The year 1977 was not a good year for Doug Hartley.
After he had worked 14 years for Ginns Office Supplies, pouring most of his weekly earnings into his $21,000 production Chevrolet Nova, and competing for eight years at Beltsville Speedway, the bad times began.
Hartley, a 6-foot-4 stock car driver, recalls the day early last year his nightmare began.
"I got home and my wife (Elaine) was at the fence waiting for me. She said, 'Get back into the truck - your Dad has had a heart attack.' We went to the hospital but we didn't make it in time, Dad was dead."
"My dad and I were so close," he said "I learned everything I know about cars from my dad.He used to race motorcycles. But he didn't want me to ride a cycle - one of his friends got killed on one."
The race truck bunch told Hartley he couldn't build a new race car he was planning after his father died.
"My father-in-law told me that my dad may be gone in body but not in spirit. So with his help, along with my brother-in-law, we built a car, despite Dad's death," Hartley said proudly.
He was slowly but surely regaining his strength and spirit. Then came another blow. While the team was building the car, Hartley's grandfather died.
"Although I was low in spirit we took the car to the race track (Beltsville) on May 30, 1977, for the first time. We spent every nickel we had on that car, as well as (money from) Ginns, sponsors of Hartley's car, the "Ginnco Special."
Hartley was putting his new car to test in the race when suddenly the accelerator linkage stuck.
"In a matter of seconds my whole life passed before me," said Hartley, 32. At 100 mph, Hartley and his car smashed into the wall. Hartley was unhurt but the vehicle was demolished.
When he reached the infield he looked at his wife. He was disgusted, dejected, angry, and most of all, confused.
In a low murmer he said, "I'm quittin'."
"I'll be damned if you quit. Right now you're a loser," said Elaine Hartley.
"Just as I was thinking how super my ol' lady was," he remembered he was summoned to the office for a phone call.
It was a neighbor calling. The message came through loud and clear, but he could not believe what he heard: "Doug, your house is burning down." Only 10 minutes had elapsed between the accident and the discouraging phone call.
"When I got to the house it was on the ground - a total disaster, I took the family to a relative's house and came back. I sat on the back steps, what was left of them and just cried my eyes out, Hartley related.
"How do you replace antique china and bookcases that my grandparents gave me? You can't."
Three weeks after his home burned down and his car crashed the wall, the family car, driven by his pregnant wife, was hit by another auto going 70 mph. She was uninjured but their car was ruined.
But despite all the misfortune that came to Doug Hartley and his family - they did not quit. They are fighting back.
Corky Conners, a racing peer, said. "Everyone knows how hard Hartley works. He's the type of guy that just will not quit."
"If it weren't for the people and my family I might have quit," Hartley said. "I love racing but I put my family and being a Christian before my car. God, do I love my family."
Soon after Hartley's mishaps the Beltsville Speedway community gave a special Doug Hartley Day. Friends at the track raised $3,000, Ginns donated $1,000 and his fellow employes pooled together $200.
Hartley who lives in Gambrills, Md., now says. "Oh, I still race for myself a little but but I'm mainly out there for the people."
What touched Hartley the most were two youngsters at the benefit who came to him with 30 cents. "How do you stop living and racing for people like that? People in racing stick with each other."
For eight years Hartley had raced every Friday night during racing season trying to capture the trophy for the featured event in his division, the limited sportsman. And finally, this May, he was standing in front of the fans with his trophy.
"I was so excited when I won that I couldn't stand up. I couldn't have done it without Ginns, Beltsville and people in racing," he said, smiling.
Connors described him best. "When Doug won the featured event he was like a kid with a new toy - he's like all of us racers - he's a kid at heart."
Hartley describes himselves as "a regular ol' Joe Doe out there racing every weekend."
It's an unexplainable and crazy desire that makes a man rip around a track at 100-plus mph.Racing car drivers are obsessed with their sport. "It's in the blood," said Bill Thrasher, who drives a Datsun 280Z at Summit Point Raceway. "It's the desire to be number one."
While most parents carry pictures of their children in their wallet, Doug Hartley also has pictures of every car he has ever owned in his leather pouch. The average weekend racer makes little money off the motor sport. Almost all have another, fulltime occupation and what money they do make goes back into their cars.
Hartley "explained" how a racing car is set up: "You buy a car. Jack up the radiator cap and body and then throw everything else away."
Jimmy Carter, owner of Pit Stop Racing in Rockville, owns a bright orange MG Midget. He is not related to President Carter but he does pass out peanuts at the track. Carter told in more detail how a car is put together:
"It takes one week to completely strip a car. First you take out any bolt that will unscrew. Those that don't unscrew, you cut them off. All you end up with is a chasis. Next you sandblast the body to see where the rust is. Weld up rustly holes, and anything left you try to sell."
It took Carter four hours a night for three months to completely rebuild his 115-120-housepower car. Hartley works at Ginns 45 hours a week and on his car 20 hours a week.
Racing is expensive and to become a winner you'd better be rich or have big advertising dollars behind you. At the track they say that 75 percent of a winner is the car - a talented driver is only 25 percent of it.
A driver who races a $23,000 formula car summed it up when he said, "A poor boy with talent but no money can't make it in racing."
Hartley's version: "I always thought I could do it my own way but - you need people."