Lunch With a Legend

Sunday morning’s routine never varied.We ate a big breakfast at home, went to the restaurant to take inventory, restock and help Dad prepare for Monday. Then we went back home to read the Sunday Star before deciding how to spend the rest of the day. The Sunday before Thanksgiving in 1962 was no different.

I usually began with the sports section, looking for a column by George Moore, the racing writer for the Indianapolis Star at that time. I had gone to my first Indianapolis 500 that May, and I wanted to know everything about racing I could. There was nothing by him that day. I would then turn to the auto section. Cleo Kern, the automotive writer, always had something in Sunday’s paper about a new car and what was going on with dealerships in town.

A news blurb got my attention.  It was about Harry Hartz, one of the greatest drivers to never win the Indianapolis 500, joining a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership not too far from where I lived. The article gave a brief review of his racing career. I remarked to my dad, “This guy must have been a great driver.”  He asked who I was talking about. “Harry Hartz.”

“Oh yeah. He comes into the restaurant a couple times a week for lunch.”

Stunned stony silence was my only response. How long had this been happening? All summer while I was out of school?

” I don’t have school Friday since it’s Thanksgiving break. Will he be in then?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, if he comes in, can you call home and tell me?” The restaurant was an easy walk from our house.

” I don’t want to bother him.”

” I sure would like to meet him.”  No response.

Nothing more was said about it through that holiday weekend and into December. Dad’s word was usually pretty final, but he somehow always found a way to make his kids happy. So life went on through December. Then it was time for Christmas Break.

The second day of break, the phone rang. It was Dad.  “Harry Hartz is coming for lunch today. Would you guys want to come and eat with him? He’ll be here at 11:30.”

Was this a trick question? This was so typical of Dad. He may not have liked what we were interested in, but he would find a way to support us.  I knew this was not an impromptu meeting. He probably planned it the day after Thanksgiving.

My brother and I were at the restaurant at 11.  Harry and a colleague walked in. I was struck by how small he was. I had not given much thought at the time that drivers were usually small. We shook hands and sat down for lunch.  I wish I had recorded that conversation. I remember we discussed the pros and cons of riding mechanics and about the board tracks that were popular when he drove. He was a great guy and seemed genuinely happy to be talking with young fans. Before he left, he signed the above photo for my brother and me and promised to get us a copy of Floyd Clymer’s Indy 500 yearbook.

We met one more time, at the Speedway the following May. I was amazed that he saw me first and approached me. We had a brief talk before he had to go to a meeting.  Meeting him inspired me to delve deeper into the history of the race. I have come to admire the great drivers who were never fortunate to win the 500 but were always a threat every May- Rex Mays, Ted Horn, Jack McGrath, and  Michael Andretti. I’m planning an off-season blog on the greatest 33 non winners.

I owe a lot to my dad for arranging the meeting. It was the equivalent of having lunch with A. J. Foyt or Al Unser today. The photo hangs on my wall, and  I still have the yearbook (below). They are the oldest and most cherished. memorabilia I have .




Harry Hartz Indianapolis 500 record:

1922  2nd

1923    2nd

1924    4th

1925     4th

1926      2nd

1927       25th

1930       Winning car owner- Billy Arnold, driver

1932       Winning car owner-Fred Frame, driver

2 thoughts on “Lunch With a Legend

  1. I enjoyed this story when I first read it but even more now. I didn’t know anything about Harry Hartz. His name wasn’t even familiar to me. Thanks to the research I’ve done for your 33 greatest non-winners posts I learned a bit about him and even ranked him second on my list (which I will finalize before I send). Reading this post again made the story even better. What an honor to have met him. Very cool Mike.

    Liked by 1 person

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