Colton Horner coming of age in Dirt Late Models

By Phil Whipple Staff Writer (Photo By: Jay Hallas)

KATY, Texas — In the ultra-competitive world of dirt late model racing, the older veterans can be hard to compete against. They’ve turned thousands of laps, know the right lines at most tracks and don’t take kindly to young, throttle-mashing racers looking to make a name for themselves.

Yet for 16-year-old Katy, Texas, native Colton Horner, earning respect from the veterans wasn’t all that difficult. Horner went from Micro Sprints directly into a Late Model in 2015, and in the last three years has made huge strides in running fast, driving smart and being in contention when the checkers fly.

This season, he’s already made 12 starts and earned one win (I-37 Speedway, Mar. 6). Horner’s No. 56 Modern Motorsports entry is considered a solid and competitive entry everywhere the team unloads.

“We went down to Brunswick, Georgia, at the start of this year for the first race of Speedweek with the Lucas Oil Series,” Horner said. “We blew the engine that first night, which really hurt. So we called Jack Cornett, who builds our engines now. He sent us an engine and we headed to East Bay Raceway.”

Known as the ‘Clay by the Bay,’ East Bay was not particularly kind to the young Texan.

“I made one A Main on the Wednesday of that week, which was probably my best night down there. I ran toe-to-toe with Tim McCreadie in the B Main, but ended up struggling the rest of the week. We had some issues on the car, and the work couldn’t be done at the racetrack. We knew it would be tough.”

Horner knows that running against the seasoned veterans is how you learn, despite the struggles.

“I actually set the second fastest time there one night right behind Earl Pearson Jr.,” Horner added. “Of course, Scott Bloomquist went out and put down a lap faster than both of us. I ended up starting outside Row 1 in my Heat, and blew a power steering line on the second lap. My arms gave out in six laps.”

After his less-than-stellar six-race ordeal down south, Horner returned home to Texas. Back in familiar territory, his luck was bound to improve.

“We went to Texarkana for our first race closer to home, and had minor engine trouble. It just broke a spring retainer. I took it to Jack’s shop and he fixed it right away. That was going to be our first race with our new frame, I put a new front clip on the car in the off-season and we wanted some feedback.

“We were out there testing with Billy Moyer Sr. and BJ Robinson and some other fast guys. I ran the fastest times there until Moyer edged me by a tenth towards the end of the session. We were about to race the thing when that spring retainer let go. But we’re all squared away now, and I’m thrilled.”

Horner said not only did the mega-talented and respected Cornett improve the team’s engine program, two other individuals are key to the strong performance his Black Diamond chassis can deliver.

“Jack does a great job, and our carburetor builders are key, as well. Winning Edge and S&S have both treated me right. It’s a gamble sometimes with engines and carbs, but these guys are the very best.”

Once the issues under the hood of the 56 car were fixed, things quickly started to improve.

“We had a great run at I-37, that’s for sure,” Horner said. “It was kind of a test night, we were just feeling the car out and shaking it down. After that win, we were going to go race in Wheatland, MO, but that event rained out. We were sitting in Dallas when the MLRA got called.”

There can be a lot of hours in the truck, and weather has been a real issue this year in the southeast.

“We were going to go to Coburn, VA, for the Spring Nationals, but that rained out. We were sitting in Nashville, so we headed to Smoky Mountain Speedway. I had never been on a half-mile track, and we missed the gear ratio a bit. I’m better on the small tracks, but I’ll get there with more experience.”

Horner has several key people and marketing partners who keep his program moving forward. Like every driver working hard to improve, it takes good people around them to make it all happen.

“I have an incredible race team behind me,” Horner explained. “First off my father, David, does a ton for me and I couldn’t do this without him. I really appreciate all of his efforts. My Grandfather, Leon, is also a key part of this team. My crew chief, Keith Starnes, is a smart man and pushes me hard.

“When I think I’m doing well and running fast, he tells me to get up on the wheel and find more speed. That’s good for me, especially when we run those big national events. I also have Casey Edgerly, who does everything around here and does it well. Together, these guys make up one very solid race team.”

It not only takes good people to succeed in dirt Late Model racing, it takes financial support, as well.

“I’m blessed to have Hass Horizontal on board, and they are a terrific partner,” Horner said. “They do all kind of horizontal boring, like on big road jobs, and help us out a lot. I truly value their support.”

Kody Hardage runs the Southern Texas Late Model Series. He’s watched and raced against Horner, and says the young driver has some special qualities.

“Colton first started racing with our series in 2015,” Hardage said. “He showed at a very young age, for that level of racing, to have the car control needed to race at any level. I know he works hard both on and off the track to continue to improve his racing program.”

Hardage has followed Horner’s progress closely over the last four years. “While he took some time off during the 2018 season, he continued to support the STLMS as he and his grandfather traveled to several races to watch, hang out and even help fellow racers.

“I watched Colton’s maturity behind the well really develop as he got back behind the wheel late last year. That development really showed in that door-to-door battle with Tim McCreadie at East Bay.”

In early March, Horner turned a lot of heads (including mine) with that feature ictory at I-37.  

“Colton drove a very calm and calculated race at I-37 to pick up the win against a hard-charging Cody Leonard, who probably has more laps around there than any active driver,” Hardage added.

When all is said and done for 2019, Horner will look back and reflect on the team’s performance.

“I’m just hoping we can continue to improve, and to be a contender in the bigger races. If we keep working hard like we’re doing and making good strides, then it will have been a successful season. We strive to find more speed and to be consistent. If we can do that, the wins and top fives will come.”

Photo Credit: Jay Hallas