The Nationwide Series isn’t the exact place Sam Hornish Jr., wanted to be for the 2013 season, but you won’t ever hear the Defiance, Ohio, native complain. As a former Indy Car champion and Indianapolis 500 winner, Hornish Jr., is just happy to be getting a shot at one of NASCAR’s premier racing titles.
After capturing the aptly named Sam’s Town 300 in Las Vegas earlier this season, Hornish Jr., has established himself as a legitimate threat to capture the Nationwide crown. In this interview, the driver of the #12 Penske Racing car talks about the infamous wreck at Daytona earlier this year, why Christian faith is so visible in NASCAR and how his kids are impacted by ministry at the track:
Chad Bonham: You narrowly escaped the nasty wreck at the season opener in Daytona this year. What do you remember about the way that race ended?
Sam Hornish: When you run these Nationwide cars at a place like Daytona with the tandem drafting we have going on right now, there’s not a lot that you can see. I was pushing the 33 car and all I could see was his rear spoiler. The rear spoiler goes up high enough to where you can’t see through his car at all. So I’m putting a lot of faith in my spotter that he’s going to tell me when something happens with the cars in front of me. Everything happened so quick and he just told me that the people that were one and two were getting together. About the time he said that, the 33 turned hard left and I went from seeing the tail lights of the 33 to seeing the tail lights of the 22 in just a matter of a few ten thousandths of a second. I did my best to stay away from him and ended up getting into the back of the 22. They were already wrecking. We were lucky at that point to graze off someone who was basically out of control. I was trying to hold on to my car because in trying to avoid hitting him, I hit the grass and that sent my car sideways. Once I got to the start finish line, I just locked the brakes down and couldn’t do much. I didn’t see anything that happened behind me but I watched the replay on a TV from pit road. That’s when I knew it was obviously pretty bad.
Bonham: What was your initial thought when you saw the wreckage make its way to the grandstands?
Hornish: We know the risks of drivers. Racing is very much a reactive sport. But you never imagine that something could happen to the fans. They try to make things safe with the fences but a lot of the reason so much debris got through the fence is because of the walkway there that the fans use to go out on to the front straightaway before the race starts. Those are things you can’t do if you’re a fan of another sport. You don’t get to walk on the football field before a game starts. That’s part of what makes racing such a popular sport for the fans. But unfortunately that example of being fan friendly is probably what got people hurt.
Bonham: NASCAR is perhaps more outward in its embrace of the Christian faith than any other pro sport. How do you explain that?
Hornish: I think a lot of our fans are generally Christians. Our country was initially founded on faith and I think we need to keep all of those things in NASCAR. I don’t know how all the drivers feel about it but I know there are a lot of guys in the Nationwide Series that go to chapel. There are all sorts of Bible studies going on. I know where I stand in my beliefs and I think the prayer before the race is a great thing.
Bonham: With two young daughters, how important is the ministry that Motor Racing Outreach provides to kids at the track?
Hornish: It’s awesome to have that there. At Daytona, my little girl made a “Joy Journal” with all the things she’s thankful for. She’s all about saying her prayers before bedtime. Both my girls enjoy going over there and playing and going to Bible school. Sometimes they’re over there from nine a.m., in the morning until eight at night. They have an Easter egg hunt. They do Father’s Day and Mother’s Day activities. They have a Fall Festival. It’s a great thing to have.
Bonham: Why is charity such an important part of your life as a professional athlete?
Hornish: I’ve been very blessed. When much is given, much is expected. I want to be able to give back. I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve got two healthy kids, a healthy wife. I might have had some setbacks career wise, but at the end of the day, I’m pretty far ahead of the game. I should want to help people. That’s part of the deal. I enjoy it. I’m glad that I have an opportunity to do that.
This interview with Sam Hornish Jr., was one of over 50 conducted for a Judson Press book called Faith in the Fast Lane set to release in January of 2014. This book chronicles NASCAR’s rich faith story and include additional commentary from legendary drivers such as Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett, Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte, Darrell Waltrip and Phil Parsons.