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NY Times: Sam

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  • NY Times: Sam

    This is an excellent story on a fine young man. Since the NY Times requires registration, I'm going to beg Rev's indulgence and ask him to bend the rules. I'll post the whole article here:

    August 4, 2003

    A Champion's Life in the Slow Lane


    DEFIANCE, Ohio - The two-time defending champion of the Indy Racing League is a millionaire who lives in a two-bedroom apartment over a garage across the driveway from his parents.

    Money hasn't changed Sam Hornish Jr. He still pays his parents $400 for rent each month. He still bowls regularly with his high school buddies. He still prefers that his mother handle his finances.

    And Hornish still wakes up every morning surrounded by cornfields in this small farming community in northwest Ohio.

    "I've been racing Indy cars since 1968 and I've never met anybody like him in my life,'' said John Barnes, co-owner of Panther Racing and Hornish's boss. "It just tells you how grounded he is. He's not all impressed with what he's done. He doesn't live a high-profile life.''

    Yet few drivers have a higher profile in the I.R.L. than Hornish, 24. He won the series championship in 2001 and 2002, his first two full years on the circuit, and has established himself among the top Americans on a circuit featuring many foreign drivers.

    The I.R.L. continues to battle Nascar for the best young American drivers and the fans who follow them.

    "Sam and the Indy Racing League have grown together over the last three or four years and we hope we'll have him as a full-time driver to help promote our series, and in turn, hopefully our series can help promote his career,'' said Tony George, president of the I.R.L.

    It is a hope, not a guarantee. Hornish's contract with Panther Racing is up at the end of the year, and Hornish said he was being courted by teams from the I.R.L., Nascar and the CART series. He expects to make a decision this month.

    "It's become such a big decision, it's going to be really a big load off my shoulders when it's actually over with,'' Hornish said recently. "You've got these opportunities, and two years ago, any one of the opportunities that I have now, I would have done in a heartbeat.''

    Just a few years ago, while racing his way up the open-wheel food chain, Hornish was making $8 an hour working for the metal fabrication shop at his father's trucking company in nearby Archbold. That $400 rent wasn't easy to come by. By 2000, Hornish had earned his first ride in the I.R.L. circuit for a low-budget team called P.D.M. Racing. When he wasn't racing, he was still working for his father.

    Hornish didn't have the equipment to win races, but he had the moxie to impress Barnes, who was looking for a driver to replace Scott Goodyear. Barnes offered Hornish a test drive during the 2000 season, and he passed the test.

    Hornish was signed for 2001 and won the first race of the season - at 21 the youngest driver to post a victory in an I.R.L. race - on his way to capturing the series points title.

    Another title came last season; Hornish won the final two races of the season by less than a second each time to beat Hélio Castroneves for the title.

    "He's a very talented American driver,'' Castroneves said. "I guess he takes a lot of chances, but most of the time, he gets away with it. He knows how to get away with it in a difficult situation.''

    Hornish's driving skills and steely cool have never been more apparent than this season, although he has yet to win a race and stands seventh in the points standing with six races to go. The entry of Toyota and Honda into the series, with their more powerful engines, has put Panther Racing's Chevrolet engines at a disadvantage.

    But Hornish has received more praise for his performance with inferior equipment this year than he did while winning the previous two championships.

    "Even though we've had a pretty terrible year compared to what we've had the past two years, I think I've gotten more credit from the media this year than I have in the championship seasons,'' he said. "So I guess when things aren't going well and you're still able to make your presence known, I guess that's when they rate you as coming of age.''

    That respect hasn't made the season any easier for Hornish or Panther Racing. The gap in horsepower was so apparent that the I.R.L. made a somewhat controversial decision to allow Chevrolet to upgrade its engine at midseason. That's one reason Hornish was able to finish second at the Michigan Indy 400 on July 27, his best showing of the year.

    The frustration of the season has led to more speculation that Hornish will leave Panther Racing and join Nascar.

    "Right now, kind of in America, that's perceived to be the pinnacle, racing in Nascar,'' he said. "Whether it is or not, I don't know. I mean, they've got some very talented drivers over there, we've got some very talented drivers over here. But you want to beat the best of the best in whatever you do. If that means stepping out of the place where you're comfortable, then that's what you have to do.''

    Besides, Hornish has set a fairly lofty goal for himself, one that he can't accomplish unless he races at least part time on the Nascar circuit.

    "Only two guys have won the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500: Mario Andretti and A. J. Foyt,'' he said. "I'd like to be the third one to do that.''

    Some see his indecision as a negotiating ploy; Hornish has also been pursued by top I.R.L. teams, including Penske. Few believe Hornish will join Nascar despite being courted by teams like Hendrick Motorsports, which includes the four-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon. Nascar races 38 weekends out of the year; the I.R.L. has only 16 races.

    "I don't think Sam's lifestyle fits with a Winston Cup driver,'' Barnes said. "He enjoys being around his family, he enjoys a lot of quiet time and going bowling with his buddies and all that stuff. And as a Winston Cup driver, you don't have a life. Sure, you make a lot of money, but you better make it while you can, because all of the sudden you wake up one day and you're 40 years old and you think, 'Well, where'd the last 20 years go?' ''

    Hornish remains close to his parents and family and doesn't seem eager to give up his routines, although he is finally moving out of the apartment over the garage. He recently bought a house in nearby Napoleon, Ohio.

    He is engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Crystal Liechty, and plans to marry next year. He also owns nearly 90 acres of land about two miles from his parents' 40-acre tract.

    He has big plans for that property.

    "I'll build my home on that land,'' Hornish said, "where I'll end up living probably till I'm gone.''

  • #2
    Here's a link tha works for me...
    Griz In Indy


    • #3
      I don't like the sound of this quote.

      "Right now, kind of in America, that's perceived to be the pinnacle, racing in Nascar,'' he said. "Whether it is or not, I don't know. I mean, they've got some very talented drivers over there, we've got some very talented drivers over here. But you want to beat the best of the best in whatever you do. If that means stepping out of the place where you're comfortable, then that's what you have to do.''


      • #4
        On the other hand, does he want to give up bowling nights with his friends and other aspects of his relatively quiet life away from the race track to join the Nextel Cup daily grind? Money certainly doesn't seem like a big issue with him.

        We shall see.


        • #5
          If Sam does go to NASCAR, then he'll never race the Indy 500 again. And I won't be a fan of his... not because I"ll have agnst towards the man, but I really have no desire to watch Sam Hornish going 50 mph slower than he is now, and with fenders where his certain skills would be essentially futile.

          But he has the right to chose and God bless him in whatever he does. Frankly, If TG can't pull out the stops to keep him in the IRL, then someone is offering him huge amounts of money.
          Get your head out of your past!!!


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