best ever to run the weekly racing series at Saugus Speedway.

He was good enough to test his skills on NASCAR's western regional circuits, where his success attracted the attention of none other than Dale Earnhardt, the legendary seven-time NASCAR Cup champion. In 1995 Earnhardt invited Hornaday to come drive for his new racing team - a move that would change Hornaday's life.

Hornaday relocated to North Carolina to drive for Earnhardt in the then-fledgling NASCAR truck series and would go on to a record-setting career, winning 51 races and four series championships before retiring as a driver in 2014. Now, more than 20 years after getting that job offer from the Intimidator, the 59-year-old Hornaday has been inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the highest honor bestowed upon the sport's legendary drivers, crew chiefs and builders.

He may be the SCV's first real connection to a major US pro sports hall of fame. The qualifier "US" is necessary because Joe Kapp, a 1954 graduate of Hart High School, is enshrined in the Canadian Football League Hall of Fame. Kapp stands as the only player in history to participate in a Rose Bowl, a Super Bowl and the Grey Cup, which is the CFL's championship game.

Sure, he never lived here. He was from Palmdale. But his father, Ron Hornaday Sr., was one of the early legends of stock car racing at Saugus Speedway, and Saugus' own "Junior" was as much a fixture here as anyone else who regularly competed in the SCV, in any sport.

That fateful call from Earnhardt launched Hornaday on a career in which he would become the truck series' all-time leader in wins, top 5's and top 10's, while earning a reputation as being sneaky fast on restarts.

Once he had established himself as a truck series regular, his house in North Carolina became a regular stopping point for aspiring young drivers who didn't yet have a home in the hotbed of stock car racing. He and his wife Lindy opened their doors to multiple drivers until they could get their own places, including future NASCAR Cup champs Kevin Harvick of Bakersfield and Jimmie Johnson of El Cajon.

His hospitality for the sport's up-and-comers became so widely known that, when it was announced he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame, some observers joked that Ron Hornaday's couch should also be part of the exhibit.
This past January, he became the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series' first representative in the Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, as he was inducted in the same class as NASCAR pioneer driver Red Byron, former crew chief Ray Evernham, broadcaster Ken Squier and engine builder Robert Yates.

In his acceptance speech, Hornaday harked back to his small-town, short-track roots. "Thank you everybody," he said. "This is for every short track racer who ever had a dream, ever had a heart, ever believed in anything you can believe in. This is the Hall of Fame, and what a class I'm in with."

Word around town is that Hornaday still keeps in touch with some of his old pals from Saugus Speedway, and when the racing buddies get together they swap stories of the days gone by when the rumble would emanate from Saugus Speedway on a hot summer night. The rumble may be gone, but with Hornaday in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, he'll always give the SCV its own special connection to racing's all-time legends.
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