Silver Dollar Nationals

Monday, May 6, 2013

1976 – Sam Bartus is a quiet man; exploding with ideas

Madison, Wis. (May 6, 1976) - Sam Bartus is not the sort of person to go unnoticed in a crowd.
He wears silver brocade and gold lame suits trimmed with sequins and rhinestones in the manner of Liberace. He drives flashy sports cars or unusual limousines, such as his gleaming black six-door Mercedes.
He's not one to skimp on money. When he has it (and he has it) he goes first class. “I like to stay in nice places and eat good food,” he says. “Money is for spending.”
He has a large five-bedroom home in Madison and an apartment in Wausau and he spends part of each week at each place when he's not traveling. “But I travel a lot,” he says.
He takes chances, jumping into new ventures with an abandon that might terrify lesser souls. “I like the challenge,” he notes. “The harder it is, the better”
Yet despite his wardrobe (not a gray flannel suit in the lot) and his Cadillac’s (he buys two convertibles every year) and his Mercedes with its refrigerator, television set, bar, real leather and mahogany interior, Sam Bartus does not have a flamboyant personality.
This stocky, hard working sensitive man is rather quiet, soft spoken and private.
He was born 54 years ago in Mosinee, saw service with the army in World War II, earned the Purple Heart and collected a few other medals, and wound up in Japan with the occupational forces.
Back in the United States, he started selling farm machinery and cars in Mosinee, later in Wausau, and got bitten by the stock car racing bug. He entered his first race in 1951 and came away a winner, which is some sort of a record, he says.
With just his interest in stock car racing to spur him on, he built his first of several dirt tracks near Wausau the following year. The track wasn't too successful, so he opened a gravel pit on the same site with his brother Ed, who still owns and runs it.
More interested in cars than gravel, Sam cut loose from the gravel pit and opened a used car garage in Wausau, where he keeps his ever-changing collection of antique or unusual cars. Right now he has a 1924 Cadillac limousine, a ‘49 Desoto, several other ancient Cadillac’s and of course the Mercedes. “When I see a car I like, I buy it,” Sam says.
The used car business flourished and is still going strong, but Sam couldn't get stock car racing out of his mind. He built several tracks around the state before he tackled the Capital Super Speedway, a quarter million dollar venture near Oregon, which he jumped into when his bank balance was only $10,000.
He started building the track in the fall of 1968, was grounded for the winter, and went back to work in April. “It was mission impossible,” he recalls. “The place was a mess, but I told people we’d be open for business in May and we did.”
In order to get the speedway on the road, he worked as much as 40 hours straight without resting. “I hauled pipes and lumber and other materials from all over the state,” he says.
That must have been a picture to give passersby pause: Sam in his flashy brocade suits) hauling rough materials on a two-wheeler behind his streamlined Eldorado Cadillac convertible.
Now Sam's hatched another idea. He's planning to hold rock festivals on a 500-acre plot of land 75 miles north of Los Angeles. He's never put on a rock festival before, but that's the challenge.
“I've observed how other rock festivals were held,” he says. “And I didn't think they were doing a good job.”
“A rock festival was never held more than once in the same place. I plan to hold a successful one and repeat it every so often in the same location.’
He tried to get a place in Wisconsin for the rock festival but permits “are hard to come by mostly because of the past bad records of other rock festivals,” he says.
The prospect of risking his current financial stability on a rock festival doesn’t seem to faze Sam.
“I figured if I can build a track without much money, I can go into rock too," he says confidently.
His first rock festival is scheduled for the Labor Day weekend, but all plans wait the granting of the permit, which he expects this week. Then everything will fall into place, Sam is confident.
In the meantime, he's learning how to fly an airplane, spending two to three hours a week up in the air with an instructor. He expects to have his license any day now.
Then, if anyone wants to swap an airplane for his Mercedes, he's willing.

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