ARCA RE/MAX Series Point Leader Bobby Gerhart Gold Headed to Michigan Seven Events So Far in '06, Seven Different Winners......... BROOKLYN MI (6-12-06) -- It's been four years since someone other than seven-time ARCA RE/MAX Series champion...
ARCA RE/MAX Series Point Leader Bobby Gerhart Gold Headed to Michigan
Seven Events So Far in '06, Seven Different Winners.........
BROOKLYN MI (6-12-06) -- It's been four years since someone other than seven-time ARCA RE/MAX Series champion Frank Kimmel marched into Michigan Int'l Speedway, event number eight on the 2006 tour, as the point leader.
But that's exactly what will happen when Lebanon, Pennsylvania veteran Bobby Gerhart walks through the Michigan pit gate for the 24th running of the Hantz Group 200 Friday afternoon, June 16th.
Gerhart, on the strength of a record fourth Daytona victory to start the season and consistency everywhere else, finds himself atop the ARCA RE/MAX Series point standings with Kimmel trailing by 100 markers.
The 2006 season is arguably one of the most competitive in history for the 54-year-old sanction. In seven events this year, there have been seven different winners beginning with Gerhart at Daytona in February. Robert Yates Development driver Stephen Leicht earned the victory at Nashville Superspeedway on April 15th before Billy Venturini answered with his career-first win on the Salem short-track on April 23rd. Kimmel steered his way to his 65th career victory at Winchester Speedway on May 7th. RWI's Steve Wallace was triumphant at Kentucky Speedway on May 13th with Ken Schrader earning his 13th career RE/MAX Series win at Toledo Speedway on May 21st. Dodge Motorsports development driver Chase Miller picked up the win at Pocono last Saturday, June 10th. Gerhart finished fifth in the Pocono race.
"We never anticipated we'd be in this position at this time of the year, or running for the title for that matter," said Gerhart. "And truthfully, we're not exactly in a position, currently, to run for the title. We're contractually tied to 10 TV events through our sponsor Lucas Oil. We just need to find a way to do the rest of the season. We're working on some things, and we're excited about the opportunity to go forward. And we're definitely excited about going to Michigan."
Gerhart, who runs his own business -- Bobby Gerhart Truck World -- to pay the bills, must find time outside of his "bread and butter" day job to run his race team, which he also owns.
"It's not easy; that's for sure. Right now, my desk is covered with paying bills and meeting payroll for my employees. I'll focus on the race team tonight. But my plight in this is not unlike most who chase the ARCA RE/MAX Series. Most in this series have day jobs and race fulltime outside of their careers. So I'm not an exception; I'm more the norm of what people do to keep up with this series, which has become increasingly competitive over the years."
Gerhart would certainly know. He's been racing in the ARCA RE/MAX Series for nearly 20 years and was rookie of the year in 1988 with a career-best championship points finish of third in 1999. He has 207 career starts with 93 top-10 finishes. His career-best Michigan finishes were back-to-back fourth place runs in '97 and '98. In addition to a fifth place finish there in '99, Gerhart was also the Pork Pole Award winner at Michigan in '98. But as is so often the case, his successes have come in the shadows of two-time Michigan winner Kimmel.
"Frank who?" joked Gerhart from his office in Lebanon, Pennsylvania office. "I can't take anything away from those guys. Frank's one of the best shoes in the country. But he's also had ideal conditions to make the most of what they do...and that's run a race team fulltime. Most teams in this series do not have the luxury of concentrating on a race team fulltime. They have businesses to run, which must come first, especially if you think you're going to be competitive in the ARCA RE/MAX Series. I have a lot of respect for the Kimmel's; I think everyone in this series does, but I have to tell you, I also have a tremendous amount of respect for the majority of teams here who, like we do, chase this thing after our fulltime jobs. I'd give anything if we could just focus on the race team, but we can't. Until someone comes along who can, for as long as the Kimmel's have, they're going to be tough to beat.
"Frank and Bill (Kimmel) have a great car owner in Larry Clement, and all the support he's been able to provide over the years. But without Larry, the opportunity isn't there to excel the way they're capable of."
Gerhart, not only deals with running his Truck World business, he also, along with his brother Bill Gerhart, owns the race team. In other words, he wears a lot of hats.
