Sam Hornish, Jr is an American racing driver and Indianapolis 500 winner, currently driving in the Indy Racing League and the NASCAR Busch Series for Penske Racing.
Hornish began racing go-karts at age 11, in his hometown of Defiance, Ohio. In 1994, at the age of 15, Hornish’s winning tradition began when he took the checkered flag in 19 of 55 starts, on his way to winning the World Karting Association’s US Grand National Championship. After a dominating run in the karting circuit, Hornish moved to Formula Ford cars in 1996, and spent two and a half seasons in the U.S. Formula Ford 2000 series before moving to the Toyota Atlantic Championship.
After winning rookie of the year honors in 2000, Hornish set his eyes on the ultimate prize in racing — the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. PDM Racing held his ticket to the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” when he made his debut at the Brickyard in 2000. His performances as a rookie caught the eye of Panther Racing who went on to hire him for their 2001 Indy Racing League campaign. Panther’s decision to acquire the young Buckeye was rewarded immediately when Hornish claimed victories in his first two starts for the Team. In his 15 starts that year, Hornish earned five victories and 11 top-five finishes. After completing his first full season in the IndyCar Series, Hornish etched his name in the record books by becoming the youngest driver at that time to win an IndyCar Series race at the age of 21 and even more remarkably, the youngest driver to win a major open-wheel Championship in North America at the age of 22. His stellar 2002 season was capped by his second consecutive IndyCar Series Championship, making him the only driver to ever accomplish such a feat.
In 2003, Hornish’s lifelong dream came true when Marlboro Team Penske invited him to join the Team, replacing the newly retired Gil de Ferran in the #6 Dallara/Toyota for the 2004 season. Hornish quickly proved himself by winning his twelfth career IndyCar race in his debut with the Team. His victory marked the first time an Indy car driver has won in his inaugural run with the Team in the 37-year history of Penske Racing and the fifth time Penske Racing has begun an open-wheel season by capturing the checkered flag.
In 2006, Hornish added to his legendary racing status by becoming the first driver to win three Indy Racing League Championships. On his way to the Championship, Hornish conquered the world’s most famous race, winning the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500. He did this in dramatic fashion with a pass just yards from the finish line, establishing him as the first racer in the history of the Indianapolis 500 to win with a pass on the last lap. Known as one of racings most intelligent drivers, it has been said that Hornish can visualize his races several laps ahead, which allows him to set up passes and capture wins at the checkered flag. Because of his racing prowess, Hornish is commonly referred to as the “Tiger Woods of open wheel racing.”
Now in his eighth season in the Indy Racing League, Hornish has 58 top-five finishes, 75 top-ten finishes and 12 poles in 106 starts. At 27 years old, Hornish is the Series’ all-time leader in wins (19) and laps led (3,336), in addition to his unprecedented three Series crowns. Among his other accolades, Hornish has two of the three closest finishes in Indy Racing League history (.0024 over Al Unser Jr. at the 2002 Chicagoland Race and .0096 over Helio Castroneves at the 2002 Texas Motor Speedway) as well as two of the closest 1-2-3 finishes in Indy Racing League history (.0100 at the 2003 Chicagoland Race over Scott Dixon and Bryan Herta and .0468 at the 2001 Texas Motor Speedway over Scott Sharp and Robbie Buhl). He has been named “Oval Racer of the Year” by Racer Magazine in 2002 and 2006. Since his arrival into the IRL world, Sam has cemented a spot atop the league’s elite drivers, as he is a favorite to win every race.
While Indy Cars remain his passion, Hornish has branched into other racing arenas. He has competed in the International Race of Champions (IROC) Series, Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, and most recently made a foray into NASCAR by competing in a limited Busch Series schedule.