Ricky Thornton Jr talks previous late model rides and explains how the fill-in role for Hudson O’Neal came about
In late July, Hudson O’Neal announced that he would be required to have shoulder surgery. He’s expected to have 4-5 months of recovery time. That’s going to force him from the seat for the remainder of 2018. He’ll be back in the seat for 2019.
“I’m pretty sure it’s going to sit,” Hudson O’Neal told me on August 9th.
However, since then the car has seen a bit of a wrap change, actually two of them. There’s also a fill-in driver in the seat of what was formerly the #71.
Ricky Thornton Jr is now piloting the #20RT SSI Motorsports machine while Hudson O’Neal recovers from his successful surgery.
How did this deal come about?
“My buddy TC [Taylon Center] has been with these guys for awhile. When Hud got hurt there, he kinda just put it in their ears,” Ricky Thornton Jr detailed to RacingNews.co .
“They left the decision to Todd and Hudson. Probably more to Hudson. He really didn’t want anyone in the car. We talked and talked about it. Finally, he said he’d let me.”
Todd Burns is the owner of SSI Motorsports.
“I owe a lot of it to him. My buddy TC, we’ve been best friends for probably 20 years now. I owe a lot to him as well.”
Were you friends with Hudson at all leading up to this? Or did you have any communication in the past?
“Off and on. I ran with him on iRacing and stuff like that. We’ve talked and stuff before. Guys like Mike McKinney. We’re all kind of a big group. We all kinda talk and stuff.”
“We all know each other. But, we don’t get to run against each other a whole lot.”
For those that aren;’t aware, iRacing is an online racing simulator. Hudson O’Neal and Mike McKinney are both sponsored by the racing simulator service.
Notice I didn’t call it a game. It’s no joke. iRacing is the real deal and it’s liable to take over your life if you’re serious about running well. It’s also a bit of fun.
Unfortunately, Ricky Thornton Jr had a flood at his race shop. That brought damage to a few of his race cars and the entirety of his simulator rig. Both the digital and real world racing programs were hit by mother nature.
What was your experience with a dirt late model before this ride?
“Well, I’ve run a dirt modified since 2007. I ran a late model 2009-2011 and kinda off and on since then,” Thornton explains.
“I’ve probably got 100 races in a late model. It’s not totally new. But, new based on how much technology has taken off since the last time I raced one.”
Seven years in an eternity in terms of dirt late model technology. Essentially, it’s a entirely different class since his last time in the seat of a dirt late model.
Who did you drive for in 2009-2011?
“I drove for a guy named Jeff Manka.”
“I was in their spare car. If their main driver had a problem or something, they had a spare car. I actually won the championship both years.”
“They were taking a spare car to the track every week. I was driving it. In the first year, it was 11 races or something.”
To be clear, are you telling me that you won the championship in the backup car?
“Yup. I won the championship in the hand me down stuff. That kinda got my late model stuff going.”
That championship came in the SWDRA Series. It’s a dirt late model series that runs a handful of events in and around Arizona.
Now, for 2018, he’s running a handful of Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series events with SSI Motorsports. Thornton Jr made his first trip to Brownstown Speedway over the weekend.
On Friday, he put it at the top of the board in hot laps. That was done in his very first laps around the track. Weather washed out the show on Saturday. On Sunday, he went on to win his heat race.
Thornton started 3rd for the $20,000 to win Jackson 100 yesterday. He raced at the front of the field for the first half of the event.
As the track went through a change, he lost the balance and slipped back a few spots. He finished in 9th in the Jackson 100. Not bad for his first trip to Brownstown, Indiana.
Related: Mike McKinney comments on iRacing