For years in the Kansas City area we got to witness the driving talent that reminded everyone of Dale Earnhardt Sr. A talent that automatically created the Intimidator role towards three quarters of the competitors in the racing field. This is meant as a compliment!!! I was not the only person who thought of Ron Hartford as the Kansas City equivalent of Dale Earnhardt. In talking with Ron, he stated years ago Tim Karrick told him the same thing! If two of us in the racing community thought of Ron the Raytown Rocket as the equivalent of Dale Earnhardt, I am sure there are others who have thought the same thing. Today we induct racecar driver Ron Hartford into the Racingkc.com Hall of Fame.
But wait let’s start back where it all began, in 1963. Ron’s dad began driving at Riverside Stadium. The car number was originally 613 which was Ron’s sister, Kathy’s weight when she was born, 6 pounds, 13 ounces in 1963. Bob was the Most Improved Driver in the Modified Stock class at Riverside in 1968. Of course, there came a time when tracks did away with three digit cars and Bob’s car became 63. Ding, ding, ding wait a minute didn’t Gene Chapman drive the #63, why yes he did, for owner Bob Hartford in 1971. That year they did not give an owner award at the season ending banquet but they gave a mechanic’s award which went to Jerry Cordon, Rod Cordon’s father. Tom Karrick piloted Bob’s car for a time at Riverside.
This would be a great time to bring in Kathy and Ron’s mom, Carol. In her years in racing she became known at Mom Hartford, something she is proud of and she should be. My interactions with her were mainly at I-70 Speedway, but I have to say she kept us officials on our toes! She even confronted me one time about rolling my eyes, at the time it was not pleasant conversation, but now years later it is a great story. She was doing what all mothers should be doing protecting her son, checking the officials, and making sure we officials were doing things correct. Other officials shied away from Carol and quite often deflected her questions to me, the same thing they did with Wilma Claxton. Quite honestly, they deserved an answer and right or wrong I tried providing them an answer when they asked even if I did roll my eyes occasionally.
After the 1972 racing season the Hartford’s did what several racers do, they bought a boat and instead of heading to a race track on the weekend they headed for the lake until………..the Kansas City Intimidator, the driver which will become the Raytown Rocket, started racing in 1981. This brought the family back into the local racing community, a community which might fight, argue, cuss, yell, scream at each other on any given race night and then come together when anyone in our family got hurt. The Hartford family has experienced it all. This comes into play for this family a few years later.
Over Ron’s racing career, which continues even today with trips to I-44 Speedway or possibly driving a vintage car at I-35 Speedway, he has collected 8 championships. His first championship was earned in the IMCA Modified class at Central Missouri Speedway in 1988. In 1993 and in 1994 he collected his second and third championships in the Modifieds at I-70 Speedway. He was also the Central Auto Racing Boosters Sportsman of the Year in 1994. In 1996, Ron doubled up adding Modified Championships at I-70 Speedway and Lakeside Speedway. In 1997, Ron earned his sixth championship by repeating as the I-70 Speedway Modified champion. Ron was the champion in both the Late Model and Truck Divisions in 2008, the last year competition occurred at I-70 SpeedwayIn 1995 Ron was involved in one of the scariest fires ever at I-70 Speedway. A bitter rivalry led to a crash between Ron and the other driver entering turn 1 of the historic speedway. As you may recall the turns were banked 33 degrees. Ron’s car was turned rear end first into the wall, causing the fuel cell to separate and explode into a huge ball of fire. Ron was temporarily knocked unconscious and his car became engulfed in flames, the heat was intensely hot, as the car stopped on the high banks. I had run from the front straight to the wreck and could feel the flames. Fortunately, driver Tony Sawyer in his race fire suit walked into the flames and pulled Ron from the fire. The other driver in this incident did ask for the ambulance to come look at this arm. I had replied to him and his family they would have to wait for a second ambulance because we had one driver in the ambulance already and we were not putting those two drivers together again. Ron stated in our conversation he heard that over the radio and was willing to have the second driver in the ambulance, just like what we can picture Dale Earnhardt saying!.
It was after the fire, Carol Hartford stated they felt the full love of the racing family. People they never expected to call were visiting and calling to check on Ron. Mom Hartford was receiving back some of the love she had dished over the years.
Ron Hartford, somewhat like myself, can be misunderstood at times! In his own families’ words, he can be controversial. What I found is Ron can be very opinionated and he likes to state his opinion, once stated he is done, he just needed to get it off his chest and let you, in particular me, as Competition Director at the time, know how he feels. Ron Hartford was the reason the Green household added caller identification to the telephone in 1997. Yes, for you young folks caller ID was an add on to the house phone bill in 1997 (that was 20 years ago but for some of us that was yesterday). Fortunately, phones were cordless back then but very few people had a cell phone. I had just sat down to a nice plate of warm Smokehouse BBQ and the phone rang, I answered the phone, it was Ron, 35 minutes later with me only saying a few words I sat down to a nice plate of cold Smokehouse BBQ. I told Diana that would not happen again and the next day ordered caller id, just in case Ron called again!
His cars were always orange and white and his number 97 was easily distinguished on the race track. Race fans either loved Ron or hated Ron, in a similar fashion to the way fans loved or hated Dale Earnhardt. Ron admits he sometimes cops an attitude, don’t we all. We have seen that from some of the top racers even on the NASCAR circuit, most recently Kyle Busch and Joey Lagano come to mind.
Ron has been and continues to be a mentor. He took a young kid under his wing in Ben Stockton. He taught him some of the things required in racing and he even stopped in recently to check on him. Ron especially enjoyed his years with Gary Joslin as his partner. Not many racers can claim 8 championships in this area. One of the best racers of our time, today with this article we induct Ron Hartford and the Hartford family into the Racingkc.com Hall of Fame.