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January 10, 2018

Ron Hornaday, Jr.

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined Ron Hornaday Jr., who will be inducted with Ken next Friday, January 19th, in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the NASCAR Hall of Fame class of 2018.
Thank you for taking the time to join us today. If you could just talk about your career. You'll be the first Camping World Truck Series inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Start us off by talking about that series and what it's meant to your career.
RON HORNADAY JR.: First of all, good morning everybody. I'll tell you, when the Truck Series started back in '95, we did exhibition races in '94, you could see where the thing was heading.
They had a five‑year plan. I think the first year we exceeded that five‑year plan of what we thought it was going to do. The fan participation became involved from the Tucson days all the way up to the Daytona races. It's been exciting, action‑packed.
Got a lot of friends, a lot of people doing a lot of traveling. From the phone call from Earnhardt to now, you say wow. Met a lot of good friends, a lot of good racers. There were so many drivers that came out of that thing. You look at it where we're sitting at eight, ten trucks on the race. We were filling the field with 42 trucks from Phoenix all the way to Homestead. It's been pretty cool.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Ron. We'll open it up to media questions for Ron Hornaday Jr.

Q. Ron, there was so much close racing in the Truck Series, particularly in the early years when you were kind of getting it started, does one event, one win, one close finish stand out for you in those early years?
RON HORNADAY JR.: Gosh, you know, all of them really do. I guess it goes back to the Loudon race where I was running 13th with seven laps to go, had like five restarts. That day we were terrible. Ernie Irving got into me, hit the front wall. I think it was the turning moment of that championship that year of winning that race because Mike Skinner was leading the race. With three or four to go, he blew up. That's when Jack got into Ruttman, I passed him on the last lap going for the checkered flag.
I still have the thing hung up in my shop. Remember it like yesterday, it was a pretty cool race. That day, not having a good truck, making a championship run out of a day we should have finished 12th or 13th, we end up winning the race.

Q. What about the years you ran Cup? You had one full‑time season with A.J. Did you ever see an opening there where you could have got into a better situation in Cup or were you satisfied doing what you were doing?
RON HORNADAY JR.: You're never satisfied. You want to win races. A.J. is the same way. Everybody said he was such a hard ass, a hard butt I should call it. He reminds me of my father. He wants everything precise, to the point, get it done right. A.J. never really spent the time at the shop knowing what we had for equipment.
The people behind the scenes were telling me they were new cars, and they weren't. They were repaired cars with new bodies on them. We were struggling through the process of that. I think we made the best out of what we could. I don't think it was fair to everybody else with A.J. but we left on good terms. A.J. is still a good friend of mine.
It snowballed from there. When you go out there and you race for a legend like A.J. Foyt, you don't get the job done, run up front a little bit, but miss a couple races here and there, it kind of put a damper on you. I didn't get a fair shot. That's part of racing. An uphill battle all the time.
Mr. Hendricks helped me out when he gave me Ricky's truck, put me on the map, that's how I got hired from a lot of the other teams, Kevin Harvick, everybody.

Q. Ron, I would imagine this is a big deal, being the first Hall of Famer representing the Truck Series. Could you talk about how special that is, really what a great series that has been for NASCAR.
RON HORNADAY JR.: I was pretty humbled. I didn't know how to take what the Hall of Fame is all about. I thought it's pretty cool to be the first one in there. It's going to be really great because I'm going to have two records in the Hall of Fame, being the youngest, but Mark Martin is three years younger than I am, so I only got the Truck Series. Kicked me in the butt.
You don't understand what the Hall of Fame is all about. When I got inducted that night, they actually pulled the ballot, said I was in, Mark Martin grabbed me aside said, This don't mean anything right now. Give it about six months, where the things you've done in racing, it will hit you of who you helped, how you handled yourself. It's not all about all the races you won and all that stuff, it's about all the people's hearts you touched, who worked on your racecars, to go to dinner with your sponsors, meet the different people you meet.
It's really come around. I can really see the other end of the light where Mark was talking about where everybody is reaching out, the awesome letters I'm getting from all my sponsors through the years I've done and stuff. It's really bringing back memories. It's been really darn cool, so...
I hope I can represent the Truck Series like they put my career on the map, what they've done for my whole family, because definitely I owe everything to NASCAR and the France family for starting the Truck Series, and that phone call from Earnhardt of giving me an opportunity to make it big‑time.

