Story By: A2DPR / KODY HARTLAUB RACING – EAST BERLIN, PA – Kody Hartlaub has been racing in Central PA for over 15 years but the path to where he is today has been anything but a steady climb. The graph of his progression probably looks a lot like a jagged mountain range over those years.
He had a lot of success in his early years in go-karts but then was in and out of the sport for a few years. He dabbled in 600 micro sprint racing, then 358 sprint cars. In 2018 he logged nearly a full season in the 358’s, but then sat out the 2019 season and raced a sparse 2020 schedule.
Finally, in 2021, everything fell into place for the Littlestown, PA native to run a full season. That season, Hartlaub captured his first 358 sprint car win at Lincoln Speedway. Over the course of the 2022 and 2023 seasons, Hartlaub has continued to improve. He got back to victory lane this season and he also launched his own 410 sprint car team.
The mountain range with it’s valleys of the past is now starting to look more like a steady climb.
Let’s take a closer look at the path Hartlaub has been on and where it might lead for the driver of the J Fuels, Brewer Home Improvements, Moose Blocks, Smith Titanium, SRR Engines, Siegel Racing, T&N Solutions, Inch & Co. Real Estate, Bigham Appraisals, Pretzel Boy, HAAS Shocks, Chop Designs, Herr Electric, Hartlaub’s Furniture, Kody Hartlaub Racing No.95.
REMARKABLE 358 PERFORMANCE
Hartlaub finished in the top ten in 87% of his 358 sprint car starts in 2023. Fifteen of those twenty top-ten finishes were top-five finishes. Three of those were wins.
Let that sink in. Those stats were amassed despite handicapping systems, track conditions, and all the random on-track and mechanical issues that are part of the sport.
Those kinds of stats don’t happen by accident or luck. They are a result of preparation, a commitment to continuous improvement of the smallest details, and the dedicated support of a group of people working together.
Hartlaub spoke a couple of seasons ago about working to build depth in his program, from equipment to knowledge. The goal then was to just make sure his team could attend every race and compete, not needing to be sidelined due to a lack of resources. The mindset was the only way to get better was to race, so all efforts were aimed at making sure he could make every possible lap.
Fast forward to 2023 and the results show Hartlaub has accomplished his initial goals. There were incidents and challenges during the season but as a result of their established depth and experience, the team was able to qualify for and finish every race. That’s the first step in winning races and championships.
“This is exactly what I set out to build. A 358 sprint car team that could compete for wins every time out. I extremely pleased with how our team was able to work together to accomplish that in just a few years.“, Hartlaub said.
“Honestly, the year was nearly perfect but I feel I fell short at Williams Grove. I really wanted my first win there and I wanted the championship, but I’m not complaining. I’m just my own worst critic. I push myself pretty hard to be good at every aspect of this sport.“
“This is the year I needed in 358’s to prove to myself and my team that we are ready to go 410 racing. Hopefully, I earned a little respect from others in the pit area before we make the move up. It meant a lot to me when someone who has been in the sport a long time said to me late this season that nobody can doubt me when I transition. That said, I know it won’t be easy and I don’t expect to have success right away at that level.“
PRODUCTIVE 410 SEAT TIME
With the support of partner Brewers Home Improvements, Hartlaub purchased a new Eagle chassis last winter. He also picked up a used 410 engine from Danny Dietrich. His 2023 goal was simply to get some seat time and begin the learning process to eventually make the move to full-time 410 sprint car racing someday.
Hartlaub’s strategy for his limited 410 starts in 2023 was simply to make laps and learn, even voluntarily running at the back of the field if necessary to accomplish it.
That’s exactly how the first couple outings in June played out but Hartlaub realized he was more comfortable in the car than he anticipated. He started to compete and mix it up a little bit in July and logged a 14th-place finish at Williams Grove Speedway.
In his last two 410 races of the season in August, Hartlaub showed he was clearly accomplishing his goals for the season, and more. He registered a runner-up finish at Lincoln Speedway and a 6th place at BAPS Motor Speedway.