"I work seven days a week, 7 am to 10 or 11 pm every night. And racing is what drives all of it. It's what I think about when I get up; it's what I think about when I go to bed. I'm not complaining at all, and I wouldn't trade any of it. Would I like to concentrate solely on racing just once? You bet I would; but the reality is what it is, and I'm grateful for all of it.
"Truthfully, racing-wise, even despite all we do to keep everything afloat, we've been blessed with some very key people who work on the race team. I've had some core guys who have been with us for 20 years. We've had some turnover; everyone does, but we've had some guys stick with us through thick and thin. We know, at times, we're not easy to work for; we want to win; we demand more than we should possibly, but my guys know that the demands come from the desire to excel in an increasingly competitive series.
"But we have some excellent young guys who work really hard for Bobby Gerhart Racing; they're a huge part of our success. It's gratifying, when we do well like at Daytona, for me to see them enjoy that success.
"Our goals are to race smart, and that comes with experience and learning from our mistakes. We're all going to make mistakes. The team that'll win the championship here will make fewer mistakes than the rest. The less mistakes we make, the better position we'll be in, and then the racing will take care of itself.
"What we've tried to do this year is take the very best racecar everywhere; and we haven't always done that. I can't point at any one thing or person; we've just made some overall mistakes as a team."
Gerhart and his Lucas Oil team, in preparation for the Pocono 200 and the upcoming Hantz Group 200 at Michigan, tested at MIS. He was not happy with the results.
"We were definitely disappointed with our MIS test. We used it, for what we hoped would be a crossover between the Pocono and MIS races, but the body didn't go through the air like we hoped. When we got back to the shop, we cut the entire body completely off; and we'll re-skin it with an '06 (Monte Carlo).
Outside of his busy schedule, Gerhart is quick to point out that, even at 47 years young, seat-time is still critical.
"Historically through the years, Michigan was the always one of the first races we picked up on the schedule after Daytona. But now, since we've raced in every race this year, which is something we don't normally do, I think I'm able to give better feedback. The more you're in the seat, the sharper you stay, and the better info you're able to provide. It's one of the reasons why Frank (Kimmel) is so good everywhere...he races everywhere and consistently has over the years. We haven't. Most people know we've put most of our emphasis on the speedway races (Daytona/Talladega). But now that we're concentrating on more venues and racing everywhere, at least for now, we're getting better all the way around at what we do."
Gerhart, despite being the point leader headed to Michigan, is still not sure if he can race the entire 2006 schedule.
"Our goal is certainly to run for the championship, but if the resources aren't there, we can't do it. We came into this season thinking we were going to run 10-12 races, now we're leading the points and doing our best to explore all of our options. We're doing everything right; we're taking fresh cars and fresh engines (Jeff Collins builds Gerhart's motors) everywhere. We're capable of winning everywhere we go. We're just not in a position to run the whole series. We're close on some things that would put us in a position to run for the championship, but we're not there yet."
Even if Gerhart can get in a position to chase the entire tour, he knows it will still be a tall order to, when it's all said and done, carry home the top trophy.
"I've seen this series firsthand really grow over the years. It's never been more competitive than it is right now, period. I know that if you're going to do this....to run for the title, you're going to have to flat get up on the wheel. You'll never back into a championship here. You've got to buckle up and do the best you can, and that's what we're doing.
"10 years ago, many of the people I'd talk with didn't even know what ARCA was. Now, people that were clueless as to what ARCA is, are calling me wishing me good luck before each race. Our continual coverage on SPEED has been excellent and very good for the series. And guess what, people are watching for a reason. The TV ratings are good for a reason. They're seeing excellent, highly-competitive stock car racing here in this ARCA RE/MAX Series. Everywhere we go we have 30 to 35 cars that finish. You're seeing so much more competition here and a lack of attrition. That translates into a lot, and I mean a lot more people watching this series with a continual desire to see more.
"This series, over the last 20 years, has given me a combination of experience and maturity. I race a lot smarter than I did years ago. I'm still gunna make mistakes and do things I'm not always proud of, but I can assure you at the end of the day, I give each race my best. My purpose is not to race each lap like it's the last, but to get to the end of the race with the best finish I can. Sounds simple, but it's not as easy as it might appear. I know I can still be very competitive. I never dreamed in a million years I'd be racing for a championship in my late 40s. But whether it's this year, or next year, or the next, if I'm still competitive, I don't plan to stop until I put that exclamation point on my career, and I think you know what I'm talking about."