Ron Hornaday Jr.: A Champion’s Life
by Tom Jensen September 09, 2022
Fierce and successful on the track, Ron Hornaday Jr.’s generosity helped many young racers get established in NASCAR
Ron Hornaday Jr., a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018, is a champion on the track and off.
A native of Southern California, Hornaday put up impressive numbers in his career, winning 51 races and four championships in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, as well as four more race victories in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
To this day, Hornaday remains the only driver with four Truck Series titles. His first two titles came driving for Dale Earnhardt in 1996 and ’98, while he won the second two in 2007 and ’09 driving for Kevin Harvick Inc. All four of Hornaday’s titles were won in Chevrolet trucks.
Hornaday had a well-deserved reputation for being tough and hard-nosed on the track. He gave no quarter and asked for none. But as determined as Hornaday was on the track, off of it, he is a great mentor for young racers.
“When you saw him in the mirror, you knew trouble was coming,” said Todd Bodine, who, like Hornaday is a past Truck Series champion. “You didn’t want to mess with him. He never took it from anybody. If you wanted to dish it out to Ron, you better be willing to take it back, because he’s going to make sure you get it back.”
When you saw him in the mirror, you knew trouble was coming.
— Todd Bodine
For Bodine, it was years later before he and Hornaday became friends. But when it happened, Bodine began to understand that Hornaday was very different on and off the track. “Most drivers’ personalities carry over to the race track. And that’s the one thing that’s kind of a misconception with Ron among the fans, because if you watch him drive, you think he’s a hard-nosed S.O.B., gonna-punch-you-in-the-face kind of guy, where he’s not,” Bodine said.
“He’s a very compassionate and caring person. If you’re a friend of Ron’s, you’re a friend for life, and he would do absolutely anything he could to try and help you,” Bodine said. “That’s a part of Ron that doesn’t get to be seen by the fans.”
Plenty of young NASCAR racers over the years found out just far Hornaday would go to help them get a toehold in the sport.
Hornaday and his wife Lindy live in Mooresville, North Carolina, a suburb of Charlotte, and for the better part of two decades, they have made their home available to racers. Before he was a seven-time champion in the premier series, Jimmie Johnson spent six months sleeping on the Hornadays’ couch. So did fellow champ Kevin Harvick and many others.
“He and Lindy just had open arms and told me, ‘If you are ever in North Carolina, we will give you a place to stay. Come stay with us,’” said Jimmie Johnson, who like the Hornadays hailed from Southern California. Two or three months after their offer, Johnson had the opportunity to come to the East Coast for a late-model test with Hendrick Motorsports.
Ron’s contribution to our sport not only includes the amazing things he did on the track but so many things off the track.
— Jimmie Johnson
“I needed a couch to sleep on. I moved in,” Johnson said. “They wouldn’t let me move out. I stayed there for six months until Ron, on one of his Harley rides, found a home that he thought I could afford and seemed like a good buy, and I bought my first house. They have been amazing to me and to many others in the sport, not just drivers. There are officials walking up and down pit road that have all bunked at his home, crew members from all over the place. Ron’s contribution to our sport not only includes the amazing things he did on the track but so many things off the track.”
As is his way, Hornaday made the generosity he and Lindy showed sound like no big deal, but it was huge nonetheless, Johnson said.
“I just enjoy people,” Hornaday said. “I work hard for what I have. When Jimmie Johnson came out and said he was going to race for Chevrolet, he was in off-road racing, and he was coming out to North Carolina and looking for a place to rent. I said, ‘Just stay at my house. We’ll save up a couple of months of your paycheck and you can put a down payment on a house. Don’t waste your money on rent.’ I did the same thing with Kevin (Harvick). Instead of wasting money renting a house, you can put some equity into a house by putting a couple thousand dollars down.”
“But we’ve had Ross Chastain stay here, four or five guys stayed here. We still have part of the couch,” Hornaday said. “Built a little trophy room and a shed by the pool. It’s kind of like our poolroom. I’ve got the couch still, the jukebox we used to listen to. A lot of good times.”
“Our generation, we grew up building race cars, working on race cars, working all night on race cars,” Bodine said. “We understood what it meant to be a real racer. And when these kids came along and wanted to have a career in the sport, doing what they loved, Ron understood that passion and had his own compassion for them. That’s Ron’s hidden trait among the racing community and his fans—his compassion for helping people, whether it be letting them sleep on his couch or letting them bring their race car to the shop and work on it. Or if something happens at the track, he’s there to help. He’s a very compassionate guy. That’s the one thing I don’t think people get to see enough of him.”
For his part, Hornaday wouldn’t change a thing.
“I might be getting a little grumpy in my old age, but I still enjoy life,” Hornaday said. “I still have a lot of fun. I just enjoy people. It’s cool.”