Ron Hornaday Jr.’s Hall of Fame election aided by champion who slept on his couch

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CONCORD, N.C. — Ron Hornaday’s Jr. election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s 2018 class wasn’t a lock.

For just the second time in the institution’s nine-year history, the vote for the final spot in the class resulted in a tie.

It was either going to be Hornaday, a four-time champion in the Camping World Truck Series, or the late Alan Kulwicki, the 1992 Cup champion.

When the final vote was taken, those casting their ballots may have had the words of Jimmie Johnson on their mind.

Prior to the first vote, those in the room went through the list of 20 nominees and discussed the merits of each.

“It’s very difficult because as the stories go on and you understand how each individual has played such a large part in NASCAR’s history, they are all worthy,” Johnson said Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “It’s not an easy day trying to make your decisions.”

But when Hornaday’s name came up, Johnson shared why he thought Hornaday was worthy of the Hall of Fame.

A voter due to his status as defending Cup champion, Johnson’s support of the 51-time winner in the Truck Series isn’t out of the blue.

If anyone was going to go to bat for Hornaday, it would be a future Hall of Famer and fellow California native who, along with Kevin Harvick, called Hornaday’s living room couch his home at the beginning of his career.

“That man loves racing and has given so many an opportunity,” Johnson said. “I didn’t know him back when he was based in California and his short track roots. I knew who he was, although I wasn’t focused on asphalt racing.”

Johnson grew up in El Cajon, California, three hours south of Hornaday’s roots in Palmdale.

“I met him through some different Chevrolet functions,” Johnson said. “He and (his wife) Lindy (Hornaday) 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.”

About three months later, Johnson came East to drive a late motel car owned by Hendrick Motorsports general manager Jimmy Johnson (no relation).

The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet took the Hornaday’s up on their offer and became a resident on their couch.

“They wouldn’t let me move out,” Johnson said. “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.

“Their contributions to our sport, Ron’s contribution to our sport, not only include the amazing things he did on the track, but so many things off the track. I think he is going to be a great fit in the Hall and be very entertaining as the months go by and we are able to induct him.”

Hornaday, who last raced in the Truck Seres in 2014, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame with Robert Yates, Red Byron, Ken Squier and Ray Evernham.

Johnson wasn’t able to talk to Hornaday in the aftermath of the announcement. But he reached out to his former host Thursday morning on the way to the track. Hornaday was already back at work.

“He was running a fork lift somewhere doing something,” Johnson said.

When Hornaday goes before he peers in January for his induction, he can thank a fellow driver from California for the helping hand.

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