When I telephoned NASCAR racing veteran Ron Hornaday Jr. the other day to talk about next weekend’s Camping World Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the topic that topped his list was the size of the crowd that turned out for the inaugural Chevrolet Silverado 250 held last Labour Day weekend.
“Whoa, did you see all the people that were there when we raced up there a year ago?” he asked. “It was an unbelievable crowd. We knew Canadians liked racing but it really surprised us that so many would come out to our race.”
Hornaday, who currently sits third behind leader Johnny Sauter and defending champion Matt Crafton in the NASCAR truck series standings following Thursday’s rain-delayed race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, wasn’t the only one surprised by the turnout.
CTMP co-owner Ron Fellows acknowledged after that first race, won by young Chase Elliott, son of the legendary Bill Elliott, that he — with partner Carlo Fidani and circuit president Myles Brandt — was “thrilled” that in excess of 50,000 were at the Bowmanville-area track on race day and more than 70,000 had been there over the course of the weekend.
And news Thursday that young Calgary hot shoe Cameron Hayley, a participant in the NASCAR Next program that is designed to showcase the talent of up-and-coming race drivers, could help ensure as big a turnout this year as there was last.
Now, in addition to Hornaday, Hayley, Sauter and Crafton, other NASCAR stars such as Penske Racing development driver Ryan Blaney, Timothy Peters, Joey Coulter, Jeb Burton and John Wes Townley will be racing at Old Mosport next weekend along with Canadians Alex Tagliani and Ray Courtemanche Jr.
It’s possible that other Canadians could wind up in a NASCAR truck before the final entry list is compiled but a track spokesman said that more than 30 trucks are expected in any case.
Of course, there are more races on tap at CTMP next weekend besides the headline event, which will go to the post Sunday afternoon. For instance, the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 stock cars will also race on Sunday, in advance of the truck race.
Other races booked throughout the weekend will feature the Canadian Touring Car Championship and the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin.
But the spectacle that attracted all those people last year — carloads were still arriving after the race started — were the Camping World trucks. The drivers didn’t disappoint and you had rising star Elliott spinning out race leader Ty Dillon at the last corner to take the win.
As is the case with most racing series these days, the NASCAR trucks race at a variety of tracks but the recent schedule has seen the drivers really put to the test.
They’ve gone from the ultra-fast Michigan International Speedway, where they were running an average of close to 200 miles an hour last weekend (NASCAR measures everything in Imperial), to the high-banked, 5/8-mile Bristol Motor Speedway oval on Thursday (the regularly scheduled race Wednesday night was rained out), where the average was under 100 m.p.h. to CTMP next weekend, where they will have to shift gears and turn right. But Hornaday, who’s won more than 50 races in his career and been champion of the truck series four times, likes it that way.
“I enjoy it all,” he said. “When you go to Bristol, it feels like it’s faster than Michigan because everything happens so much quicker there. Then you go up there on the road course and you’ve got everything. You’ve got that long, long straightaway — man, that thing never ends. And then you’ve got that hard right-hand turn at the end of it and then you’re back on the front straight. You combine all the race tracks together and you have it on that road course.”
Speaking from a garage behind his father-in-law’s house in North Carolina — his hometown is Palmdale, Calif. — Hornaday said the trucks have always been able to race anywhere and everywhere and that he wouldn’t mind if NASCAR scheduled a few more road-course races..
“Over the years, we ran Watkins Glen, Sears Point, Topeka, Kansas,” he said. “When you go to a road course, you’ve got to build two of ‘em (trucks). You’ve got a primary and a backup so they’re just sitting there, waiting to hear whatever NASCAR decides. We’re game for it (more races). You know, when the trucks started, they said they weren’t going to race on tracks longer than a mile and now we’re at Daytona and Michigan and on road courses and stuff like that. We can do it and we like doin’ it.”
The four-time champion was warming to the subject.
“I enjoy road course racing,” he said. “It kinda brings the animal out in everyone. You can throw the truck around a little and you can swing it and you can be smooth in it, too. There’s three or four different driving styles on a road course you can use and they all seem to work. So it’s a matter of pit strategy and stuff like that to put yourself in a position to win the thing.”
Hornaday has won Most Popular Driver awards in the Nationwide and Camping World series. He’s started 45 races in the Sprint Cup and 184 in the Nationwide. He’s thankful for having enjoyed a great career — but he’s not finished yet, even though he’s 56 and counting.
“I’m really blessed,” he said. “My career was kind of winding down and then Kevin Harvick started his truck team and he called me up and I kind of made a home up there. I won a couple of championships for them and that kind of put me back on the map.
“And then Mr. Turner and Mr. Scott gave me another opportunity and I won another championship (in 2009), so that’s our focus this year. I’m still racing and I’m still having fun doing it.
“I’ve got a couple of dirt cars that I run (others drive them); I have some fun on the side doing that. My future, though, is whatever Mr. Turner decides it is.
“There’s not enough money in the truck series where you can just go out and start ‘n park and make some money. I’ve always been a competitor and I’ve always wanted to race. We’re gonna continue doing that.
“As long as Mr. Turner keeps putting me in a fast truck, I’m going to keep racing.”