Sam Hornish Jr. stepped away from the NTT INDYCAR SERIES after the 2007 season and from the racing scene full time in 2017, but he might be more visible than ever.
That is, in Northwest Ohio.
Following the end of his NASCAR career about four years ago, Hornish and his family moved from Charlotte, North Carolina, back to where he grew up. Family is of the utmost importance to three-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Hornish, and he wanted to ensure his three children (two daughters and a son) got to spend precious time with their grandparents and others.
So, Hornish traded the fast-paced lifestyle of a race car driver to that of a family man, doing anything and everything to be the best husband and father.
“Even though staying down there and trying to pursue my career would benefit me, it didn’t benefit my kids that much,” Hornish said. “So, we came to the conclusion that I wanted them to have something that over the course of time you could never get back. We’ve been having a lot of fun being back here.”
You might think that means slowing down, but not for the driver who won championships in nearly half his INDYCAR career – three in seven seasons.
While in North Carolina, Hornish worked as a substitute teacher. (Imagine walking into class and Mr. Hornish, the 2006 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner, is giving you your math assignment.) But substitute teacher rules in Ohio are different, and Hornish has found other ways to donate his time and stay involved in the local community.
He works on trucks and helps run the family businesses, which includes Hornish Bros. Inc., a trucking and logistical services company. Hornish does speaking engagements to still lend a voice and have an impact on the younger generation. He also unleashes his creative side by building props and sets for plays, pageants and dance competitions for the local school productions in which his daughters are involved.
“If I told you what all I do you probably wouldn’t think that I stay very busy, but I don’t ever seem to have much free time,” Hornish said. “First and foremost is trying to be the best father and husband I can be and also being closer to home and helping my parents with their businesses.
“There’s a lot of ways I can donate my time. I do a bit of speaking, especially to more youth-oriented things, so there’s a fair amount of speaking I get to do. Talking about yourself, what your goals are and where you’ve made mistakes and what you’ve learned from it and trying to help people skip over some of those things is something that I’m passionate about.”
Hornish, 41, said he doesn’t regret his decision to step away from racing. He entered the sport at a young age so he could spend time with his dad. And while he was on the fast track to success in open-wheel racing, it was still that way. Rarely was Hornish at the racetrack without his family.
But as the years went on, it became harder for family to travel. His wife couldn’t always take time off work, and his children eventually started school. The racetrack became somewhat of a lonely place. If he had a good day, he celebrated in a motorhome by himself. If he had a bad day, he sulked in a motorhome by himself.
That wasn’t how it started, and it certainly wasn’t how he wanted it to be. That, he said, is what put an end to a successful career that lists him as one of the most distinguished INDYCAR athletes in recent times. The series champion in 2001 and 2002 for Panther Racing and 2006 for Team Penske, he amassed 19 career wins, 47 podium finishes, led 3,428 laps and finished with a career average finish of 7.8.
“Over the course of my life, from the time I was 18 until I was 38, I’d get on an airplane at least three or four times a week,” he said. “Since 2017, I think I’ve been on three flights. That’s a huge difference – 250 days on the road to basically only having a few nights here and there on the road. I’ve had a ton of fun being able to spend time with the kids and seeing them grow and enjoying their childhood.
While Hornish doesn’t regret that decision, he said he does miss racing and still stays in the loop with what is happening, watching races and “seeing everybody else play with their toys.” But Hornish is extremely grateful and appreciative of his career. It’s even hard for him to understand the degree of his success.
“It’s hard for me sometimes to look back at it and think about it,” he said. “For a time there, especially in INDYCAR, to say that one out of five or six races you win, and basically 50% of the championships, it hasn’t always been this easy. Sometimes it’s hard for me to compartmentalize it. I think it’s good to look back on those things. They were a part of my life, and every time I come to the Speedway or get to go to the IMS Museum, I enjoy it, but a lot of it feels surreal.”
Even through all the memories and all the appreciation, there’s no going back. Hornish said he’s an “all-in” kind of person. When he was younger, he was all-in on racing. Now, it’s time to be all-in on family.
“A lot of people say, ‘Why couldn’t you have just done a little bit of racing here and there,’ but for me it’s never been that way,” he said. “I’m kind of an all-or-nothing type of guy. To say that I’m just going to run a few times here and there and compartmentalize and not think about that the rest of the time, it doesn’t work that way for me. Once I get involved in the racing world, my life is pretty well ate up with it.”