TRACKSIDE with RICK MINTER - August 15, 2016

TRACKSIDE with RICK MINTER – August 15, 2016

Senoia Raceway fans, drivers, crew members and family can look forward to this new weekly blog from journalist Rick Minter.  Rick has been reporting on motorsports at Senoia Raceway and elsewhere since 1976.

Minter

 

 

 

Back in the day, before Senoia Raceway was ever an asphalt track, Jr. Hardy was one of the stars of the so-called “lower” class races, those under the elite Late Model division.

 

He was a part of the Hardy clan, the racing group founded by his father Billy Hardy.

 

Billy did the driving himself until a crash in which he landed upside down with a fire involved.  That led him to look for others to drive his cars.

 

After a few others took turns in the car, Hardy’s brother Gene offered to try his hand.  That proved to be a successful combination as Gene Hardy became a mainstay of racing at tracks like Senoia, West Atlanta Raceway (Seven Flags Speedway in its later years) and Coweta Raceway.

 

In 1979, Billy Hardy Jr. (decided to give racing a try. In his third start, at West Atlanta, Jr. (he prefers that spelling to Junior) got the first of about 150 career wins.

 

He continued to race and win at several local tracks including Senoia, even after the track was paved.  He also raced at Lanier Raceway in Gainesville, until about 13 years ago.

 

Like many a racer with a long career behind him, Hardy tried to hang up his helmet and find something less consuming to occupy his time.

 

But the Hardy family ties, especially where racing is concerned, are as strong as ever.

 

That eventually brought Jr. back to the sport.

 

Here’s how it happened this time around.

 

Jr.’s sister’s family, the Harmons, were racing at Senoia.

 

When Jr.’s brother-in-law Tim Harmon built a car, he asked Jr. if he could use his old car number, 01.

 

Jr. figured he wouldn’t ever need it again, so he gave his approval.

 

Then, the No. 95 Bomber car, painted like Lightning McQueen’s ride in the movie CARS to please the Harmon kids, became available.  Blake Harmon, Jr.’s nephew, had been driving that car but decided to move up to the Hobby division.

 

Jr. was recruited to drive the Bomber version of the No. 95.

 

“It’s still a family thing,” Jr. said of the series of events that brought him back to the sport after more than a decade away.

 

On his first night back behind the wheel, Jr. told those around him that he was going to ease back into competition.

 

“I told them I’d just start in the back and kind of ride around,” he said.

 

That plan only lasted a few laps. He drove up to fourth that night.  Then, after another fourth-place finish, he won this past Saturday night.

 

Just like the first time around, he won in his third start, only this time he was 57 years old.

 

Ironically, the car he had to beat was the No. 01, his old car number now being campaigned by his brother-in-law Tim Harmon.

 

It was turn-about in a strange way, as Hardy found himself in a position many others have over the years at Senoia – trying to outrun the No. 01.

 

Now, with another victory under his belt, Jr. has the enthusiasm of his youth again.

 

“I tried to stay away from racing, but I got bit,” he said. “I’ve got the fever again.”

 

As a journalist, that makes me happy.  Over the years I’ve rarely found a driver that seemed to appreciate the role of the media more than Jr.

 

In that sense, I’d place him right up there with Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

 

The late Gary Cornwell, Randy’s dad, and I used to have that discussion.  He wrote a lot of stories about Jr. as well.

 

When I went up to talk to Jr. at the track the other night, it didn’t seem like it had been 15 years since I’d seen or talked to him.

 

It was really good just to catch up with him and talk about the good old days and the things that have happened to the both of us in the years since we last saw each other.

 

Seeing him take the checkered flag a couple of races later made me feel a little younger myself.

 

Seeing someone my age, that I’ve known for most of my life, out there winning again makes me feel like I’ve got the fever again too.

 

Thanks Jr.

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