MOTOR RACING / SHAV GLICK : Hornaday Looks to End Drought

Ron Hornaday Jr. has never won a NASCAR Winston West stock car main event, but he figures that Saturday night's $39,542 Valencia Dodge 200 at Saugus Speedway might be his best chance.

Saugus is his home track. The one-third mile bullring requires special driving, and Hornaday, a second-generation driver from Palmdale, has been successful there in everything he has driven. He won seven races in 1987, taking the track's modified stock car championship, and won three Southwest Tour main events at Saugus en route to championships in 1992 and '93.

Hornaday, 35, drives a Chevrolet Lumina for Wayne and Connie Spears, whose Spears Motor Sports team is based in Agua Dulce. Their cars have won two series championships, 14 races and nearly $400,000 since 1988.

Hornaday's crew chief, Bill Sedgwick, drove for Spears Motor Sports when he won Winston West championships in 1990 and '91.

And perhaps most significant, Hornaday's father, Ron Sr., was the Winston West series champion in 1963 and '64, when it was known as the Pacific Coast Late Model series. Hornaday's wife, Lindy, is the daughter of Bill Foster, another Saugus champion.

"Saugus is the smallest track on the circuit," Hornaday Jr. said. "It's the kind of a track where experience is important, so that should give me an edge there. Having Bill (Sedgwick) in my pits is a real big plus.

"Saugus is so small that you have to drive by Braille. You're so close to the car in front of you that you can't see what's going on. Bill has driven there so much, and is so familiar with my driving style, that he knows instinctively what I need to do. He talks me through every lap.

"He lets me know if there's oil on the track, or if there's an accident, he lets me know a half a lap ahead if I should go high or low."

Hornaday Sr., retired and living at Lake Isabella, smiled as he listened to his son discuss radio communication with his crew chief.

"In my day, all we had were pit boards and hand signals," the senior Hornaday said.

"Lots of things have changed. It used to be if you won the pole, the whole field was inverted and you had to fight your way up through the pack, which was usually 24 cars. I seem to remember I was always starting dead last.

"I always figured if you can get your car to win the race at Saugus, you can win at any track."

The younger Hornaday's hope is to win a Winston West race, and a championship, then take the team south to compete in Winston Cup races.

"The race I'm really looking forward to is the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis on Aug. 6," he said. "All the West Coast drivers have been invited."

Hornaday's best Winston West finishes have been two second places, including last year at Tucson Raceway Park.

"Spears' cars come to the racetrack ready to win, so the pressure is definitely on me to produce," he said. "You don't see a lot of mechanical problems and things falling off his cars. He has a good team, a good car and a full-time crew, so that pretty much leaves it up to me to keep the car up front."

The team's biggest problem might be in deciding which make of tires, Goodyear or Hoosier, to put on the Lumina. Hornaday won the 1992 Southwest Tour title on Goodyears and the '93 title on Hoosiers.

"We'll test them both before the race Saturday, and Wayne (Spears) and Bill will make the call," Hornaday said. "Whatever they decide, I'll drive as hard as I can and hope it's good enough."

If Hornaday had a fault during his development era, it was over-aggressiveness.

"Dad ran my team until this year, and the only time he scolded me was when he felt I was over-driving the car, when I tried to put the car where it shouldn't be," he said. "Dan Press (a former Saugus champion) was with me in 1991 and '92 and he did a lot to calm me down.

"I felt I always had the talent to go fast from the start, but Dan molded me into a more complete driver. In essence, he told me to let the car have its head."

His father believes the job is complete.

"I would put Ron in a class with Dale Earnhardt as far as their racing personality is concerned," Hornaday Sr. said.

The current racing era has seen father vs. son competition among the Pettys, Allisons, Andrettis and Unsers, but the Hornadays have never raced one another, except for an exhibition of past Saugus champions in 1990.

"Dad retired from full-time racing in 1975, but I remember when I was a kid I saw every race I could," Hornaday said. "Dad would go early to races and on Friday, right after school, my mom and my sister and I would drive to the race and then we'd all drive home together.

"I always thought that was neat, especially when I was in grade school and the next day all the kids would see my dad's name in the paper and ask me all about the race."

The 200-lap (66.6-mile), race will start at 7 p.m.

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