Jimmy Hardin enjoying his success in Grand Stock Division
Jimmy Hardin is enjoying being the man to beat in Grand Stocks at Old Dominion Speedway. For the 39-year old Pomfret, Md. resident, sitting in first place is a new experience. Hardin, who has raced Late Models for 20 years at ODS, had his best season last year with a sixth-place finish.
But it was not points that made it a high watermark season for Hardin — he has finished sixth several times in his Late Model career. It was because he ran competitively in the last two months of the season after he had a new front clip put on his Late Model Pontiac.
In fact, Hardin came very close to claiming his first victory in two races. One occurred when Hardin was leading a 75-lap race for 65 laps until Mark McFarland bumped Hardin out of the lead. The other was when Hardin finished second to Mike Southard in a race in which Hardin pressured Southard for most of the race but drove him clean.
“The way Jimmy drives clean is just awesome,” said Southard. “He’ll give you a line every time.”
“[Southard] was doing a great job of pinching me down and taking advantage of me driving him clean,” remembered Hardin. “If it had been somebody else, they would’ve knocked him out and I’m not going to do that.”
In fact, Hardin says that in the three mishaps with Chris Donnelly this season in Grand Stocks, that he did not deliberately try to knock Donnelly out of the race. In all three races, Hardin was trying to pass Donnelly who was leading when the two got tangled up.
“I don’t drive like that,” commented Hardin. “Donnelly’s tough. It was just tight racing and he’s not giving enough and I’m trying to take it. It’s good racing. Chris was loose and he knows it. I’m underneath him and I’m trying to get it and he’s trying to protect it and it happened. That’s just racing.”
After joining car owner Ron Wolfe, Hardin is having an even better season running in the Grand Stock division than he had last year. He not only leads Willard Lawrence in the points race by 14 but has six victories, the most in the division. And since June, when he took the lead in the points race after Lawrence’s DNF, Hardin has had the dominant car in Grand Stocks.
“It’s been pretty good,” said Hardin, who added that driving for Ron Wolfe has given him the financial freedom and time to be able to compete better this season. “Ronnie’s got a great bunch of guys on the crew. And I enjoy working with Art, Chad and Don and all the guys. And Ronnie and I just click. People said that we would never get along because we’re both stubborn but we haven’t argued once, which is amazing.
“Most teams argue at certain points in the year. It’s amazing how we get along. Ronnie’s dedicated to racing. I thought I ate and slept racing, but it’s nothing compared to him. In racing season, it’s nothing but racing for him. His focus is unbelievable, and we talk every day about things we want to try on the car. I really enjoy that.”
Hardin says that the thing he likes best about driving for Wolfe is the total team effort. Wolfe’s crew has been together for twelve years and works well together. And one of the team’s strengths is communication. Hardin is good at pointing out what the car is doing and the team is good at making adjustments.
With only six races remaining, Hardin knows that his slim lead can come crashing down at any time. Donnelly, who has three wins and is in fourth place, is only 30 points back and can still catch all three drivers in front of him if they have a bad night.
This weekend’s twin 25-lappers promise to be interesting and pivotal in the Grand Stock race. “If we can come out of there Saturday with the same lead,” said Hardin, “it’s going to be good for us. I’ll be happy just staying the same. The top four of us [in the division] are racing for it and they’re all tough.”
Hardin reports that he could have been content to stay in Late Models but that he did not have enough help. His crew chief, Glen Woodham, left to work on Stan Owen’s team, and Hardin’s oldest son moved to Nebraska. That left only Hardin and his 14-year old son to work on the car.
Hardin says he knew it was time to try something else when he had his young daughter helping him put the car together over the winter. At the beginning of the 2000 season, Wolfe and Hardin had discussed getting together but then Wolfe decided to go with Greg Compton, with whom he’d won a track championship.
“I couldn’t fault him for that,” said Hardin. “Even though everybody knew me, I just didn’t have the name, the wins, and all the other good stuff. But I’m glad I got the opportunity this year to prove myself to him. I’m having the most fun that I’ve had in years at the track.”