Q. In speaking with so many of the current Cup drivers, everyone has a Hornaday couch story. In a certain sense, not only are you being recognized for all of the racing that you did, but you helped out a whole lot of guys that are going to be Hall of Famers, too. Talk about that a little bit, the Hornaday couch.
RON HORNADAY JR.: Well, it's kind of funny. I think that's why my wife and I have been married going on 39 years, going on 40. I don't know what it is. I have to count on my fingers. It's been so cool because we very seldom go out to dinner by ourselves. We love people around us. We love family. We love that.
When I met Jimmie Johnson at a Chevrolet function, he was coming from off road, he told he was moving down, doing this and that. I told him, Don't go rent a place, that's a waste of money. Save some money, buy your own house. He might have stayed three to six months, might have even stayed a year. It's something where you have a big enough place, they're hanging out on the couch. I don't know if I should say it or not, but the couch had a bed. When we had a couple beers on Friday, Saturday night, they'd end up on the couch down in the game room. We still have part of that couch, by the way.

Q. Ron, do you still find people in the series asking for your advice about current events going on?
RON HORNADAY JR.: I talk to quite a few. Suarez is the best one I could say, what a great student that kid is. Went up and down the street, tried to show him how to restart, the difference in the carburetors when you get on the gas, stuff like that.
The younger kids coming through it, they have such experience starting at a young age. Man, I mean, I remember four years ago when I was just getting out of my career a little bit, I still had a decent enough ride with Mr. Turner, we were still in the hunt of winning a championship.
What these kids can do, you're racing side‑by‑side, all of a sudden a kid comes up on the outside, man, he's going to bust his butt, shouldn't be up there. They make the work, then they pass you. Their talent level is a little different than when we started. They're going to different venue tracks from when Jack, I, Skinner, local Saturday nights, when the Truck Series started, the races weren't going to be over a mile big, now they're at a mile‑and‑a‑half, two‑mile racetracks. The venues are different, and the talent level has definitely stepped up.

Q. The cast of characters when you first started the Truck Series in '95, that was a pretty awesome group of drivers. Talk about them, how y'all played off each other.
RON HORNADAY JR.: It's fun to play off of them. It's so cool back in the day, you could sit there and race hard, beat and bang, get the owners mad at you. When all is said and done, you could still have them over for a beer and everything.

Q. Your interaction on the track, beating and banging, that's what created interest in the Truck Series.
RON HORNADAY JR.: Well, yeah, we were all trying to make a name for ourselves. I think Skinner is about the only one that really got the eye of his owner, put him in a Cup car. We went out there and tried to put food on the table, win races. I don't know if you want to call it make a name for yourself. When you win, a different situation with Earnhardt, there's no excuses with Dale. He gives you the best equipment, he knows what it takes to win. Monday morning meeting, if you don't win, you better have an excuse, buck up and say you messed up.
Yeah, I don't know how to say it. It wasn't about going out there to race, it was about going out there to do a job, put food on the table. Your life depended on how you performed. You took it very serious. When you strapped that steering wheel on, that was our office.
Jack still to this day, one of the poorest sports of losing because he knows what it means to win. When you do, you got a job Monday morning.

Q. Ron, back when the Truck Series started in the mid '90s, how experimental was it seen? When you started off in the series, did you imagine 20‑some years down the road it would still be going strong?
RON HORNADAY JR.: You know, like I said, when we first started, I can't say 'we', but NASCAR had a five‑year plan. When Craftsman came aboard, they excelled the whole program of what they shown on TV, how they were representing everything. It really excelled everybody. It made us stars.
That five‑year plan in the first year exceeded itself, then they looked at the next 10‑year plan, going to different venue racetracks, putting more butts in the seats, stuff like that.
I was just glad to be part of it, get an opportunity to do it. I was racing for Wayne at the time. Asked him if he was going to run the whole Truck Series. Told him what I had opportunity to do. He told me I should take it. Probably the best choice I ever made in my career. When you have two successful businesses out in California, my wife and I did, to get up and move, it was kind of a gamble. It worked out for us. Very fortunate for that.
The Truck Series, went to the short tracks, showed the beating and banging. Nowadays with the mile‑and‑a‑half's, stuff like that, you depend on aero so much where you can't do the beating and banging. Go to Martinsville, watch that, you'll get the excitement back out of it, where you'll have the rivals you have because you got to move somebody out of the way, you can't keep following them around.
The venue tracks are changing the racing a little bit. Other than that, we had to do it, we had to go win, we had to put food on the table.

