Jerry Hart | 2012
Jerry Hart | 2012
Jerry Hart could be categorized as the first fan inductee into the NTPA Hall of Fame. The Ohio native virtually stepped out of the stands and into the highest ranks of NTPA pulling – the Grand National Circuit – and skyrocketed to the top of the Super Stock Tractor ranks. Hart was just entering his 40s when he emerged in the sport. It was the constant urging from his nephews that finally compelled him to get into pulling in an active role, and ultimately into the NTPA history books as one of the best Super Stock competitors of his day.
Jerry Hart may have been a rookie when it came to pulling, but he wasn't a stranger to motorsports. Hart had competed in drag racing in the 60s, starting in 1961 with a double "A" gas dragster featuring a blown, big block Chevy. He and close friend Ralph Musick, who became a successful, 1970s FWD Truck puller, worked together in the mid-60s, running match races with an aspirated, single "A" dragster. Jerry soon tired of running two cars as the 1960s drew to a close.
Hart farmed 600 acres of corn and soybeans outside his hometown of Vandalia, Ohio. He became aware of pulling in the early 70s, catching his first pull in Bowling Green, Ohio in 1973. His spectator activities led to assisting with the Darke County pulls in Greenville, Ohio. In 1977, he began following the entire NTPA circuit as a spectator.
Jerry farmed with International Harvesters and was most interested in those competitors pulling with his beloved brand. He kept a notebook on all of the major Super Stock competitors, noting how they built their machines, weight placement, and tire profiles. Hart also used a stop watch to time each run down the track, looking over the data to see how each man performed. His nephews, Steve
Jenkins, Joe Hart, Jr., Rob Hart, and Larry Hart really enjoyed going with their uncle and continued to encourage Jerry to build a puller of his own. In 1979, the Harts decided to get a Super Stock pulling tractor.
With the Super Stock division having four weight categories, Hart focused on the 9,000 and 12,000 pound classes, as the majority of "red" influenced drivers battled there. He traveled toward Chicago to visit Jerry Lagod of Hypermax Engineering, looking to do his homework on cost and laying out the overall plans before getting started. Lagod and Hart hit it off, and Jerry bought a used International Harvester 1066. Lagod and Hypermax supplied all the technology for Hart to hit the ground pulling in 1980.
Hart and the unnamed tractor debuted in May 1980 in Bristol, Tenn. Jerry was known for his wheels up hole-shots and strong finishes that gained the admiration from fans and pullers alike. In battling the stalwarts of the pulling day such as Danny Dean, John Klug and Dickie Sullivan in his initial season, Hart notched a fourth place in NTPA Grand National year end point standings in the 9,000 lb. class and a seventh in the 12,000 lb. class, quite a feat for a rookie competitor. It didn’t go unnoticed as Hart was a runner-up candidate for “Rookie of the Year.”
Success continued in Hart’s second season as he won his first NTPA Grand National title in the 12,000 Super Stock division after a season long battle with Klug, Sullivan and the Ferry Brothers. The Puller magazine called it the closest points battle in NTPA history at the time with just two points separating four men. Hart also won two regional championships that same year, making 1981 a season to remember.
In 1982, Hypermax and Hart upped the horsepower to the IH 1066. Although Jerry had some additional wrenching that kept him out of top point positions at the Grand National level, he still finished in the top 10 in both Heavy Super Stock categories and won three regional titles. In addition, Hart won the Firestone Performance Cup in the 12,000 lb. class. Hart’s peers acknowledged his success in a short period of time by electing him Super Stock Puller of the Year.
In 1983, Hart had a mural painted on his binder for the first time, and bestowed the name “Barnstormer” to his popular ride. This year was another success chapter, as he earned a hard fought pair of runner-up point finishes at the Grand National level and two more regional championships to add to his growing resume.
The very next year, the argument could be made that Hart had his best season by winning the 12,000 lb. points championship over Klug, Max Simpson and Esdon Lehn. Hart also took second in the 9,000 lb. class and was named 1984’s “NTPA Mechanic of the Year.”
In 1985, which was the last year the 12,000 lb. class was offered in NTPA Grand National competition, Hart finished runner-up in the points yet again. In fact, Hart can boast being the last competitor to win a 12,000 lb. class and then opened 1986 with the first class win in the new 11,200 lb. Super Stock weight category.
The next three years were Hart’s last pulling. In 1987, he was one of the first “heavy” Super Stock competitors to reduce the weight of their machine to run the 7,000 lb. class while also running his preferred nine and eleven thousand pound classes. “Barnstormer Lite” fared well, finishing in the top 10 of all three NTPA Grand National point classes.
In 1988, Jerry saw the need to go from three to four turbochargers to keep on top of the game. The extra air gave “Barnstormer” extra boost and power, but also extra breakage. The added horsepower did work, however, as Hart finished fourth in all three weight categories. In 1989, the final year of Hart’s trek on the NTPA Grand National Circuit, he finished fifth in the 7,000 lb. class and fourth in the 9,000 lb. category.
In the 80s, Hart was one of the top performers compared to any competitor in any division of NTPA Grand National Pulling. His stats for the decade are impressive – two NTPA Grand National titles, 22 top-10 finishes in the year-end NTPA GN point standings, eight NTPA Regional National titles, and numerous wins at all the largest events of the day.