(TALLADEGA, Ala. – May 1, 2014) – Bobby Gerhart has long been considered ARCA’s king of restrictor plate racing. With eight wins at Daytona and one at Talladega, it’s not hard to figure out why.
That said, it’s somewhat ironic that Bobby Gerhart’s 300th career ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards start comes this Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway in the 52nd running of the Int’l Motorsports Hall of Fame 200. As an ARCA regular since 1988, he could have hardly planned it this way.
“It just turned out to be Talladega by chance, if you will,” Gerhart said. “If we would have planned this, we probably would have made one more start last year to make this year’s Daytona race the 300th, where we’ve had most of our success. But, as a milestone achievement, Talladega’s the next best thing for Bobby Gerhart Racing.”
It’s most assuredly been a long, winding road for Gerhart, who turns 56 in late July. His ARCA tenure reaches back to ’88 when he was ARCA’s SCOTT Rookie of the Year.
“This is a very special weekend for me, and it’s really not about the 300th start, although I realize that’s a significant milestone.
“My lifelong friend Joe Woelfling, Sr. passed away yesterday. My stock car career came to be because of Joe. He, without question, got me my start; he was involved from the beginning.
“We, like my dad, were central PA modified racers; that’s what we did. We had just won a big modified race in ’81, and Mr. Woelfling was there. He was a big-time car builder, sprint car owner in PA back then. Some of the best sprint car drivers out of Pennsylvania drove for Joe.
“It was that night that I expressed my interest to Joe of my desire to be a stock car driver, which was unheard of back then when you’re in the middle of modified country. Most people in the discussion chuckled when I said it, including my brother. Joe was the only person who took me seriously, so he got to the bottom of my desire to do this. He was the first person to take the position that I could do this. He provided the support we needed to get started. Our car here at Talladega will be carrying a commemorative decal for Joe.”
Unlike many successful big-time stock car teams who eventually migrate to the Charlotte, North Carolina area, Gerhart stayed with his Pennsylvania roots.
“I got news for you, it was no easy thing to run a stock car race shop out of central PA; it’s still not easy. I mean, it took seven to eight years to get started in a career that’s now 30 years old.
“And when you’re running a stock car race shop out of PA there are lots of obstacles to overcome. That’s why I’ve always been involved in all aspects of our operation…out of necessity. We can’t run across town for help like the teams can in Mooresville (NC). We’ve had to improvise and figure things out here in Lebanon (PA). We don’t do wind tunnel time like a lot of teams do. We do the best we can with what we have to work with, and we’ve done pretty well.”
And for Gerhart, that also includes driving his own transporters to and from the races.
“I’ve had to keep myself involved in all aspects of our race operation. When you’re running out of PA, I need to be able to do as many parts as I can. Most of my help over the decades has been all volunteer.”
Gerhart, who drives his own No. 5 Lucas Oil-MAVTV American Real Chevrolet, credits his long tenure and success to his faithful mob of volunteers.
“We’ve had so many volunteers help with our team over years, too many to mention. But there are a lot of people who started with us 25 years ago, and a lot of them are still here. Not only Joe, Sr. (Woelfling), but his sons Joe, Jr. our shock man and fuel strategist, and his brother Rick. Greg Smith, Sam Brubaker, the entire Skibo family, my brother Bill…I know I’m missing some. We’ve had a lot of volunteer support over the years, and we would not be making our 300th start this weekend in Talladega without all of it.”
In an atypical transgression, Gerhart made several NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts prior to his ARCA debut in ’88. Gerhart also continued to race on the Cup tour in the early days of his ARCA career. He’s also got several starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series tour over the years. In fact, Gerhart’s attempting the same-day double double-header this weekend at Talladega, running the ARCA race and the Aaron’s 312 Nationwide race soon afterwards.
“We sort of did this a little backwards over my stock car career. But, truthfully, I’ve never considered ARCA a development tour anyway. Whether you’re 16 or 66, people come to ARCA to race.”
And that’s exactly what Gerhart has done in ARCA. In 299 career starts, he has nine wins, 55 top-fives, 118 top-10s and nine Menards Pole awards. Overall, he has led 833 laps in 33 races.
“We have a lot of great memories, some not so good memories, but we’re glad to have been able to do it as long as we have. I think back over my 30 years-plus in this business and I could tell you so many great stories, but there isn’t enough time right now to tell them.”
Gerhart is the son of multi-time Eastern Modified champion Bobby Gerhart, Sr. Bobby’s brother Bill Gerhart has been his crew chief from the start.