Fast race cars don’t necessarily age well like fine wine, they need plenty of maintenance and updates to stay competitive. Lee Hartman scored a great deal on a Top Sportsman style 2006 GTO, but never got a chance to bring the car to the track in a timely fashion. Thankfully, Hartman was able to have the Goat resurrected by Jeff Melnick at Exotic Fabrication and turned into a truly amazing car.
The story of Hartman’s GTO begins with the previous owner going to jail and the U.S. Marshals seizing the car. Hartman found the GTO at an auction being held by the FBI and he purchased the car for a fraction of its build cost. The GTO was brought home and Hartman started to work on the car before life got in the way.
Hartman put a cover on the Pontiac and it sat for a decade before he touched it again, that’s where Melnick came into the picture. Hartman knew Melnick’s father from earlier in his racing career, so he contacted him to see if Jeff could prepare the GTO for the track once again.
“Lee reached out to me in 2019 about the project since he knew I raced Top Sportsman. We stripped the car totally down and rebuilt it from a bare chassis. Top Sportsman cars are no joke and I wanted to be sure this car was going to be safe before we returned it to Lee,” Melnick explains.
Melnick got to work updating the chassis, made room for the 400 cubic-inch LS engine from John Lahone, bolted the M&M Transmissions torque converter to the Rossler TH400 transmission, and wired up the Haltech Nexus R5 ECU. The final step for Melnick was to fabricate a custom turbo system for the GTO that would help the twin Precision 76mm turbos spool up quickly.
“NHRA doesn’t allow Top Sportsman cars to bump in when they’re spooling up turbos like they do in other organizations. You have to stage the car at idle and build boost right away. Your turbo system has to be well thought out when it comes to the size of the turbos, the design of the turbo system, the ECU you use, and the converter. We brought on Patrick Barnhill from PTP Racing to help with the Haltech and make sure the car would spool quickly,” Melnick states.
Melnick’s hard work on the GTO has paid off. The team took the car to the 2021 Gatornationals where it won the Best Appearing Car award, thanks to his fabrication skills and the stunning paint job from The Art Of Design. Melnick has been working with Barnhill to make sure the GTO is perfect for Hartman and he appreciates the opportunity to work on such an incredible machine.
“I really want to thank Lee for allowing me to work on this car and drive it. He’s made this process easy and has been great to work with. I also need to thank Patrick Barnhill for all of his assistance with the Haltech system. That man is a wizard behind the keyboard and understands how these cars work,” Melnick states.
If you’re lucky enough to see Hartman’s GTO at an event make sure you spend some extra time looking this car over. There are so many amazing details in the paint and fabrication work you’ll want to see. This GTO is one of the few cars you’ll see that has plenty of performance to match its show-stopping good looks.