Friends they never knew they had are helping stock car racer Dough Hartley and his family put together their home and his car after a night that left them with only the clothes on their backs.
Friday, May 28, began pleasantly for the 31-year old driver, who has been racing locally for 13 years.He had a new car painted in green, white and orange colors of his employer and sponsor, Ginn's, the office supply firm. The engine was fresh and he was looking ahead to his company's night at the races, his co-workers would be on hand to watch.
He warmed up his 72 Nova easily over the half-mile Beltsville Speedway. "It really felt good but my father-in-law who helps a lot with the car told me, "Take it easy," recalls Hartley.
"I took my first time trial lap in 22.3 seconds (84.4 miles per hour) but knew I could do better. I had been going only about three-quarter spped so I floored it for the second lap.
"When I came to the end of the backstretch, I tapped the brakes to go into the curve. They weren't there. Nothing," he said.
At well over 100 miles per hour, Hartley switched off the ignition and tried to get the car sideways. "If I was going to lose the car, I wanted to save the engine and front end," he added. The car hit the wall and was demolished, but Hartley walked uninjured back to his wife Elaine, son and tiny daughter.
"It was God's gift they wer at the tract that night," says Hartley.
They didn't know it then but a fire was consuming their Gambrills, Md., home. Nothing remained.
Today, Hartley can say, "I'm the richest guy in the world. I didn't know people could be this way." His house is being rebuilt and he thinks he can be back racing this month.
"I hear you wrecked my beautiful car and lost your house," phoned Richmond car builder Greg Deeth, who constructed Hartley's machine. "Get the pieces down here. You spend a nickel on a race car now and I'll break your neck." In three weeks, Deeth built a new car around the roll cage, the only thing to survive the crash intact.
"How bad did you damage the engine?" asked Bill Ford of Precision Engine in Hyattsville. Hartley told him he had no money. "I didn't ask that. Bring over what's left." In two weeks, Hartley had an engine.
"The Metropolitan Auto Racing Fans hasve been bringing things for the baby. People at Ginn's have offered clothes and salesman have ginve me suits. Earlene's Market told me, 'You won't have to worry about eating for a while. Come on down.' And they sponsor another car," he added.
"Beltsville had two benefit nights for us. Reds Kagle's crew gave me money, and so did Bobby Ballentine and Buddy Hopkins, and others and the fans," he said. "Listen, you could fill a column just listing them."
Until last year, Hartley says, "I never had a problem racing." Then, he hit the Beltsville wall while leading a race when a wheel bearing broke. The car was completely wrecked and Hartley well shaken up.
"We got a new car built in just two weeks," he said."A month later, on Ginn's night, I was spun into the wall."That wrecked that car."
Hartley's father had built his racers. But he died since the accident. "I was ready to quit," recalls Hartley. "My wife wouldn't let me. She didn't want me to quit a loser."
His father-in-law agreed. "Just because you dad's gone, we won't stop racing. We enjoy it too," he told Hartley. And so they all went racing again, until May 28.
Doug Hartley may never be a champion. Few of the thousands of backyard racers ever are. It doesn't matter. "I just love racing," says Hartley. "I guess it is just something that gets in your blood and you don't want to stop."