With his heart in it, car owner Scherer on the mend
With his heart in it, car owner Scherer on the mend
(TOLEDO, Ohio – July 6, 2015) – Longtime ARCA team car owner Kerry Scherer lives and breathes racing. And if you take out the racing part, he feels fortunate to be just plain living and breathing too.
Scherer, the other half of Cunningham Motorsports, had open-heart bypass surgery just over four weeks ago.
“I’m getting better every day,” Scherer said. “Today (July 2) marks my four-week anniversary of the open-heart surgery. I had my first doctor’s appointment yesterday…everything’s fine. I have a stress test on July 9 just to make sure there are no abnormalities, and from there, I’ll be released into an exercise program overseen by a qualified staff.”
Actually, Scherer’s already been on the march in spite of his upcoming exercise regimen.
“I’ve already been walking one or two miles here and there. I’ve come a long way since I first got out of the hospital. My wife, initially, had to help me go 50 feet. I’ve gained on it exponentially…my energy level is on the rise and I’m feeling really, really well. I’ll be running circles around the guys at the track in no time.”
For Scherer, getting back to the track may be just what the doctor ordered.
“I eat, sleep and drink racing. Mentally, I think getting back to the track will be therapeutic…really good for my system. Sitting here and not being able to go is very hard. I can’t wait to get back.”
Getting back to the track has always been a lifelong pursuit for Scherer.
“My dad raced sprints and midgets so I was always around racing as a kid. I raced flat-track motorcycles for three or four years too in the southeast.”
Scherer was born in 1949 in a naval air station hospital in Norfolk, Virginia.
“My dad was an aeronautical engineer in the Navy…very smart man. He got transferred to Jacksonville, Florida when I was one, and that’s where I grew up.”
Scherer eventually went to Georgia Tech where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Textile Management. From there, he attended the University of Georgia where he earned a Master’s degree in Agriculture Economics. He went to work for Merrill Lynch in 1977 and has been in the brokerage business ever since, 38 years in all.
Despite his flourishing career in finance, he could never shake his racing addiction.
“Fast-forward…I became good friends with Mark Gibson. I used to go just to see him race. Then I started going to Mark’s shop throughout the week, and started going to more of his races. I became a weekend warrior at the track I guess you could say.
“Then I made the decision that I was going to get involved in a full-time capacity. I got in touch with Briggs Cunningham. The Cunningham family has been synonymous with racing for decades and I asked him if he’d be interested in forming a team. He said, ‘let’s do it.’
“At the end of the ’96 season, Briggs wound up buying Richard Petty’s truck team. Petty was changing over to Dodge so Briggs purchased Petty’s Chevrolet stuff. Through my friendship with Mark (Gibson) we formed CSG Racing, rented a shop in Winder, Georgia and went at it.
“End of the ’99 season, we moved the shop to North Carolina.”
Scherer became increasingly instrumental on the ‘driver development’ concept.
“I remember standing with Ron Drager (ARCA President) in 1998 at Daytona and discussing the idea of driver development and how this series could become a driver development series. I don’t mean entirely, but mix in the concept among all the veterans who were already here. If you look back on that era, most of the drivers were established veterans…Frank Kimmel, Mark, Bobby Gerhart, Mark Thompson, Andy Belmont, Schacht. Josh Baltes was the only young kid I remember back in that era.
“My wheels were turning, so in 2001, I went to Bob Wildberger, who headed-up Dodge’s racing operations and said I wanted to start developing young drivers with our ARCA team. He said, ‘that’s great’ but that he needed more of a commitment on our part. So we committed fully to our team and we showed him…’there’s the people, there’s the shop, there’s the cars.’ They signed us up through 2007.
“I’ve had the great fortune of working with Richard and Kyle Petty, Ray Evernham, a lot of quality people…I have tremendous respect for Richard and Kyle…they treated me great.
“At the start of the ’08 season, we moved back to Mark Gibson’s shop in Georgia. Bout that time, Tim Cindric of Penske Racing wanted to meet with me and he ended up signing us to a driver development program. End of ’09, we signed the deal with Penske and moved up to Paul’s (Andrews) shop.”
No matter the ‘deal’, Cunningham Motorsports has long been associated with winning performance in the ARCA ranks, earning 28 career victories with 11 different drivers from 1997 through 2015, including Mark Gibson, Chase Miller, Scott Lagasse, Jr., Patrick Long, Parker Kligerman, Dakoda Armstrong, Tom Hessert and Alex Bowman. Kligerman won nine races in 2009 alone in the Cunningham program, won SCOTT Rookie of the Year honors, and missed the overall championship by just five points. Already this year, three drivers have driven Cunningham cars to Victory Lane – Blake Jones at Talladega, Kyle Weatherman on the NJMP road course and Trevor Bayne at Pocono.
“Kyle Weatherman is an exceptional young man. Actually, Paul Andrews was going to local tracks in search of talent and spotted him when he was 12. After seeing him race, Paul said he’d like to do something with him. At the beginning of the season, we formed an alliance with Roush Fenway Racing, with Penske Racing’s blessing, and ended up getting Kyle back. I’m convinced the kid is going places…he just needs some luck. He was racing (Ken) Schrader for the lead at Winchester, came in for a pit stop and the jack broke. Lost a ton of spots on pit road. He made it back to fourth, but he could have won that race. He comes from a great family…he’s a great kid. We’re really, really high on him.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have Tom Hessert in our program all these years. Another great family…we realize we’re lucky to be working with Tom and his dad. I’ll tell you what…Tom can win this championship this year. He’s got it going on. He’s fast everywhere…just needs some luck.”
Scherer also understands how having a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion crew chief at the helm is worth its weight in gold.
“Paul Andrews is the hardest working man in racing. I met Paul originally as part of the Dodge development program…through Paul’s son Tim, who was working with the Petty’s and Dodge.
“As things turned out, Paul’s been a great fit. He’s a remarkable man. He does everything. He can do anything. He’s the glue that holds the racing operation together.”
And of course, the other key component at Cunningham Motorsports is Briggs Cunningham.
“Briggs is world famous in motorsports. He’s been involved in sports car racing all his life. He’s had his own late model teams…modified teams up east…he’s done it all in this business. He’s been my partner for 20 years. How many people can say they’ve had the same business partner for 20 years? He’s my idol…he’s always there. You think, at times, he may not be paying attention, but don’t believe that for a moment…he knows everything that’s going on over here. I love the man. I’m so blessed to have him as a partner. If Paul holds the racing together, Briggs is the one who holds Cunningham Motorsports together.”
Don Radebaugh, firstname.lastname@example.org