Q. What do you mean you still have part of the couch?
RON HORNADAY JR.: Well, we downsized houses, my wife and I. We don't need a 7400 square feet house on a lake. I got a man cave, have a pool there. I got rid of the big size, I got a small part of it still.

Q. Who was the toughest guy to race against in the Truck Series?
RON HORNADAY JR.: The funnest was Jack Sprague. When you run into the back of him, his eyes always got so big. I think Joe Ruttman had to have been the toughest. He was the elderly spokesman out of us. I was probably the second. When you tried to rough up Joe, he always had something new for you. You learned so much racing against him.
I was at Phoenix Racing, he shows up, qualifying is going on, cars are in line. He gets in a car and jumps back out, takes his shoes off, gets back in and goes out and qualifies on the pole. He was rough and tough. Would race anything you ever could.
I don't know, if you go back and look at it. It's not just one of them, whoever qualified for those races in the Truck Series. I mean, it was tough. Back then, it was gung‑ho. You have to move people out of the way, have to learn their names later when you're all done racing them.

Q. In NASCAR national series history, only three drivers have won five consecutive races. Those three drivers are Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Ron Hornaday Jr. When you see your name with those two legends, what does that mean to you? Talk about that 2009 season, that stretch of dominance you had.
RON HORNADAY JR.: Best part about that, I got to race against both of them at one time. It's been so cool to watch them in California days. You get home on Saturday night, Sunday morning turn the TV on, watch them on Sunday, say someday you want to do that. When you get an opportunity to do it, it's pretty awesome.
It's funny you should say that. I got called into Kevin's office Monday morning after a California race, I think he was going to try to fire me. He didn't understand what was going on with our equipment. He would go out there and dominate races, all that stuff. When we got Rick up there, Rick put some great trucks together, seemed like we couldn't do anything wrong. It's funny watching NASCAR pull our trucks apart, to see if we had anything illegal, stretching the rules or anything like that.
Man, I mean, he gave me Bruce Cook. When we started winning races, he believed in me again, got me a crew chief in Rick. Won those races, unbelievable. 50th win, 51st win, they were carrying that thing around for a while, that banner flag they had saying 50 wins. It took two months. Once we hit on a roll, it was unstoppable.

Q. I'd be interested to know what you think about racing today. A lot of things have changed over the years.
RON HORNADAY JR.: I haven't been around it, I'd say in, the last two and a half years, I guess. The last couple races, when I went to Darlington for the Hall of Fame, to see the throwback, that brings back memories of the colors, what the pit crews were wearing, now with the shorts involved in the pits, the open‑toed shoes. I remember when women were not allowed in the pits, I don't know if that was good or bad back in the day. The women's rights, they got the right to be there. We have great female drivers with Shawna Robinson, Danica Patrick, everybody was putting on a good show.
The racing, I don't understand all the computer stuff. I'm still the old days, I still don't turn a computer on. I played with one for a little bit. I my wife took over. After that, I never learned it. It's going to that. I guess the world is going to that. I'm losing my grandson to a computer, too. He's a hell of a racer. He's playing on the computer, cell phones. He can't get involved in racing like you want him to.
I guess I got to change my ways and look at it a different way. It's a whole different sport from what I came from. That's the way it is. It's going to be jet cars next.
THE MODERATOR: Ron, thank you so much. Congratulations on this honor. Enjoy the rest of the week and the ceremony next Friday. We look forward to hearing your speech.
RON HORNADAY JR.: Just a heads up. I suck on speeches. I can drive a racecar. I'm not good in standing in front of my peers with a monkey suit, telling them about how good I am. It's all about everybody that ever helped me out. Hopefully I can do well and not get tongue tied. Thank you, guys, for everything, all the years.

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