When the noise died down and the fans stood up, they all seemed happy that Butch’s kid had just made the drive of his life.
Bart Hartman won the World 100, pushing a yellow car with a strongly familiar number — 75 — into history. It was a great performance on the sport’s biggest stage, under the brightest lights, against the most daunting competition.
A long time ago, Hartman was just a wide-eyed kid as he followed his dad to a wide variety of tracks across the Midwest. Butch Hartman built a legendary career as a USAC stock-car star, and maybe the son could have been a USAC great as well. But destiny ended the USAC series when Bart was still a kid, and he had to seek a new pathway.
So he kept the No. 75 — his dad’s well-known number — and went dirt-late-model racing. Over the past 17 years he has crafted a successful career, winning nearly 100 races throughout the Midwest.
As tonight’s race ended and the vast crowd hurried to beat the monumental traffic on the nearby highways, there seemed to be a genuine buzz that a “new” guy had won the World. Maybe it’s because Hartman isn’t following one of the “national” series this year, choosing to race closer to home. After all, this is the World 100; only superstars need apply. But tonight proved a couple of different things, both of them very favorable.
To begin, there is amazing parity in dirt-late-model racing today. At any big race — and I mean ANY big race — the list of potential winners is significant. Nobody dominates, because the sport has settled on a rules formula that is both sustainable and provides superb on-track competition.
Secondly, tonight was the validation of Hartman’s career because from this point forward he will always be introduced as a “World 100 winner.” When you line up and beat the best of the best, you’ve done it. Nobody can ever take that away from you, whether you race another 20 years or quit tomorrow.
Like the old cowboy on TV used to say: “No brag, just fact.”
To see him win is a pleasure because not only is Hartman a down-to-earth, low-maintenance guy, but he embodies what racing is all about. He’s not flashy, but when he climbs into the car you know he’s going to race hard and clean and leave it all out there, every night.
After an impressive drive in his heat race, Hartman had a severe headache. He tried to rest, but how do you rest in the minutes leading up to the World 100? So he toughed it out, even though his facial expression during pre-race introductions revealed that he wasn’t feeling well.
He probably felt a lot better when he roared past Jimmy Owens 20 laps into the race. From that point it was a matter of outrunning Brian Birkhofer and Dale McDowell, and Hartman drove a brilliant race. He was consistent, he dealt with traffic well and he didn’t wilt under the pressure.
He won the World 100. Maybe it will take a few days for it to settle in; but he won the World 100. Only a handful of racers get to say that, ever.
It was kind of neat that an Ohio guy won. It was kind of neat that it was a first-time winner, adding another dimension to an event that continues to get bigger each year. And it was kind of neat that it was a guy who is easy to cheer for, a guy who now has another excuse for that easy smile.
Butch has been gone for quite a while now, but somewhere he is smiling. His kid did all right, didn’t he?