2024 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series at 34 Raceway

Hudson O'Neal To Replace Ricky Thornton Jr. At SSI Motorsports

Hudson O'Neal To Replace Ricky Thornton Jr. At SSI Motorsports

Hudson O'Neal has been officially hired as the new driver at SSI Motorsports, replacing Ricky Thornton Jr.

Jul 9, 2024 by Kevin Kovac

Hudson O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., will return for a second tour of duty with SSI Motorsports, taking over the seat left vacant after Sunday’s news that Ricky Thornton Jr. of Chandler, Ariz., had been released as the Morgantown, Ind.-based team’s driver.

SSI Motorsports owner Todd Burns issued a press release Tuesday evening announcing the hiring of O’Neal, the 23-year-old star who has been fielding his own newly-assembled team for the past two-plus months since leaving the Rocket Chassis house car ride in mid-March.

O’Neal, who entered the Super Late Model ranks driving for Burns in 2016 and developed into one of the sport’s top prospects with SSI before his release late in the ’19 season, will step into one of the division’s top programs. The formidable SSI crew — including crew chief Anthony Burroughs, D.J. Williams and Justin Tharp — will remain in place and O’Neal will bring along his crew member Nick Hardie to add more manpower.

“We are pleased that Hudson O’Neal will be stepping back into the SSI Motorsports car,” Burns said in his statement revealing his decision. “Having Hudson agree to take over the SSI Motorsports car allows our team to continue doing the outstanding job they do each and every day. Anthony, D.J and Justin work numerous hours to ensure that our cars are ready to be competitive for race day (and) Hudson will be bringing Nick Hardie, one of his crew members, over to join the SSI Motorsports crew.”

Burns also addressed how he's “regretfully parted ways” with Thornton on Sunday following four-plus years together that included a spectacular, million-dollar 2023 season and 16 wins through the first half of the ’24 campaign.

“This was not something we wanted or envisioned occurring,” Burns said. “We had been looking forward to the rest of the year and working toward a (Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series) championship with Ricky at the wheel. Over the past two years, the racing has been amazing and we have been very proud of our team.

“No team wishes to be split apart in the middle of the season, especially a winning season. As a business owner and team owner I have to make tough decisions. Since becoming a team owner, this was the hardest decision I have made. We do wish Ricky the best in whichever series he decides to run.”

O’Neal, who sits sixth in the current Lucas Oil Series points standings as he chases a second consecutive championship, is set to debut in SSI’s Longhorn Chassis during the national tours July 11-13 tripleheader at 34 Raceway in West Burlington, Iowa, Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill., and Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo.

“We want to thank our sponsors for their continued support during this transitional period and we look forward to getting back out on the track,” Burns said.