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Driven to the Past: Milt Hartlauf & Bob Harmon

In all the years I’ve been involved in this motorsports business, I’ve worked with some outstanding promoters. Three of them – Bob Daniels, Earl Baltes, and Andy Vertrees – were named Promoters of the Year. There were two others that should have been – both are gone now, and I miss them.

One was Milt Hartlauf, who I’ve mentioned before. I remember him as an outstanding driver who went all the way to what was then the NASCAR Grand National Series and drove on the beach and road course at Daytona as well as at Darlington in the early days. In the 1960s and through the ’70s, he was my boss and mentor as general manager of the Fairgrounds Motor Speedway at Louisville, and I’ll never forget all he taught me. He was also the American Speed Association’s first director of competition, and was largely responsible for me getting the chance to flag on so many diverse tracks in so many different places.

He’d back me to the limit, and if he thought I had been wrong, he’d take me aside after it was all over to give me an old-fashioned reaming and explain what I’d done wrong. Above all, he taught me to always stand behind my own convictions much in the manner of an old western judge who had just sentenced a man. When someone questioned how he could be so sure the man was guilty, the judge responded, “This court may be wrong, but it has never been in doubt!”

The other promoter to whom I refer was Bob Harmon, known to many as “Uncle Bob.” He organized and ran the old All-Pro Series and later was the promoter at the Nashville Fairgrounds. I met him for the first time at Bristol, when we had our initial ASA/All-Pro sanctioned race. He impressed me that weekend while doing a television interview outside the front office.

We had put out some publicity about how we expected our cars to get around that place faster than NASCAR’s stars, and the TV reporter wanted to know on what we were basing that opinion. Bob looked rather incredulous, and then pointed first to the ASA and All-Pro pace cars – a couple of Z28 Camaros – and then to the Bristol pace car – an Impala convertible.

He said matter-of-factly, “Why, everyone know these (the Camaros) are faster than those.”

Needless to say, we hit it off pretty well, and it was always a fun time to be around him.

The best story I got from him, however, came while he was at Nashville. He was speaking at one of the RPM workshops in Florida. Bob usually had a simple solution to a problem, and when a question came up about something, he’d pass on his feelings. This time, he related that they had been having a problem with their Sportsman class the previous season. The problem was that they always seemed to start each feature race with a multi-car crash in turn 2.

Bob’s solution…“We changed it from a 25-lap race to a 25½-lap race,” he explained. “We put a flagman in the middle of the backstretch, and started the race from there instead of on the front straightaway.”

Naturally, nearly a dozen hands shot up, all of them from promoters wanting to know how that kept the cars from crashing.

“Oh, it doesn’t stop them from crashing,” Bob replied, “but now they do it in front of the fans.”

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