MARTY HARTY - March 25, 1919 - August 12, 2017
On August 12, New England Auto Racing Hall of
Famer Marty Harty, 98, passed away in Dover, NH. Marty, an
old time peddler with an Olympian intellect, built top-shelf
race cars in the 1950s and ’60s. A true character among
characters, Marty remained highly popular in the racing
community right up until the end. It was an honor to speak
for him at his service last Sunday.
A few years back, a professor at Brandeis University
fell terminally ill. He decided to share his late-life
experience with a group of students. After he died, the
sessions were recorded in a touching, hugely popular book
called Tuesdays with Morrie.
Some years ago,
I was writing a book about the history of some New England
race tracks, and several folks told me of this character I
just had to meet. I called him, and we hooked up at a truck
stop off Interstate 95, and, by his second glass of Moxie,
it all started. Our conversation lasted 15 years. I was one
lucky guy. It was Miles with Marty.
Marty had in
spades that old-time peddler's habit of motion. We went
everywhere - to the auto races, to flea markets, to visit
his friends - how they loved him. We'd go get "my little
Arlene in her pretty red coat" and take her out to dinner,
or we would just drive.
But it was not just the
motion of the road, it was the motion of the mind. He would
begin talking - and it was just spellbinding. He was the
brightest man I ever knew.
He'd go off in the cosmos
and discuss Einstein's theories. The next minute he might be
explaining the hidden meaning behind a sultry old Hank
There was nothing that did not
interest him. Do you know that for a coin to fall heads 50
times in a row, it would require one million people tossing
ten coins a minute for 40 hours a week - and it would occur
only one time in every nine centuries. I didn't.
he'd carry on, sitting small in that passenger seat, his
mind would open like a mansion. A smile would come across
the corners of his mouth, and his eyes would glisten.
Marty's professions - factory piece work, short-order
cooking, building race cars, and peddling - did not bring
huge returns, and, when he wasn't talking, he worked long
and hard. And, given that enormous intellect, he thought
little of people who don't do their part. His political
views, therefore, were often a mile to the right of Attila
the Hun. Marty rather famously suggested that we should call
up that Putin fellow over in Russia, rent some land from
him, and send over there all the American scoundrels, people
who don't pay their bills, and anyone who does not accept
responsibility. Sometimes his theorems were just plain
But they were always watered down by two
other traits. First, he was generous to a fault. He'd be the
first to pull out a hundred-dollar bill if he heard someone
was in trouble, even though he knew Arlene would be no happy
camper when he got home.
And he could always disarm
you with his delightful sense of humor. He was a wit. Race
cars or no race cars, he was so interested in the world
around him that when he drove somewhere, he was looking out
the window, maxing at about 20 miles an hour. When they
needed to get somewhere in a hurry, Arlene would take the
wheel. "My wife," he used to say, "has American Indian
blood. Her name means Lead Foot."
And, of course, he
had his funny people stories. He had an elaborate one about
Adam and Eve that I loved. In the end, he'd say, "...and
then Adam went back to the Garden, and Eve was just nowhere
to be found. She was AWOL. And we all know what that means -
Absent without Leaf."
I still chuckle about
the day that we went to the huge track in Loudon, New
Hampshire. One of the greatest, most respected, and even
feared of all American race car drivers is a tough-as-nails
guy from California named Parnelli Jones. Parnelli came east
to sign books for us, so I brought Marty over to meet him.
Most people genuflect. Marty's approach was different. He
looked Parnelli up and down and said, "You just don't look
all that special to me."
Marty told me that he and
his brother Tommy were racing to see which would be
America's oldest living veteran. When Tommy died so sadly,
it took something out of Marty. He began talking about
another kind of motion - "taking the great Westbound," as
hobos used to refer to death. He was soon in the nursing
home, Riverside. Each time I went to see him, he was fainter
and fainter, and he told me he would soon be there.
can't tell you how much I miss him. When it comes my time to
take that train ride, he'll be the first person I will look
If there is a heaven, there will be more Miles