Bobby Hillin Jr. grew up in a racing family – just not the kind in which he wound up driving.
His father fielded Longhorn Racing, a staple on the Indy car circuit for many years as the younger Hillin grew up around his father’s team.
“I guess I was probably 12 or 13 years old when I first went to the Speedway,” said Hillin, 46, from his office in Houston. “I was 14 years old when I lived in an apartment off Turn 4 when I worked a summer with one of the USAC teams out of Gasoline Alley.
“I actually think it did help me when we went to race there. I remember rooting for my father’s cars and A.J. Foyt. I remember when I made the decision to run stock cars instead of Indy cars. When I heard the news (about the Brickyard 400), I was probably more excited than anybody about getting to race at Indy.
“Doing all that, ate at all the restaurants out there, when we went there with the stock cars, I felt I was right at home.”
He called his decision to run stock cars “circumstantial.”
“I ran five NASCAR races when I was pretty young,” he said. “The Indy cars were running 16 or so times a year, and there were 32 stock car races. I told my dad that I wanted to race more.”
As it turned out, he never did drive an Indy car.
“I was scheduled to test on a road course the year my father stopped racing, so it didn’t happen,” he said. “I got to test Al Unser Jr.’s Super Vee at Riverside, and that’s probably as close as I came.”
At the Brickyard 400, he made three starts and qualified fifth in 1996. His best finish was 21st in the inaugural event in 1994.
“I was friends with Pancho Carter, and he helped me on how to look at the track and how to think about the track the year I qualified fifth,” Hillin said. “The thing about the Brickyard, I felt I could get around there pretty good. The first year I went with Bill Elliott and took the speedway car, and it was the wrong car. We went from 50-something quickest the first day to 30-something the second day.
“I always felt like I had a good opportunity there. If there’s anything in racing you’d like to do again, the Brickyard is it.”
Hillin stopped racing for a living in 2000 and hasn’t been back to the Speedway since. He ran a friend’s short-track stocker for fun in 2006 and competed in a Nationwide race in 2009 at Texas.
Today, he’s an industrialist in the oil business, operating two concerns, one dealing with vacuum excavation and the other with deep-water tiebacks for oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The rig that caused the spill would’ve been a potential customer,” he said.
“I would love to do the Brickyard again. If I could get a little testing and run a couple Nationwide races before that, I would definitely like to run the Brickyard again.”
Even though his career was in NASCAR, he still recalls — and brings up — a different highlight in his racing history.
“I was a kid sitting on the sidepod of the Indy car steering it as they pushed out to the line on Race Day one year. That was a fond memory.”
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