One of the most successful drivers in the recent history of open-wheel racing, Sam Hornish Jr., enters a new chapter of his storied career in 2008.
The native of Defiance, Ohio begins his first full season competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Penske Racing driving the No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge Charger in ’08, coupled with a limited schedule in the Nationwide Series.
At the conclusion of the 2007 season, Hornish Jr. made the difficult decision to walk away from his very productive IndyCar Series career driving for Team Penske. After reaching the highest levels of achievement in open-wheel competition, he announced his full-time commitment to stock car racing in November 2007, focusing on the new challenge of competing in NASCAR’s premier series beginning in 2008.
The decision came after a very busy ‘07 season for Hornish Jr. In addition to defending his IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 championships from 2006, Hornish Jr. competed in multiple Busch Series races and made his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series debut in a Penske Racing Dodge at Phoenix, the site of his first Busch Series race one year earlier.
Hornish Jr. entered the IndyCar Series in 2001. It didn’t take long for him to etch his name in the series record books as he became the youngest driver ever to win an IndyCar Series race at age 21. He then became the youngest driver to win a major open-wheel championship in North America when he captured the IndyCar Series crown at just 22 years old. Hornish Jr. again found himself making history in 2002 when he became the only driver to win back-to-back IndyCar Series championships.
He joined Team Penske in 2004 and the pairing proved productive with IndyCar’s winningest driver excelling on its winningest team.
In 2006, Hornish Jr. added the crown jewel to his resume by achieving his ultimate pursuit of winning the Indianapolis 500. He captured the win in true “Hornish Jr.-fashion” as he started from the pole and made a pass on the final stretch of the final lap to steal the win from rookie Marco Andretti and once again make history. Hornish Jr. would go on to record four poles and three more race wins in ‘06, on his way to his third career IndyCar Series Championship and the first-ever series title for Penske Racing. At the end of the 2006 season, Hornish Jr. made his first foray into stock car racing, making a pair of Busch Series starts for Penske Racing.
In 2007, Hornish Jr. earned a race victory for his seventh consecutive season as he finished fifth in the IndyCar Series standings.
Following the conclusion of his eighth season in the series, Hornish Jr. remained the only repeat champion in IndyCar Series history. He has stood on the podium 47 times and produced 62 top-five finishes in 116 starts. At 28 years old, Hornish Jr. is the series’ all-time leader in wins (19) and laps led (3,428). Known for his late race passes, Hornish Jr. has been involved in four of the top-10 closest finishes in IndyCar Series history, winning three of them.
Hornish Jr. began racing go-karts at age 11. His winning tradition began four years later when he emerged victorious in 19 of 55 starts en route to the World Karting Association’s U.S. Grand National Championship. Hornish Jr. moved to Formula Ford cars in 1996. He spent two-and-a-half seasons in the U.S. Formula Ford 2000 Series before progressing to the Toyota Atlantic Championship.
In 2000, he joined the IndyCar Series to run a partial season with his eyes on the ultimate prize in racing – the Indianapolis 500. He made his debut at the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” with PDM Racing. His performances as a rookie caught the eye of Panther Racing, which went on to hire him for the 2001 IndyCar Series campaign. Panther’s decision was rewarded immediately when Hornish Jr. claimed victories in his first two starts for the team. He went on to win the series crown in his rookie season for Panther Racing. In his 15 starts in 2002, Hornish Jr. earned five victories and 11 top-five finishes. His stellar season was capped by his second consecutive IndyCar Series Championship.
In 2003, Hornish Jr.’s lifelong dream came true when Team Penske invited him to join the squad for the 2004 season. Hornish Jr. quickly proved himself by winning his 12th career IndyCar Series race in his debut with the team. His victory marked the first time an Indy car driver won in his inaugural run in the history of Penske Racing.
Although Hornish Jr. is a world-class racer, he has not forgotten his roots and still spends his free time bowling and playing poker with his hometown friends and family. Like most drivers, Hornish Jr. enjoys anything involving speed. He is an avid motorcycle enthusiast, riding his Harley Davidson “Fat Boy” and Big Dog motorcycle whenever he has a chance.
Hornish also enjoys customizing vehicles in his 5,400-square-foot garage in Defiance, Ohio. His current projects include a 1951 Mercury and a 1967 Chevrolet pick-up truck. A 2003 Chevrolet Silverado is Hornish’s most recent completed custom vehicle, equipped with air-ride suspension, 22” wheels and an audio-visual system hooked up to a 17” monitor and a PlayStation 2 console. His personal vehicle stable also includes a 2006 Acura RL, a 2005 GMC Sierra, a 2003 Chevrolet Silverado, a 1955 Chevrolet Del Ray, a 2007 Cadillac Escalade ESV, a 1977 Kenworth W900-A semi truck and a 2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z-06 he received for winning the 2006 Indianapolis 500.
Hornish Jr. not only enjoys racing and working on life-size cars, he’s also an avid radio control car enthusiast, with a collection of more than 15 cars and trucks that he’s built. The highlight of his “garage” is a fully-functional Hornish Brothers semi-truck complete with lights, authentic sounds, vibration and of course a powerful motor. The truck is modeled after the fleet owned by his family’s company, Hornish Brothers Inc. A self-proclaimed movie buff, Hornish has built a 225-square-foot media room in his new home to showcase his collection of over 350 DVDs. He currently resides in Napoleon, Ohio with his wife Crystal. The couple is expecting their first child in February of 2008.