NO. 25

Forgotten Indy racer

After being persuaded to race in 1950, Gene Hartley became a regular in the 500.

Except for die-hard racing fans, most people have forgotten or never heard of Gene Hartley's accomplishments in the Indianapolis 500. Although today's drivers will do just about anything to earn a ride in the race, Hartley had to be persuaded in 1950.

"Some car owner (Joe Langley) built a car," Hartley said. "He had seen me run quite a bit. He contacted me, and I said he was out of his mind. I had never driven anything but midgets -- nothing. I was on a half-mile track a couple of times. I turned him down, and he called me three or four more times and finally pestered me enough that I thought I would go try it."

Hartley qualified with the 32nd-fastest time and made the race thanks to rain on the last day of qualifying and some drivers who crashed. He wasn't awed by his new surroundings, and he became a regular at the speedway in May.

His career at Indy was steady, if unspectacular; he finished 10th in 1957 and 11th in 1956, 1959 and 1961. He is one of only 62 men to drive in the 500 at least 10 times. His cars were involved in only two wrecks, both on the same day in 1953, and he was not seriously hurt in either. Hartley said he had fun, and made a good living and great friends.

Hartley's career ended after 10 runs in the Indy 500 and more than 100 victories on the midget circuit. Hartley saw that the new style would change racing. The drivers were changing, too, and, after finishing 27th in 1962 with a steering problem, Hartley decided to get out.

He retired in Roanoke and died in 1994.

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