NORMAN — Bart Conner is a certified gear head. As a child he was the kind of kid who would tear down the family lawn mower engine and put it back together for fun.
Conner’s dad was an engineer and they share a passion for interesting and unusual automotive technology. The family never had a new car; they paid cash for used Lincolns with suicide doors and other distinctive used rides. Conner’s first street legal vehicle, after a succession of mini-bikes and go-carts, was a 1948 Willys Jeep.
“There were three boys in our family and we all pitched in $200 and bought a $600 Jeep,” Conner said. “We loved it; six-volt battery, four banger flathead engine that would go about 48 mph flat out.”
His dad started a photo album called “Bart’s Toys” to chronicle the various cars he’s had over the years. There’s a snapshot of Bart with the Willy in the suburban Chicago neighborhood where he grew up.
“It had a canvas roof and doors flapping in the wind,” Conner said. “It’s 20 below zero and I’m driving it wearing a ski jacket, just as happy as can be.”
Admitted to Oklahoma University on a gymnastics scholarship, his first two years of study were in the aerospace, nuclear and mechanical engineering program. Because of opportunities to work as a commentator for NBC television sports and stints on promotional campaigns, it appeared his academics should be headed in a different direction. Conner graduated from OU in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He is probably best known for being an Olympic gymnastics gold medalist.
Conner has gone on to build a sports training, philanthropy, media and motivational speaking conglomeration in Norman with Olympic gold medalist spouse Nadia Comaneci and former OU coach Paul Ziert.
Through all the various experiences, occupations and interests, Conner has never lost his love for interesting automobiles. He has attended performance driving schools and done some racing in 5/8-scale replicas of cars from the 1930s on the Legends circuit. Conner digs going 80 mph sideways.