Ron Hornaday is the NASCAR Camping Word Truck Series’ all-time wins leader and only four-time champion.
But after losing a championship-caliber ride when Kevin Harvick Inc. disbanded its Truck Series program at the end of 2011, Hornaday spent the next two seasons in a wilderness of sorts while competing for a pair of young organizations that both lacked the funding and infrastructure to consistently challenge for wins.
Saddled with subpar equipment, Hornaday failed to win a race in each of the past two seasons — the first with Joe Denette Motorsports, the second with NTS Motorsports — and finished a career-worst 13th and 14th in points, respectively.
Having landed with one of the Truck Series’ top organizations, Turner Scott Motorsports, for the 2014 season, Hornaday is finally having fun again.
Tied for second in points with three races down, the veteran driver appears poised for a return to Victory Lane — possibly as soon as Friday night’s N.C. Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"After the last couple years of helping new teams out trying to get things started and all that stuff, to get with a team that’s already been formed for quite a bit and knowing that they’ve won a championship (with James Buescher in 2012) and what they’ve been doing and getting the opportunity to get in the trucks, man, I’ve got a lot of bounce in my step," said Hornaday, 55. "I am looking forward to it. This is the year where I can make or break me right now. I’m not a young pup like these kids coming in now. Mr. Turner (Steve Turner, co-owner) believes in me, and (sponsor) Rheem does, and all the guys are working their guts out."
For Hornaday, who over the course of his lengthy NASCAR career has competed for some of the sport’s premier organizations — Dale Earnhardt Inc., Richard Childress Racing and Kevin Harvick Inc. included — lacking speed with less-established organizations the past two years was a tough pill to swallow.
Not that Hornaday, whose last championship came in 2009 with KHI, found his struggles altogether surprising.
"You know that’s going to come because you’re building a new team," Hornaday said. "With NTS it was a brand new team and trying to build trucks for two teams and all that stuff, it’s tough. Just towards the end of the deal we were running fast, we were running good, we were running competitively. Just around the corner there were going to be wins coming. Whatever happened happened, but Bob (Newberry, NTS Motorsports owner) and I are still good friends.
"When Earnhardt releases you and Childress releases you and Bob Newberry releases you, it’s part of life in racing. There’s other alternatives down the road where a sponsor doesn’t want somebody that’s old and they wanted somebody younger or something like that, so I understand all that. No hard feelings with anybody. It’s just racing. With Rheem and Mr. Turner and Harry Scott and everybody giving me an opportunity, I think this is my year to rejuvenate."
With three top-10 results, including a season-best finish of fifth at Daytona, under his belt following the season’s first three races, Hornaday — long known as one the Truck Series’ fiercest, most aggressive drivers — seems to be regaining his mojo.
This much is certain: He’s convinced he can still win races and contend for championships.
"I wouldn’t be doing it if I couldn’t," Hornaday said of his decision to continue racing well into his 50s. "My wife would be the first one to tell me to get out, so I still feel comfortable, I still feel great when I get out of the thing. I feel like a little kid when you’re out there racing against these kids. It’s hard. I knew how to race against Jack Sprague, Mike Skinner and all them. These are all new kids coming aboard trying to learn how to race them. Each weekend is a learning experience because a lot of them came out of Late Models and they want to get their nose down in there, so it’s a learning experience for all of us."