Being a Great Dad is Hornish's Life in the Fast Lane

May 31, 2021


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With the Memorial Day weekend in the review mirror, one of the key faces that was not seen at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing this year was Sam Hornish Jr. The Defiance, Ohio native was just fine avoiding the thrills at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over the weekend. Hornish spent the holiday exactly the way he wanted too – at-home with his wife Crystal and their three children: Addison (13), Eliza (10) and Sammy (7).

For Hornish, the time since he walked away from racing in 2017 has provided the opportunity to explore his more artistic and creative side. Around school functions and dance recitals he’s not the former Indianapolis 500 and INDYCAR SERIES champion, he’s simply Mr. Hornish. “I think it’s awesome that the kids like me for me, not because I used to be a race car driver. It’s nice to be able to just be a normal dad, volunteer at the school, meet a lot of these great kids and their parents. Racing was incredible, but the time commitment was daunting and you really lacked for time to do anything else.”

Hornish doesn’t just attend the dance recitals, he’s taken an active role in building props, including a fiberglass genie lamp.

“The dance instructor asked me if I could do a large cutout genie lamp for Aladdin and I thought, anyone can do a cardboard genie lamp,” explained the driver that captured 19 career INDYCAR wins and five NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) victories. “So I went home and started thinking about it. I spent a lot of time in INDYCAR around carbon fiber and fiberglass, so I built a structure and then used fiberglass to create a lamp that they could actually fit a few of the girls in to roll out on the stage.”

Other Hornish projects include a Volkswagen bus constructed for his son Sammy and a princess carriage for daughter Eliza at Halloween. Hornish views his post-racing life as a way to do many of the things he wasn’t able to do while competing professionally, particularly during his years racing in the NASCAR Cup Series and NXS from 2006-2017.

“I put a lot into my racing. At the end of the 2005 INDYCAR season I was 190 pounds. I knew that to continue to be competitive later in life, and even in that moment, I was going to need to dedicate to getting in better shape,” said Hornish. “So through the offseason and leading into the 2006 season I dropped down to 155 pounds, and likely put on around 15 pounds of muscle. I was cycling over two hours a day, running, lifting weights and yeah, physically I got a lot stronger and was in better shape, but it was the mental toughness that I forged through that time that really helped me in the closing laps of the 2006 Indianapolis 500.”

        

Hornish went on to continue racing for over a decade longer as he made the transition to stock car racing. In his final season, he competed in six NXS races for Team Penske in 2017, including the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, helping the team win its fourth series Owner’s Championship.

“When Crystal and I had Addison and I was racing in the Cup Series it was nice, we were able to travel together and always be a family. Then we had Eliza and Addison started school and by 2015 I was sitting in the bus at the track by myself and it started to feel more like a job and less like fun. I took some time to reflect on my career and the things I was most proud of.

“I think one of the things I’m most proud of was being part of the integration of Penske Racing Inc. and Penske Racing South,” recalls Hornish. “We’d been at the top of the mountain for decades in the INDYCAR world. The NASCAR team had some successful years, no doubt, but really the attitude at the time was that guys used Penske Racing South as a springboard to other NASCAR teams. So when the INDYCAR team moved to Mooresville from Reading (Pennsylvania), everyone on the NASCAR side got to see ‘Penske Lifers’ and understand that this was the premier place to be, that you’re working for Roger Penske and that’s an incredibly special thing. That’s really what Team Penske is all about, 60,000 people around the globe are part of the team.”

Hornish said that he tries to take many of the lessons he learned during his time with Team Penske and apply them to all aspects of his life.

“You look at Roger’s dedication to everything, attention to detail, stewardship, leaving things in a better place than you found them – those are the things I took away from him and that I try to make a part of my life every day,” he said. “Take the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for example. The Hulman-George Family, they were able to rescue Indianapolis from ruins and make some steady improvements, most of them were in the competitive areas of the facility.

“Roger buys the Speedway and his number one mission was to make the fan experience and amenities what we were accustomed to as competitors even better. Something like 76,000 buckets of PPG paint has gone into that place, large viewing screens, improved bathrooms, revitalized concession stands. And he’s there, on the ground level, instilling the Penske way, teaching customer service, cultivating that human capital.”

Hornish enjoyed Memorial Day Weekend 2021 at home, with Crystal, their three kids and his dad. For the Hornish family, the Indianapolis 500 will always be a part of their lives, whether they’re at the track or at home. They’ll be watching every lap, every Memorial Day Weekend.

“I grew up a fan of the Indy 500 and being able to compete in it was a dream come true, then to finally win it, that was surreal,” said Hornish, who made a breathtaking last-lap pass to win the 2006 race by .0635 of a second over Marco Andretti for the third-closest finish in the history of the iconic race.

When you ask Hornish about his desire to return to the world’s most famous speedway, his answer is simple. “I’ll go back to Indianapolis at some point. Right now, my kids still think it’s cool to spend time with dad and I can’t get these years back once their gone. I was extremely fortunate in my racing career but I’ve been even more blessed to be a father to three amazing kids.”

 

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