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Butch Garner will be honored at Macon Speedway for Hall of Fame induction

Macon Speedway
Clay Jackson Photo

Macon Speedway

By: Matthew Flaten

FORSYTH — It has been 40 years since Butch Garner won the first Herald & Review 100 race at Macon Speedway, but for the former dirt track driver, it doesn’t seem that long ago.

Garner, 76, still vividly remembers grabbing the checkered flag on the final lap, but wants to dispel some misconceptions about that night in July of 1981.

“There is a little bit of confusion about that night,” he said. “We led laps 75 to 93 and at lap 92-93, we were running out of fuel. We would be fine on the straight away but in the corners we were dying out.

“Then there was a wreck and the red flag came out and they gave us five minutes to work on the car. We needed a new tire and we needed some gas and I was able to catch up and win on the last lap.

“It is a great thing and I was happy as if I had won the Daytona 500 because there were so many people there.”

Garner will be back at Macon Speedway this weekend to be honored for his induction to the Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame as a member of the 2020 class and he will have a meet and greet with fans and sign autographs when the gates open at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Garner was originally going to be inducted in March, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed that date until August of 2021.

Macon Speedway

“Butch is a great guy and very humble,” said Art Fehrman, founder of the Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame located in Roscoe, Illinois. “He doesn’t brag about all the races he’s won and he treats everyone with so much respect. The best way I can describe him is that he is a champion on and off the race track.”

Garner was close to perfect during his three consecutive points championships at Macon Speedway in 1970, 1971 and 1972. He went on to also find success in the USAC (United States Auto Club) and ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America) circuits.

“We would go there (to Macon) to have fun and the car has to be right,” Garner said. “When the car is right, you can set back and take your time and pick what you want to do. If you are trying to play catch up, you are going to get in a wreck. I’ve been in both parts of it.”

It would turn out that the first H&R 100 was one of those nights when Garner’s car wasn’t quite right. He and his crew had switched out his right front spring and it caused problems throughout the night.

“We were trying to think ahead and knowing we had to run 100 laps and we had to be able to run just as fast at the 100th lap as we do in 25th lap that we normally race,” Garner said. “We went with a different spring and that was good for the 100 laps but not very good to qualify or for the heat race. We should have put it in until after we qualified. The spring made the car too tight and I couldn’t turn. Whenever I went into the corner, it wanted to go into the wall.”

The H&R 100 was originally scheduled for July but the delay in starting the season due to the pandemic has pushed the race to Thursday, August 13.

Garner stopped racing full time in 1987 but continued to get behind the wheel into the 1990’s. Last year, he got the chance to drive a few laps around Macon and it brought back many emotions.

“They have a two-seater down at Macon and I got to take a friend with me around the track and it almost brought back the feeling of, ‘I can do this again,'” Garner said. “But I can’t. It was fun to do that last year and I went as fast as I could go without crashing.

“I’m glad (Macon Speedway co-owner) Bob Sargent is carrying it on and I go down there when I can and think about how much fun those guys are having and I maybe wish I was a little bit younger. Every Saturday night, that was my life and it is still a part of my life.”

Garner is one of eight people who will be inducted into the Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame in 2020. He said he shares the honor with all the people that helped him in the pit and the shop over his decades of racing.

“It’s not just me — there are people who helped me all the way through and people who took time away from their families and every night working on the car,” he said. “I want them to know that I appreciate that and I was the lucky that got to drive it. You aren’t a superhuman being when you are in the car. You have to have the right people with you.”

By: Matthew Flaten | Herald & Review |Jul 18, 2020