Butch Hartman: USAC Stock Car Champion

Butch Hartman passed away from a heart attack in December of 1994. Unfortunately, so did a part of stock car history. Hartman was a straight talking, hard driving racecar driver from Zanesville, Ohio who began warming up cars at the age of seven at his father?s garage. His father?s automobile business sparked Butch?s interest in cars. On his ninth birthday, Butch and his younger brother Terry were given an old car to drive in the field adjoining his parent?s property. The only condition his Dad gave him was that he kept it running himself.
After a four-year stint in the Marines, Butch decided to go stock car racing. In 1966 Butch entered his 1965 Dodge Coronet in USAC Stock Car division. After winning the ?rookie of the year award? in 1966 he followed up the following year with ?Most Improved Driver? and in 1968 ?Most Outstanding Driver.?

One of Butch?s early supporters and mentors was Paul Goldsmith. Goldsmith a former Indy 500 participant and winning USAC and NASCAR stock car driver was a family friend. The West Virginia native offered Butch advice and encouragement. One piece of advice most likely saved his life. Early in Butch?s career, at Goldsmith?s insistence, a cross member was left in the car when others were removing them to reduce weight. Later In a race at Indianapolis Raceway Park, Butch hit a tree with the car at approximately 120-mph, the cross member proved to be the item that saved him. ?It?s easier to go all out and carry a little more weight when you know the car is safe,? Butch said later.

During this time it was Butch?s father ?Dick who was there to direct the young driver. Whether it was pit strategy or jumping up and down on the hood of a stock car to straighten it out, Dick was always there to make sure things were done right. Dick owned the business that was most seen on the side of the famous number 75 yellow and black Dodge. Hartman White and Autocar Truck Sales and Service in Zanesville was the base for their racing operation. It was common to see the Hartman crew burning the midnight oil getting their cars race ready. Dick?s expertise with things mechanical began in 1935 in the repair and service end of the auto industry. After a stint in the U.S. Army serving under General Patton, Dick returned to the Zanesville, Ohio area and started his own business. He started running sprint cars in 1949, by 1951 Dick was running two cars and in a two year period won 126 races. The Hartman?s ran a professional and competitive independent team, even competing next to the heavily funded factory backed teams that dominated stock car racing in the late-1960?s.

Hartman?s first major win occurred at Pocono in 1971 driving the popular winged Dodge Daytona. Winning the inaugural Pocono 500 stock car race helped propel him to winning his first of five USAC stock car championships. The race was a star-studded affair, with many big name drivers such as: A.J. Foyt, Al and Bobby Unser, Roger McCluskey, Wally Dallenbach, NASCAR drivers, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Jim Paschal, AMA motorcycle star, Gene Romero, Modified aces, Geoff Bodine and Toby Tobias, Road racer, Brian Redman and the usual USAC Stock car aces, Norm Nelson, Don White and Jack Bowsher. Unfortunately rain postponed the race at the 41st lap mark. The following Saturday, Butch Hartman took the checkered flag after a late race duel with Lem Blankenship.

In 1972, Hartman won the championship with consistency with nine top-5 finishes in eighteen races. However, 1973 He charged to the championship with seven wins, twelve top-5 finishes in sixteen races. Hartman followed up with another championship in 1974 after a season long battle with wily veteran Norm Nelson. Going into the last race of the season Nelson was ahead by 40 points. Butch?s victory at Des Moines and Nelson?s seventh place finish gave Hartman the championship by 30 points. Hartman had eight victories in 19 starts in winning his unprecedented fourth championship. The following year, Hartman battled Ramo Stott for the championship. However, a blown engine in the Governor?s Cup 250 at Milwaukee ended Hartman?s chances, finishing second in points. The following year, Hartman surprised many when he made the switch from his familiar Dodge Charger to the ?pony car? Chevy Camaro. It didn?t make a difference as Hartman won his fifth championship in six years.

Hartman was always one of the more outspoken drivers regarding the way the United States Auto Club ran its stock car division and how some people viewed it. Hartman occasionally ran the NASCAR series with some success. In October of ?72 he had his best result. Hartman had this to say after finishing fifth in the National 500 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and surprised many of the NASCAR faithful in the fall of ?72.

?The only difference in the USAC stock car circuit and the NASCAR stocks is money and equipment,? Hartman said. He added, ?And publicity. We (the USAC stock car drivers) have been trying like hell to get the USAC publicity people to give us our fair share of the publicity, but it all goes to the championship cars. Our best are as good as NASCAR?s best. And our worst are as bad as NASCAR?s worst. The talent is about the same. NASCAR has an edge in experience on the high-banked tracks, but other than that and the equipment, our circuit is much the same.?

Hartman lamented, ??nobody ever heard of our stock car racing circuit. We get second billing everywhere to the championship cars. Here I am a two-time champion (in 1972) and nobody knows who I am.? Hartman was driving a Ford owned by Junie Donleavy. Hartman approached Charlotte promoter Richard Howard for the ride. Howard accepted in part of the good showing by Ramo Stott another USAC competitor who finished second at Talladega earlier in the year. PR man Bob Latford pushed the USAC vs. NASCAR theme as the race was a FIA event thus, open to all competitors. Therefore A.J. Foyt, Bobby Unser, Gordon Johncock and Roger McCluskey also were entered, all were non-factors with the exception of Foyt who finished forth in the Wood Brothers Mercury.

The series was at a crossroad. Hartman after winning several championships was getting little in appearance money while Indy car and NASCAR drivers would get more. An example of this was the USAC Stock Car race at Pocono in 1973. A 1974 Autoweek article uncovered that Bobby Allison and Richard Petty received nearly $5000 in appearance money, while Hartman who won the race in ?71 and was a two-time champ at that time received $250 for the use of his name.

USAC had always propped its Champ Car Division as its number one division. USAC believed it would take from its premier division. They had a fresh batch of stars ready to ascend, drivers such as Hartman, Ramo Stott and Jack Bowsher as well as incumbents Norm Nelson and Don White, USAC never supported the series with much gusto. The Indy Car drivers continued to get appearance money when they raced in the stock car series, while by the mid 1970?s drivers like Butch Hartman who won the Division several times received nothing. It was no surprise in 1977 he left the series to go NASCAR. Unfortunately by that time, the evolving stock car technology had left USAC contingent behind. The cars had become outdated compared to their southern counterparts. Hartman never achieved his earlier success.

Hartman campaigned a Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna S-3, in eleven events. Hartman had two top ten finishes, not the desired result. He had one more start in Winston Cup in 1979 and migrated back to USAC. Unfortunately he never achieved the same success. When Butch came back in 1979, he had to wear the number ?00? losing his old number to another driver.

While more and more young drivers began to seek success elsewhere in the late 1970?s. The USAC stock car series had become stagnant. And by 1985 it was gone. Hartman also curtailed his racing career and retired quietly in the early 1980?s. Unfortunately if you read a story today on the history of stock car racing, shamefully, nary a word will be mentioned about drivers like Butch Hartman.

Butch?s youngest son Bart Hartman continues the family tradition. Bart is winning regularly on the Dirt Late Model circuits in the Ohio area. And of course it wears the familiar #75.

-Special thanks to Brett Hartman for information on this article.

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