The WPI/NTPA office was notified of the passing in the early morning hours of February 15 of Ralph Banter, 79, of LaFontaine, Indiana. Alongside his brother Dave, Mr. Banter won the greatest number of national championships in NTPA history, all in Modified divisions.
The first of those titles arrived in 1973 in the 7,000-lb. class, though the brothers had already been competing in automotive-engine divisions for several years prior to the inception of the national Association in 1969. In those early years, the elder Ralph and younger Dave would exchange driving and wrenching roles depending upon how they did at the previous hook. Eventually, Ralph's talents as a trained machinist shone through to the benefit of both his own team and the many others who purchased his customized performance parts and exotic designs. Then, when the lumber mill at which he worked was destroyed in a fire, Mr. Banter's sideline business became a full-time occupation, and Banter Machine was born.
"Our customers are our friends," he explained in the brothers' Hall-of-Fame profile in the January 2000 issue of The Puller Magazine. "A lot of the guys will call me after they compete and tell me how everything went. I like that. I'm just plain folk."
That lack of embellishment extended to the identification of the Banters' early Modifieds. Once there were two at a time---and thus a need to tell them apart---they were simply known as "Brown" and "Orange" across several upgrades through the 1970s. A collaboration with John Hileman yielded "The Pup" lightweight twin-engine Mod in 1980, but the brothers did nearly all of their winning in the heavier classes: six titles at 7,000 or 7,200 lbs., seven at 9,000 or 9,200 lbs., and five more at 12,200 lbs.
A Big Ben/Wrangler sponsorship in the early 1980s switched up the color scheme to "Blue" and "Orange," and the brothers later paid homage to their trusted powerplants with the five- or six-engine "Mr. Chevy" before wrapping up their on-track careers with the five- to seven-engine "Bandit." With these final Mods, Ralph and Dave built and drove their way to four Unlimited titles in six seasons to bring their Grand National total to an astounding 22. The brothers' dominance came with setups that seldom sported the most raw horsepower but instead made use of each brother's gifts to maximize their potential.
The Banter Brothers were honored by the NTPA in 1999 with their induction and that same year by pulling fans who voted them the greatest pullers of the Association's first 30 years. But these awards didn't signal a retirement of Ralph's indefatigable mind. "I plan on hanging in as long as I can and as long as the folks need me," Ralph explained in the brothers' profile. As a result of his devotion to innovation, willingness to experiment, and dedication to improvement, Mr. Banter's influence on Modified pulling and on the motorsport at large is incalculable.
Away from the pulling track and shop, Mr. Banter served as Vice President on the NTPA Executive Board from 1980 to 1982 and as a director and treasurer of Indiana Pullers Incorporated. A deacon and trustee of Banquo Christian Church, he also rebuilt and restored antique vehicles and belonged to the Differentials Car Club.
Mr. Banter is survived by Margaret, his wife of 58 years; daughter Sherry (Terry) Knight; brothers Ira, David (Jorita), and Michael (Judy); grandchildren Kristen (Brent) Freiburger, Shannon (Brian) Eddie, Megan (Ben) Whitaker, Erin (Arjun) Bhalla, and Matthew Knight of Van Buren; great-grandchildren Aydan LaFond, Kyen Freiburger, Theodore Eddie, Elijah Eddie, Thomas Eddie, Lela Eddie, Maci Whitaker, Natalie Whitaker, and Benjamin Whitaker; and nieces Kim Banter, Heather (Rich) Holmes, and Heidi (Aaron) Bleich.
Visitation for family and friends of Mr. Banter is scheduled for Wednesday, February 19 from 2 to 8 p.m. at Bailey-Love Mortuary, 35 West Park Drive, Huntington, Indiana 46750. Visitation will resume on Thursday for one hour prior to the funeral service, which will begin at 11 a.m. Preferred memorials are to Banquo Christian Church or Cancer Services for Huntington County, in care of Bailey-Love Mortuary.
Our thoughts are with Margaret and the Banter family as well as Ralph and Dave's extended pulling family as they grieve their loss.