2024 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series at Port Royal Speedway

Hudson O'Neal Dives Into The Realities Of His New Direction

Hudson O'Neal Dives Into The Realities Of His New Direction

Hudson O'Neal's new race team is off and running with Friday's Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series race at Georgetown Speedway.

Apr 27, 2024 by Kyle McFadden
Hudson O'Neal Dives Into The Realities Of His New Direction

Hudson O’Neal has been minding his own business these days, using these April weeks on the threshold of the busy spring season to ensure he’s both well prepared and well rested for the heart of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series schedule.

And he’s not only minding his business, but he’s been building a business for his burgeoning superstar driving talents.

There aren’t many 23-year-olds in the history of Dirt Late Model racing who have enjoyed World 100 and Lucas Oil Series championship runs at his young age. Now, being the overseer and point man of his new race team dubbed Hudson O’Neal Racing — one he’s swiftly assembled from ground zero since his March 12 departure from Rocket1 Racing — he’s set himself apart from his younger peers all the more without him trying.

Whether O’Neal felt ready to unveil his new-look No. 71 Longhorn Chassis team or not Friday at Georgetown Speedway, he had no choice but to accept the ranging highs and lows from a night that evoked emotions on both ends of those spectrums.

“It was good to be able to qualify good,” O’Neal told DirtonDirt.com after finishing 14th on a night he came out of the gate in his new equipment and earned fast-time honors. “Had an OK heat, then I backed up in the feature. We’re trying to work the bugs out. We’ve been so time-crunched trying to put this together. We lack so much, really, in the grand scheme of things.

“Yeah, (Friday) is frustrating. Don’t get me wrong. It hurts a little bit. No matter how new the team is, we have high expectations. We’ve all been doing this for a living. We all want to win. All in all, I think we have something to work with. We just have to get ourselves out of the way a little bit and see what we can do.”

The Martinsville, Ind., driver had been so pressed against time that he waited until roughly 10 p.m. ET on Thursday to announce his latest, greatest plans, not only for the rest of this season, but the race team he hopes he can build upon and win with into the prime of his career.

What’s important is he’s squared away the foundation of his new race team: A brand-new Longhorn Chassis that now has a grand total of 73 laps on it, a hand-me-down transporter purchased from SSI Motorsports, and a two-man traveling road crew.

Nick Hardy assumes the role as O’Neal’s crew chief after stints with Daulton Wilson’s Ratliff Motorsports team and Michael Brown of Lancaster, S.C. Whitley, Ind.’s Steve Baker — not to be confused with Rocket Chassis co-owner Steve Baker — serves as the tire specialist, among other roles, after working many years for MasterSbilt Race Cars.

O’Neal has strung together a nice list of partners and sponsors that bring life to his black, white and red No. 71, including Springfield, Mo.-based Wheeler Metals; Merrill Bonding Co. in Sallisaw, Okla.; Columbus, Ind.’s Professional Concrete Cutting & Drilling owned by his girlfriend Tessa SIms’s father Craig; his family’s O’Neal Salvage & Recycling; Bob and Tammy Burton; Bobcat of Batesville; USSSA of Indiana; Lucas Oil; and his former team owner Roger Sellers’s Smoky Mountain Speedway.

RELATED: Hudson O'Neal Opens Up On Rocket1 Racing Departure, What Could Be Next

“It’s been from 6:30 to 7 in the morning to midnight every night,” O’Neal said of the amount of energy he’s devoted to getting his new team off the ground. “It’s been a long — a very long — process to get here. All the work planning and trying to put it all together in a time crunch to make all the Lucas races. That’s made it a little harder. If we were just putting it together to race it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. It makes it harder to try and know you’re trying to compete for a championship and trying to put this all together at the same time."

Can O’Neal and his team that’s still working out the kinks make a serious bid toward the series title this year? With the Big River Steel Championship Four in play, O’Neal just has to hang on long enough inside the top four through Sept. 21’s cutoff race at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway to give himself a chance at the seven-race playoff.

O’Neal’s doing just that at the moment, holding onto an 85-point advantage over fifth-place Daulton Wilson and a 95-point cushion over Mike Marlar following Georgetown’s action. That margin could be greater if it weren’t for a tire rub that eventually blew out his left-front tire Friday on lap 33.

Starting fifth, O’Neal didn’t stay up front for long as the tire rub grew more problematic as the race wore on. He slipped back to 12th before the tire gave away.

“Yeah, I wish we would’ve found what our issue was (Friday) a little sooner,” O’Neal said. “Just difference in loads and different things.”

Getting the little things in order, like ironing out spring loads and accessories for the road life, can be just as tedious as laying the groundwork for a new team. For instance, O’Neal forgot an air chuck at home — the valve fitting that secures tire valve stems for inflating tire pressure.

“It’s just those little things, something so easy, that’s so simple, that everybody has tens of,” O’Neal said. “It just slips your mind. It is what it is. We have a whiteboard for a reason and a list of stuff we’ll have to make when we get back to the house. But that’s why we do it. That’s why we love it. Hopefully we can build and be here for the years to come.”

While O’Neal admits “it’s been a struggle” to piece together a championship-worthy team on the fly in the middle of the season, “it’s a good struggle” nonetheless.

“Man, I’ve enjoyed so much out of the last two weeks,” O’Neal said. “I’ve worked my butt off, but at the same time, it’s so enjoyable. To build something and to know you’re making it all come true, and knowing you can work on the race car again, it’s been great. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. No matter how our result ended (Friday), we’re headed in the right direction.”

After Saturday’s rainout at Hagerstown, O’Neal has a good chance to breakthrough with his new digs Sunday at Port Royal, a place that rewards good qualifying and go-getters like O’Neal. Last August, O’Neal swept to $55,000 at Port Royal’s Rumble by the River weekend, which empowered him to win the World 100 two weeks later.

“A lot of it is building a notebook off these cars,” O’Neal said. “A lot of it is, truthfully, I don’t really have a notebook. I’m not too familiar with everything yet. It’s just trying to get acclimated and comfortable with things. I just haven’t been comfortable later in the night. We have to work on that. But with the help of Kevin and everybody at Longhorn, we’ll get there.

“It’s great with what we’ve built and the way that we’ve done it. The way that we’re going about it, I think we can sustain it for a very long time.”