RUDY BARTLING RACED SPORTS CARS FOR OVER 50 YEARS, mostly Porsches but also some others, such as the Heimrath Racing Elva McLaren Can-Am car, the David Deacon Racing BMW M1, and so on. When he didn’t go racing himself, he was busy, not only fixing other people’s cars at his shop but being a mentor to many up-and-coming racers as well, and they speak very highly of him to this day. Of the gentleman that he was, of how supportive he was, of what great advice he gave — and not always just sugar-coating things either. Rudy was in fact very direct and always dead honest. For example, he was there and involved as a mechanic with one of the entries when the Rothmans 944 Cup Series was active and many of the young drivers of that series benefitted from his experience and advice.
By the time my friends Hank Frankzac and Dan Proudfoot and I began to work on the application to have Rudy inducted to the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame in 2012, he was considered Canada’s most experienced endurance racecar driver. With 18 starts at the 12 Hours of Sebring, nine starts at the 24 Hours of Daytona, and dozens of other high-profile races in multiple sports car series all over North America and into South America, there could be no doubt about that. While Rudy was in fact inducted in 2012, his application had to overcome some hurdles, simply because he had never won a major international championship, such as Trans-Am or IMSA or the World Championship of Makes — all series that he had run in. However, this was because he was always the hired hot shoe, going from car to car and from team to team, and did not get to compete in any one series for an entire season and, frankly, he also did not always have the funding to see these types of high-budget efforts through for an entire year, especially not when it was with his own car.
I met Rudy Bartling nearly 35 years ago, when a friend recommended him to me as a mechanic for my 1950s Porsche cabrio and my newly purchased, used, 1970 Porsche 911T that I had bought solely for having something to run around the track with in UCR DE events.
If only I had known that I would one day want to write articles about him, I would surely have had a tape recorder by my side the many hours we spent together, traveled to distant races, had him at my house for dinner, or spent time sitting at his shop into the wee hours with a few beers.
He sure seemed a little gruff, a bit rough around the edges, not too talkative or friendly, no nonsense or small talk. But, once we got to know each other a little, that picture completely changed. In the years that I had the privilege to be close to him, he taught me so much, was my racing mentor and, in fact, became somewhat of my surrogate dad. The warmest human being you could ever imagine. If only I had known that I would one day want to write articles about him, I would surely have had a tape recorder by my side the many hours we spent together, traveled to distant races, had him at my house for dinner, or spent time sitting at his shop into the wee hours with a few beers. This man had done it all, been there with the racing greats and had the respect of so many — there surely would be a book in it.
When I first decided to get into professional racing, in 1999, it was Rudy who had to vouch for me with Alwin Springer, then head of Porsche Motorsport, to sell me one of only six 911 GT3 Rs that were to be built at that time. I mean, who else could you walk through the paddock with, who was intimately known to and on a first-name basis with racing legends such as Roger Penske, Tommy Kendall, Bob Wolleck, Scott Goodyear, Price Cobb, Horst Kroll, Ludwig Heimrath, Klaus and Harry Bytzek, David Empringham, Mauro Baldi, Bill Adam, Jody Scheckter, and on and on.
As it happens, 25 years ago, I owned some small commercial buildings in the Atlanta area and one of them was occupied by none other than former F1 world champion Jody Scheckter with his company FATS (Fire Arms Training Systems). Scheckter was, at that time, touted as being the last Ferrari world champion (1979). Upon mentioning my new tenant to Rudy, he promptly told me that he knew Jody and, in fact, was his chief mechanic during the early days of Jody’s career in a Can-Am Porsche 917/10 fielded by Vasek Polak. Rudy also told me (and no one could tell racing stories like Rudy) that Scheckter, at the time, was the first driver he knew of that followed a rigorous diet and exercise program (while other drivers were still pursuing the playboy lifestyle), and always found a local gym wherever races took him — a driven, dedicated man. Yet, not without idiosyncrasies: As Jody’s mechanic, Rudy was also made responsible for making sure that Scheckter made it to the race track from the airport and back. Problem was, Scheckter would leave a message what day he was coming in but not on which airline, what flight number, or at what time of day. Jody Scheckter being a globe-trotting person, this meant that Rudy had to spend the entire day at the airport in hopes of spotting Scheckter.
I made arrangements for Rudy, my friend Greg Doff and I to visit with Scheckter at his offices shortly thereafter, as racing was taking us down to Road Atlanta anyway. Scheckter gave us a whirlwind tour of his facility, where weapons, from handguns to small cannons were being recreated to realistically simulate weight, recoil and such, and, along with computerized control systems and audio-visual effects, would provide training aids for personnel of military and police forces the world over. A vastly impressive organization, fabricating almost every part in-house. Being a driven man, Scheckter had apparently focused on winning the F1 championship, had stuck it out with Ferrari for one more year with little success, and had then left motorsports completely behind to single-mindedly start this business which, by now, maybe 14 years later, had contracts with every armed force in the world but for a handful.
In fact, except for one beautifully detailed Formula 1 car model — the Wolf, I think — and one solitary poster on his office wall, one would not have known that this man was ever involved in the sport. It was immediately apparent that Scheckter remembered Rudy well and had a lot of respect for him as the two reminisced about the early days of racing with Vasek Polak.
Scheckter asked us what it was that we were racing at Road Atlanta and upon us telling him that it was a Porsche 911, he seemed to be at a loss for a bit. Then he brightened and said, “Oh yes, kind of a sedan, I raced one of those once, damn difficult, it was the only time I ever got fired as a driver, I wrecked it immediately.” </>