Marty Hart always knew he wanted to race. He achieved that dream by racing.
That sounds simplistic and, well, a little stupid. But there's more to it – it's about the process of becoming a successful racer, and it's the story of how Hart came to be one of the top Pro Lite Unlimited drivers in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series.
“I grew up wanting to race…it didn't matter what it was,” he says. “I got into motocross first, then jumped into the ATV scene and got a ride with Honda, won a lot of championships, then went desert racing and short course racing kind of at the same time.”
Before this progresses, it's worth noting that Hart pretty much ruled the three-wheeler motocross world in the mid-'80s, thanks in large part to the factory backing from Honda. But he won a championship after the factory pulled out of the sport as well, so it wasn't just about corporate support. Back to the explanation….
“All that racing background is just kind of a proving ground. If you want to be a doctor, you go to school for 10 years and learn how to be a doctor. If you want to learn to race, you go do it. I don't care what you race – I rock crawled for a little while and did well; you learn how to compete in general, the psychological side of it and just building your skills. Then I chased [Jeff] Kincaid around for a couple of years, and I think he took me to another level. I probably could have gone some different places and won more races, but he taught me the level at which you have to run, because he had a good program and he was very difficult to beat.
“I tell everybody I want to finish last with the best vs. first with the rest. You want to be among the elite group. The only way you're going to reach that elite group is to compete with them and get beat by them. Once you do that, you know what level you're on and you know where you've got to go. I always want to be on top. On any given day, I want to be the guy they have to think about.”
Now that opening statement makes a little more sense. And Hart's proving his theory with each race, as he's certainly given his Pro Lite competitors something to think about: how they're going to beat him. Despite a couple of DNFs – a blown engine and a hard meeting with the wall in Las Vegas – he's leading the points by two over Chris Brandt with Matt Loiodice and defending champion Brian Deegan back another 26 and 29 points, respectively. In the past few races, from the second round at Las Vegas to Miller Motorsports Park to Glen Helen, Hart has been too tough to beat in his No, 15 Stronghold Motorsports/ReadyLift Ford.
Sure, he likes being out front. It's good for the bank balance and it's good for championships. But most of all he wants to race.
“It's no fun to go out front and just run away. It's not what true racers are about. You want to be dicing and you want to outsmart some guy and out-think him,” he says. And, he adds, that's the way he wants to win – by outsmarting and out-driving, not with a cheap shot. “I am aggressive when I need to be; I want them to fear me. But I also want them to respect me, too. Fearing you is when they can't do anything about it, and that's what you want.”
Hart's “I want to race and race hard” attitude is a perfect fit for the Pro Lite class. No, they don't have as much power as the Pro 2s, but they can be every bit as squirrely, and they have to be run right to their limits. There's no holding back.
“Pro Lites are run like you hate 'em,” he says. “It's not like a Pro 2 or a Pro 4 where you can't ask all of your truck because the track's not big enough, so you're always kind of restrained. Pro Lite you're driving like it's a 125 [motorcycle] and it's on the ragged edge all the time – you're two-wheeling and high siding and you're dicing, It's aggressive driving all the time. And when you've got guys who are aggressive, consistent, clean racers, it's fun to race with them.”
The no-holds-barred attitude that Hart takes onto the track doesn't carry over back into the paddock, where his wife, Sharon, 19-year-old daughter Megan and 13-year-old son Kyle are waiting. And the family isn't just his spouse and flesh and blood; it's the whole Stronghold Motorsports team. The time spent with family is important to Hart, and he's thankful he has good people running his glass businesses in Louisiana so he can go to the races with his family.
“To me, racing is as much about family as anything. And I can't be pleasing just Marty Hart, I've got to please the whole family. We've been real fortunate. I've raced almost my whole life and I've been able to travel all over the place and be successful in almost every venue I've been in. My family's been right there the whole time.”
Hart may love the way things are right now – the success he's having, racing in a class he loves against competitors he respects. But if someone dropped a big pile of cash in his lap and asked him to race Pro 2 or Pro 4, he'd be OK with that, too. But until that happens, “We'll just keep on doing what we're doing, because it'll get us there. At the end of the day it's just about going fast and adapting to whatever racetrack they throw at us.”