There are few drivers on the central Pennsylvania sprint-car circuit as accomplished as Thomasville's Greg Hodnett.
And the former World of Outlaws driver doesn't show any signs of slowing down any time soon.
Hodnett, 44, finished on top during the recently concluded Pennsylvania Sprint Car Speedweek, winning one race during a grueling 10-day stretch. It marked his third Speedweek title in five years.
Hodnett followed that up by driving his Trone Outdoor Motorsports No. 39 racer to victory in last Thursday's Premier Auto Works feature at Lincoln Speedway. And had it not been for a blown cylinder with 10 laps to go on Saturday at Williams Grove, Hodnett may very well have earned another victory at the Mechanicsburg-area track against the Outlaws. Despite the car trouble, the Tennessee native was able to hang on to finish second against a field stocked with some of the best drivers in the world.
We caught up with Hodnett recently for this edition of Sports Q&A.
How did you get your start in racing?
"My dad and my grandfather had cars and my dad raced all my life. It was just something that we did. Some people go fishing, some people go hunting, but we go racing. I started when I was 16 and have been doing it pretty much ever since."
How difficult is it to win a Speedweek title?
"It's very challenging because you have a points system that basically rewards (consistency). Every time you're at the race track it counts for something. Any time that you don't perform, it basically takes away, but when you do perform, you can make a big gain. So it's a balancing act on trying to do the best that you can. And with the competition, as it was for this Speedweek, I think 14 teams competed in every race and I think another 6-8 competed in all but one. So it was a tough week for everybody. And then you add on the heat and the grind of all the successive days of racing and it's pretty challenging, but also very rewarding."
What is a typical race week like for you when there isn't Speed week or the World of Outlaws in town?
"Usually it's two days. Friday and Saturday is the normal weekend, and at least once a month there's a three-day weekend."
How do you decide in which races you're going to compete?
"Pretty much the way we do it is three things. The easier the race is to get to, obviously those are the ones that we're going to concentrate on. The ones that pay more money, those are usually the ones that we try to go to. So those are two factors. The other is convenience for the program. If we're short on motors or, if we blow up a motor and don't have a really good one to say, go to Eldora (two weekends ago) -- which is a $50,000-to-win race that we normally go to -- but we didn't go, because we're down to basically one motor in a car, that we hurt (a few weeks ago) and a spare that's nine years old. So there are factors that go into it like what is going on at that time."
So are you kind of disappointed that you didn't go to Eldora?
"Yeah. It's a big race and we've done OK in it, so obviously it's a disappointment to not get to go back and try to compete against the best in the world. But that's the way the cards fell and that's just the decision that we had to make."
What's your favorite race track and why?
"Probably my favorite track is Knoxville, Iowa. It's just a very fast, very unforgiving, very physical track and it pays the most money. All those being factored in, it's just a huge challenge and it fits my style of racing, which is pretty much the reason I like it."
So how would you describe your racing style?
"I try to drive very straight and get a lot of momentum. So a place like Lincoln doesn't really warrant that type of style. Now we can adapt and do OK, but it doesn't really fit in with what I grew up doing."
Is that because Lin coln is a smaller tracker?
"Yeah. Smaller and tighter corners."
Have you ever won at Knoxville in your career?
"Yeah. We won a preliminary night and we ran second at Nationals (in 1997). I ran a top-five a couple of times at Nationals, which is our biggest race of the year. It pays $150,000 to win. So we've won a preliminary night but not like the Nationals for the main night."
Was finishing second at Nationals your favorite moment in driving?
"I think winning the Williams Grove National Open back in 2009 was pretty special. My dad was there. We always run good at that race, but just not good enough to win it. So that's a pretty big race. ... the biggest on the East Coast anyway."
Racing can be very dangerous when the racing is tight. Have you ever experienced a major injury as the result of an accident on the track?
"Oh, yeah. I've crashed a lot. Yeah, just this year I broke my hand and a couple of years before that I broke my legs. I've broken my shoulder and have had five concussions that I know of for sure. So, yeah it's hard to keep track."
How did you wind up in Thomasville all the way from Mem phis?
"Basically I was racing with the World of Outlaws and actually got fired in 1998. And the guy they replaced me with was from here, so we just basically swapped rides. So I've pretty much lived here, off and on, ever since."
How tough is it to compete with the World of Outlaws as opposed to what you're doing now?
"Honestly, it's tough everywhere. It's tough in California, and I raced out there for a couple of years. It's tough in Australia, and I raced there for a while. The guys that run there day-in and day-out, know their tracks and their stuff so it's just tough everywhere. Now the Outlaws are more challenging because you go to different places every day and race. And not just against your fellow Outlaws, but they're racing against a pretty strong contingent of local racers. That's what they do everywhere. It's just tough anywhere you go. If it was easy, anybody could do it."
When they come into the area, what's it like to race against them on those nights?
"It's not really any different. You do the same thing you always do, but you just can't have any missteps, which is the biggest thing. The tougher and the deeper the competition, you can't have any issues. That's really the biggest difference."
Who's your biggest rival on the circuit?
"I don't know. I feel it's just me against the world. I don't know that there's any one person that is someone I'd say is tougher than anybody else. Everybody is tough. It all comes down to racing the track and doing what we need to do and hopefully it's good enough to beat everybody."
Have you ever had a chance to move up into the higher echelons of racing -- NASCAR or Indy Car?
"One time I did try to do some sprint-car racing on asphalt to see if I could go that direction, but really only attempted to race one race and it didn't work out the way I hoped. When you get to my age it's hard to break into something different. So unless you're in your early 20s, it's not going to happen basically. I did go down to Texas Motor Speedway in 2000 and was lined up to take the rookie orientation for the Indy Car series, but unfortunately it rained and I didn't get a chance to do it."
How big of a bummer was that?
"It was pretty disappointing, but you know things happen for a reason and life goes on. I don't get too worried about it. It was OK but it wasn't exactly where I wanted to be or what I wanted to do anyway. It was just an opportunity to see what it was all about and what it was like."
Reach Ryan Vander sloot at sports@yorkdis patch.com.