Gerhart, Experience Best Teacher at Pocono; PA Veteran To Make 40th Career ARCA RE/MAX Series Start on 2.5-Mile Triangle LONG POND PA (6-2-09) - When it comes to the 'dos, don'ts and dangers' of Pocono Raceway, it may be best to seek the...
Gerhart, Experience Best Teacher at Pocono; PA Veteran To Make 40th Career ARCA RE/MAX Series Start on 2.5-Mile Triangle
LONG POND PA (6-2-09) - When it comes to the 'dos, don'ts and dangers' of Pocono Raceway, it may be best to seek the advice from someone who's been around the high-speed triangular superspeedway a time or two.
That someone, when it comes to the ARCA RE/MAX Series is, more than likely, Lebanon, Pennsylvania veteran Bobby Gerhart, who stands to make his 40th career ARCA start at Pocono when the Pocono ARCA 200 rolls off Saturday, June 6. And that's not counting the 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts Gerhart has at Pocono over the years.
It's also where Gerhart's experienced some of his most horrific crashes over the years.
"I started my career there (at Pocono) 25 years ago," said Gerhart. "And I learned right away that you have to treat the place with a tremendous amount of respect; and certainly that goes for the competitors as well. There's a lot of give and take at Pocono. And it's a lot more give than take."
It was also at Pocono where Gerhart's career nearly ended 25 years ago, before it ever got off the ground. In Gerhart's second Cup start on the Long Pond, PA track, the engine blew up causing his car to slide sideways.
"Then we got hit in the driver's door in turn three, and I didn't remember much from there. I know I spent several days in intensive care."
The accident tore the car in two. It took three rollbacks to take the pieces away. Gerhart left unconscious in an ambulance and woke up in a hospital.
Now fast-forward to 2007 when Gerhart was involved in a nasty multi-car pile-up, this time in the infamous tunnel turn. Gerhart suffered a concussion and compression fracture in his vertebrae, and as a result, sat out the remainder of the season.
"You can't race into the tunnel turn with the same over-aggressiveness you see at other tracks. That wreck was 150% avoidable. Everyone knew exactly where they were except for one guy. The wreck was the result of contact; and it should never have happened.
"The car needs more real estate through the tunnel turn than we have historically given one another. Can you go through the tunnel turn two-wide? Of course, but you can't keep the line you intended through there, and that's where the give and take comes in.
"You just can't treat the place with a short-track mentality. You can run inside of someone, but often guys are quick to put a fender on someone there, and it's the wrong thing to do. Anymore, the cars are so good that the track almost disguises the speed. But the track will bite you in a heartbeat; and when it bites, it bites very hard."
Although he's never won on what he considers his hometown superspeedway, Gerhart's also had a great deal of success at Pocono over the years with 23 top-10 finishes, including his career-best third in 2004.
"The place is just a blast to race. You're so challenged in the seat. You're never great in all three corners. You can be good in one area and hold your breath in the next; that's the neat thing about the place.
"It's probably best to work in the two ends, which would be the fastest and slowest corners, and let the middle be what it is. You want to keep your speed up in the fastest corner and don't give up too much in the slowest, and let the tunnel turn be what it is.
"But if you're going to race through the tunnel turn side-by-side, which I don't recommend, then you just can't keep the same line you would have kept going through alone. It's the give and take thing that helps reduce the crash factor; and as fast as you're going there the consequences can be as extreme as anywhere we go.
"As long as everyone's respectful of one another, that's really the key. But the lack of respect I see in this series has gone way too far. And at Pocono, the cars are so comfortable that you don't necessarily realize how fast you're going into the corner; and that's when you get in trouble.
"Although we're all in this to go as fast as you can - you do what you have to do - but Pocono's one of those tracks where you have to really respect the track just as much as your competitors. That's what makes a good race at Pocono - 30-plus cars finishing with the fenders on.
"I've watched my last wreck there a hundred times, and it was a classic example of a lack of respect - the give and take factor.
"This series has put on some great races at that place over the years; and some have been wreck-fests, and it's always self-inflicted. I know this series is capable of putting on great races there, and it aggravates me when we don't.
"And, historically, we know we're going to have fast cars and slow cars there. The closing rate is phenomenally quick. If you're off the pace, you've got to position yourself so that you're in the flow of things, not in the way of things. You have to get way, way down on the bottom so that your left-side tires are right on the white line. You don't want to be 10, 15 feet up the track. That really adds to the crash-factor there, when the slower cars take the track away from the fast cars, it's a real problem. You've just got to give the faster cars the corners; that's all there is to it."
On-track activity for the Pocono ARCA 200 starts Friday, June 5 with practice from 10:15 AM to 11:55 AM. Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell follows at 1:45 PM. The Pocono ARCA 200 kicks off Saturday afternoon, June 6 at 1:00 PM and will be televised same-day on SPEED at 4:00 PM ET.
In addition, the ARCA Racing Network will carry live streaming audio coverage of the Pocono ARCA 200 at ARCAracing.com inside the ARCA Nation.
Tickets for the Pocono ARCA 200, the SPRINT Cup Series event and the entire 2009 Pocono Raceway season are available by contacting the Pocono Raceway Ticket Office at 1-800-RACEWAY (1-800-722-3929), or through www.poconoraceway.com.