MARTINSVILLE, Ind. – After several weeks of uncertainty and job searching, Hudson O’Neal has found his next opportunity in dirt late model racing, and it’s a familiar one to his family.
The 19-year-old O’Neal will serve as the lead driver for the reactivated MasterSbilt Race Cars program, chasing the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series championship for the same team that his father, Don O’Neal, once piloted entries for several years ago.
The Crothersville, Ind.-based chassis manufacturer, which hasn’t raced on a national scale since a short-lived Lucas Oil tour run with Ray Cook in 2014, looks to contend for top honors on the road with the second-generation O’Neal.
O’Neal won the Jackson 100 at his home track, Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway, to pocket $15,000.
“This is a really good opportunity,” O’Neal told SPEED SPORT by phone Saturday afternoon. “It’s always a relief when you know you have a job; that helps and it definitely takes a lot of stress off my shoulders. But I think this is going to be good for not only me, but for MasterSbilt Race Cars. We have an amazing opportunity to do something for me and them here, by getting them back out on the road and to sell some race cars to hopefully get MasterSbilt back to where it once was.
“All in all, I think this is a great opportunity for me, Tader and all of the people who are serving as a part of this deal,” he added. “It all works out really well, I feel like.”
O’Neal admitted that Saturday’s announcement came together in the weeks following the World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte, and that it was thanks to his father that he was able to slide into the seat for Tader Masters and the MasterSbilt operation.
“This all started with my dad; he’s had that relationship with the Masters family for a while and they’ve always meant a lot to the O’Neal family where we’ve always had a close relationship with them,” the younger O’Neal explained. “But it originally started with dad and was something that he was looking to do if his deal with Bowyer didn’t work out (Don O’Neal is still working on plans with CBR for 2020). All the cards just played right, with my deal not working out again. So it all just came together really nice.
“This is not something that I have thought about personally for a long time; it’s been about a two-week process for me and it maybe happening with me, and I’m just thankful it’s all working out.”
O’Neal will drive a yellow paint scheme and carry his now-familiar No. 71, nodding back to his father’s days with MasterSbilt, when Don O’Neal earned four top-five finishes in the Lucas Oil standings and won multiple crown jewel events, including two North/South 100s, the Dirt Late Model Dream, the Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals and the Silver Dollar Nationals.
The move to MasterSbilt comes on the heels of Hudson’s departure from the Todd Burns-owned SSI Motorsports team, which recently announced it would not field a dirt late model in 2020.
O’Neal spent nearly four years under Burns’ tutelage and had a breakout year this season, winning four times with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and finishing the campaign seventh in points.
Now, he’s looking forward to the next chapter with another owner that he and his family consider a close friend.
“It’d be nice to go out and light it up like we did this year. We won those four (races) with Lucas and then won the prelim at Eldora … but we also have to keep in mind that this might not happen overnight,” O’Neal noted. “There is a big learning process that we’ll have to go through with not only me, but for these race cars too. So it’s going to be really good to just kind of feel everything out.
“We’ll see what we have in our favor and go from there,” he continued. “We’ll kick it off during Speedweeks and see where all it goes after that, but I’m excited man, I really am.”
While full sponsorship for the effort is still in the works, the team will receive Jay Dickens engines from Indiana’s Jim Beeman, who will support the team during the upcoming year.
“We’ve had a great relationship over the years with the O’Neal family, and it’s definitely exciting to have an O’Neal back in one of our race cars,” Masters said. “The hope is that this works out well for all of us. It’s tough out there (on the road) though, and no one will cut you any slack or give an inch. You have to go out there and earn it. We have a long way to go to put this all together, so that’s what we’re working on now and we’ll start next season and see how we fire off.
“Hudson and I have talked about it and we both know that this deal is going to be an uphill battle, but we’ll both give it our best and see what we can do with it.”