“I’m glad we did what we did this year. I definitely learned a lot. We had some good runs and I feel like I was able to really make progress behind the wheel because we had a decent car. Had the car been total junk, it would have been difficult for me to get good experience. That’s a credit to my team and the people who support us.“, Hartlaub commented.
“Our 410 car was completely different than our 358 car, so that’s a big confidence boost to me and my team, knowing we didn’t just find something that worked on one car and stayed with it. We figured out a completely different car and ran pretty well.“
As the National Open approached at Williams Grove Speedway in late September, Hartlaub’s phone rang with an unexpected opportunity. Bill Rose, a full-time member of the World of Outlaws series, was looking for someone to fill the seat of his No.6 while he healed from a late-summer accident.
Hartlaub accepted and the pair competed in the National Open. Rose then extended the offer for the East Berlin, PA driver to wheel the car at the Port Royal Speedway Outlaw events as well.
“The opportunity to drive Bill’s (Rose) No.6 car was completely unexpected. It was a great opportunity and I’m extremely grateful for it.“, Hartlaub commented. “I built friendships and connections, and raced against the best of the best with the World of Outlaws at Williams Grove and Port Royal.“
“Our results weren’t great but I gained a ton of experience. I had never turned laps at Port Royal but we weren’t terrible there. I struggled a little in time trials but raced pretty well and passed cars. I had never run on the fence at a place like that where you carry wing speed all the way around. It’s a different feel to have that all the way around a half-mile and learn to trust that kind of grip in the corners. You can run the bottom just as hard at the top there. Understanding how to use that is key and I learned a lot in just a couple nights.“
Rose, based in Indiana, called Hartlaub because he received a suggestion from a friend in the sport that he give him a chance to fill the seat when he headed east for the final Pennsylvania swing of the season. He trusted the tip and did just that.
“Kody is one of the best kids I have ever worked with.”, Rose said with no hesitation and a level of excitement in his voice. “He’s a really good guy. He’s polite, wants to learn, and is extremely appreciative of the opportunity.“
He wasn’t just complimentary of Hartlaub’s personality.
“That kid is going to be good. He is going to be around for a while.”, Rose added. “I told him he wasn’t in our best car. We were trying to finish the year and save our new stuff for 2024. We didn’t have much time together but he progressed quickly during those few nights. We didn’t time well but Kody raced really well, especially on the final night at both tracks after we had some time to adjust things. I wished we could have had our best stuff for him. He would have been even better.“
“We worked really well with Kody’s entire team. He has good guys. They are all fun to be around and they get the job done.“
Rose had some advice for the East Berlin, PA driver.
“I told him not to stay in PA. PA is a good area and yes he needs to race those tracks but I told him to get out and travel when he can. Race other tracks and other competition. That’s really important for the growth of a driver and the entire team.”, Rose shared.
“If I could get the right deal in place, I would put him in the car and hit the road. Right now that’s just not our situation. Maybe someday.“
The bottom line is this. People are noticing Kody Hartlaub’s performance and abilities. Does this mean more opportunities like this? Maybe. Sometimes things in sprint car racing happen fast and sometimes the wheels turn slowly. Either way, Hartlaub is ready to do the work to be prepared, regardless of whether he’s holding the wheel of his own No.95 or the next steering wheel he is offered.
MAKING THE MOVE
In 2024, Kody Hartlaub will take his No.95 to the 410 sprint car ranks full-time. This is what the East Berlin, PA driver has been working towards and he feels it is time.
“We won’t be starting over completely but 2024 will be about learning how to build a 410 sprint car program. We know it’s a different animal than the 358 and we know it will take time to reach a consistently competitive level like we did with the 358 program.“, Hartlaub shared.
“I want our 410 team to be a versatile program. I don’t want to just focus on one or two tracks or run for points. My plan is to travel a little within the region and gain experience at a variety of tracks and against a variety of competitors. I think that is the best way to develop as a driver and a team to eventually be competitive anywhere we unload.“
Hartlaub is waiting for 2024 schedules to be released by tracks and series, then the team will sit down and plan what fits their schedules and of course their resources.