- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Still, it was only greater Zanesville. Down South is something else, a big growling something called the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. The hard truth is that when it comes to stock cars NASCAR is to USAC what Pan Am is to Piedmont. Or as one sign in Zanesville inadvertently summed it up, "There is nothing Petty about Butch Hartman."
Richard Petty, king of the NASCAR Grand National circuit, has all the coveted perks, all the fame and good fortune Hartman is denied. The reasons for NASCAR's dominance over the USAC stocks are several: while the cars look alike, differentiated only by mechanical technicalities, NASCAR runs longer races for a lot more money at larger speedways; it is older and more established; it thrives in the heartland of the stock-car culture; it has national TV coverage; and it blows a mighty loud promotional horn.
All of which might be bearable, says Hartman, if he did not also have to suffer the indignity of being snubbed by his own association. " NASCAR has only one main division," he says, "and all the news is aimed at that. In USAC there are five divisions competing for the spotlight. The championship cars [ Indy 500-type] get most of the coverage."
It does not seem to matter that when some of the "big guys," as Hartman calls them, have deigned to enter a USAC stock-car race, Butch has beaten them all—Petty, A.J. Foyt, Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Al and Bobby Unser. Conversely, the few times Hartman has tested the high-banked ovals of NASCAR he has done well. In 1968 he became the first rookie ever to lead the Daytona 500; in 1971 he won the Pocono 500 and this year he finished second in the 200-miler at Talladega, Ala. "We don't say that we're the best," says Butch, "but we're competitive."
As one NASCAR hero discovered when he haughtily told Hartman, "Face it, Butch, you're not as good as we are," Hartman is also combative. Butch confesses, "I don't take long to get mad." In July, after outdistancing Foyt, Allison, et al. to win a 200-mile race at the Michigan International Speedway, Hartman was disqualified when a post-race inspection showed his fuel tank was 2.2 gallons over the maximum. Sensing a conspiracy, out $6,300 in prize money and 250 title points, Hartman was in no mood for rival Jack Bowsher's sneering remark, "It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy." Butch decked him on the spot.
Employed full-time at his father's truck agency, Hartman is one of the few successful drivers for whom racing is solely an avocation. He has no factory support, no sponsors. He builds his own engines, tows his own cars hundreds of miles each racing weekend. And late at night, when not probing the mysteries of carburetion at his garage, he can be found behind the wheel of one of his father's heavy-duty wreckers ("No hill too steep, no ditch too deep"), rumbling to the rescue of an imperiled truck.
It all comes naturally to Butch. His father Dick, voted the outstanding USAC mechanic in 1968, raced a pair of Ford coupes on the jalopy circuit, winning 126 races in a two-year period. Butch soloed in his father's pickup truck at seven. At nine he and his brother were given a 1939 Ford sedan to overhaul which they christened Death and Destruction. Says Hartman, "What one of us didn't kill, the other tore up."
After a one-year fling at Otterbein College, Butch tore up so many back roads drag stripping that he was sent off to the Marines for four years. Then, in 1964, Hartman, his father and his uncle began competing in as many as five stock-car races on a weekend, driving all night from one tumbledown dirt track to another. "When we had the time," says Butch, "we'd sleep for a couple of hours in ditches alongside the road. When we didn't, one of us would stand on the running board of our old Buick and fuel our pickup truck with a five-gallon can of gas while we were tearing down the road. I think we invented in-flight refueling."
In 1966, displaying a daring flair for driving on the outside, up high on the track where potential disaster lurks, Hartman performed well enough to be named USAC Rookie of the Year. In 1967 he was the Most Improved Driver, in 1968 the Outstanding Driver and then—poof!—the Invisible Man.
Now 35 and figuring that "I've accomplished just about everything I can in USAC," Hartman is cooling it. He has other aims these days, none of which includes accepting the many offers to drive in the Indy 500. "Those cars are too dangerous," says his wife Myra. "I like Butch the way he is." "Yeah," says Hartman, "fat and in one chunk. I can't see jeopardizing everything we have—including my neck—for money. Why should I have to get killed to get recognition?"