Chet Hartman, now 87 years young, simply cannot stay away from demolition derbies — despite an announced retirement following the 2015 Harvey County Demolition Derby.
“I want to go out with a bang,” Hartman told The Kansan. “... This is a cool way to do it.”
He didn't drive in the derby last year, instead watching from the sidelines as his grandson, Brad Jantz, collect a win in the No. 7 car built by The Gathering Church. He plans to be on the sidelines again this year, but has found a way to be involved.
At the derby Aug. 6 he will offer up a prize, one that could be as cherished and sought after as one of the trophies for competitors (Hartman has 18 of those from his life-long career). A quilt, which he will enter in the county fair this year, made out of about 13 of his old derby t-shirts will be up for grabs at the derby.
“I have showed it to the guys … everyone just wants to buy it,” Hartman said.
The quilt will be shown at the fair, and either raffled or sold by silent auction at the derby on Sunday night. On the backside of the quilt is a panel that documents that the shirts used for the quilt are from Hartman's collection.
“I will present it at the derby,” Hartman said. “I have had offers already, I have had $1,000 offers. … I have so many friends in the demolition derby that somehow I want to give them a chance at this quilt. I would rather one of them have it and remember me than have it lying on my bed.”
As if he didn't go out with a big enough bang in 2015.
Hartman picked up a win in his class during the first derby race of the night Aug. 2, 2015, at the Harvey County Fair — his last derby run ever. He picked the class because there were no heats and no feature race. It was a one-and-done.
“I knew I could take the front end and knock out anyone out today,” Hartman said after his win.
It wasn’t an easy win to get, either. The 1994 Ford station wagon he was driving busted a distributor cap, lost power steering and died once as he went for a win in his 136th career derby. At one point of his race, a hit knocked his helmet off.
He thought his night was over, but officials asked him to put it back in if he could keep going. He, and his pacemaker, did.
He didn't flat out announce retirement that night, that came later. He was actually about half done with another car for the next derby when he decided it was time to quit.
“I started getting chest pains and stuff,” Hartman said. “I have a picture in my (photo) album that I drove at the Kansas State Fair. … I am coming out of the car and the flames are behind me. I can't do that anymore.”
His first demolition derby was in 1964, an event at the 81 Speedway. During his career, Hartman drove in 136 demolition derbies.
“All my memories are in my photo album,” Hartman said. “I have driven all over. . … I have driven at Canton, at 81 Speedway and national television. I never did get to Abilene. I wanted to get up there one time. They are rough.”
When he first started all a team had to do to make a derby car was to take out a car’s back seat, take the glass out, chain the door shut and remove the radiator or leave it where it was. Previously teams did not have to relocate the gas tank to the inside of the car (which is required now).
“They are going to fuel injection,” Hartman said. “... It is just getting too complicated. There are guys putting $1,600 in car, just to wreck it.”
More about Chet:
“Built for Abuse”
“Smashing Success: 85 year old wins Demo Derby trophy”
Friday at the fair
Harvey County Fair at the Harvey County Fairgrounds, 800 W. First.
3 to 5 p.m. — 4-H Foods Judging
5:30 to 7 p.m. — 4H and Open Woodworking Check In
6 to 11 p.m. — Carnival
6 to 8 p.m. — Sheep and Meat Goat Check iI and Weigh In
6 to 9 p.m. — Rabbit Check In
6 to 9 p.m. — 4-H Rocketry Judging
6:30 to 9 p.m. — Swine Check In and Weigh In - All Swine must be on the grounds
6:45 p.m. — Small Engines and Electricity Judging
7 to 9 p.m. — Early Check In for Open Class (except Dept. F-Crops, Garden and Floriculture)
7:30 p.m. — 4-H and Open Woodworking Judging
8 p.m. — Newton Saddle Club Rodeo, CPRA Sanctioned