Series Epping spotlight - Bob Bertsch

Bertsch finally gets his win When Bob Bertsch crossed the finish line ahead of Michael Bruno in the Pro Stock final at last weekend's Amalie Oil North American Nationals at New England Dragway, it was a moment the 64-year-old from Willis, ...

Bertsch finally gets his win

When Bob Bertsch crossed the finish line ahead of Michael Bruno in the Pro Stock final at last weekend's Amalie Oil North American Nationals at New England Dragway, it was a moment the 64-year-old from Willis, Mich. will never forget.

It wasn't Bertsch's first final -- it wasn't even his first win -- but there was definitely something sweeter about this win than any of the others and that, Bertsch says, is why he continues to spend his retirement in the cockpit of a racecar.

"This one means a lot to me," Bertsch said moments after climbing from the Rislone Ford Mustang. "This is my first real win and maybe now I can start collecting a few more."

In reality Bertsch's first career victory came in 2008 at Castrol Raceway in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, but unforeseen circumstances placed Bertsch as the only car in the field that weekend.

With no competition, Bertsch took home his first career Ironman and immediately dedicated the win in honor of his crew chief who passed away the month prior. With the trophy prominently displayed underneath of a picture of his friend and mentor, Bertsch immediately went back to work trying to pick up his second win and prove that he was not a one-hit-wonder.

He finished 2008 with little luck and then struggled even more to start 2009 with five first round losses in six races, but at last weekend's event in New Hampshire the stars aligned and Bertsch was able to eliminate some of the best in the business on his way to picking up the win he has been waiting for his entire career.

"The one in Edmonton was for John (Weisler) and there is no question about that," Bertsch said. "This one I was able to earn and for that I will always cherish this as my first Ironman."

Bertsch's victory last Sunday was the culmination of a racing career that began in 1969.

Growing up in Iowa with no drag strips for miles, Bertsch eventually moved to Michigan and was immediately introduced to the sport when a few of his coworkers took him to a race in 1968.

One year later Bertsch had his own car and was off to the races.

"I have always been a gear head and I started working in a garage and that is how I earned my way through college," Bertsch said. "I have always been on the mechanical side, always been doing stuff like that. I got my degree in mechanical engineering and started working for Ford Motor Company and spent 33 years in all different areas of manufacturing."

During that same span Bertsch worked alongside a close friend of his who raced circle tracks and motorcycles. Bertsch also spent some time on the NASCAR circuit as a member of a pit crew all while trying to get his racing career up and running.

"I have always raced, but I have never been able to commit to something because when you are in a big company you don't know when or if you are going to be free or not," Bertsch said.

Bertsch dabbled in different forms of racing, but his demanding job kept him busy year-round. During his career with Ford Bertsch lived all over the world, including stints in Mexico and China, before finally retiring in 2001.

Since then Bertsch has begun a consulting business to help pay for his racing habit, but he will be quick to admit that when it comes to work and racing -- racing always wins.

"I have been doing consulting since I retired, but I have geared my consulting around racing. After all, racing comes first and consulting comes second," Bertsch said with a smile.

After getting his start in the Top Sportsman ranks, Bertsch met a man by the name of Pete Berner who convinced him to move over to Pro Stock where he still races today.

Berner, a two-time IHRA Pro Stock World Champion, helped Bertsch get on his feet by providing a car and a few motors in the Spring of 2005, but it didn't take long for Bertsch to realize that the transition wasn't as easy as he expected.

"I bought a car and motor in 2005 that had qualified for every event the year before and in my first year I qualified at one event," Bertsch said. "It was a sobering experience because technology and what everyone was doing was so different. I was used to building cars that ran in the high 10s, but this is a different animal when you are running the kinds of speeds we are.

"So the next year I went to work building my very first new car."

Since then Bertsch has had a mixed bag of success, but his win last weekend in New Hampshire saw all of his hard work finally pay off.

So what keeps a man who will turn 65 next month barreling down the track at 220 miles-per-hour?

"The people I race with are what keep me doing this. All of the guys are always helping me or always coming over and talking with me. They are a fine group of people," Bertsch said. "Rick Jones built me a fine car and Jon Kaase has done a good job of providing horsepower. Combine that with this great group of people I compete against and it makes for the perfect place to race."

And with the win showing just what this team is capable of, don't expect to see Bertsch call it quits anytime soon.

"I am not a youngster anymore, but I certainly don't feel 65," Bertsch said. "I have a family that is very supportive and I know it is hard on my wife when I take off, but we are working on some ways so I can get some help for her while I am gone because you can't just let the family life go either.

"Life is just like racing, you have your good days and you have your bad days, but I have a very supportive family, a phenomenal sponsor and a great group of friends at the IHRA who have been very supportive of me over the years.

"I always try to maintain a sense of perspective and to be honest I feel like a pretty lucky guy to be able to do what I do."

It looks like that retirement home in Arizona is going to have to wait a little longer on Bertsch.

-credit: ihra

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