BY JEFF FALK
LONG POND – For Kyle Martel, it was a long day. A long, exhausting, but bountiful day.
For Bobby Gerhart, it was a short day. Way too short of a day. But one that was a bit longer than his last one.
The 2.5-mile tricky triangle that is Pocono Raceway provided two different experiences for the past and present, and future of Lebanon County stock-car racing on this Saturday, the fourth day of August in 2012.
The veteran Gerhart finished 16th in the Pennsylvania ARCA 125, which had been shortened from its usual 80 to 50 laps. In the June ARCA event at Pocono, the Lebanon racer had finished 25th after an accident shortened his day to 21 laps.
Martel, an enthuisastic, bright-eyed 25-year-old, finished 11th in the Pennsylvania 125 late Saturday afternoon, after climbing out of the PA Breast Cancer Coalition Chevrolet which he piloted to a 21st-place finish in the third annual Pocono Mountains 125, the 11th race on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
“I actually think I’m the first one to do it (drive in both races) at Pocono because they really haven’t had that many dual races here before,” said Martel, a graduate of Cedar Crest. “In the truck race, I learned a lot. We came here and did exactly what we wanted to do. Then we ran a clean race in the ARCA series. We stayed out of trouble. You can’t improve if you come home tore up.”
“It was too short,” said Gerhart of his race experience. “It should be a hundred laps. It’s almost like a sprint event. It puts more of an emphasis on practice. This is the first time we ran this race car, and it was a better race car than we had in June.
“It’s just been a couple of years since they’ve had the trucks here and that’s what shortened it,” Gerhart added. “I guess it’s a money thing. And a time thing too.”
Gerhart started 17th in the 35-car field. While he gave ground grudgingly, he never really made a charge at the front either.
Most of his day was spent running in the 13th to 15th position. With just one caution, the 125-mile race took all of 52 minutes to complete.
“We were just tight all day,” said Gerhart. “When you are, you just have to slow up a bit and protect the right-front tire. I didn’t notice it until Lap 15. These races are tough. You don’t get any adjustment time at all. These cars are so sensitive that you can get over the edge quickly.
“This is the shortest race of the year,” Gerhart added. “I think everybody’s running as hard as they can anyway. It just takes away from your adjustment time. We were looking for a caution to make adjustments.”
Chad Hackenbracht captured the checkered flag, finishing 13.453 seconds ahead of runner-up and pole sitter Brennan Pooole. Alex Bowman was third, Frank Kimmel came in fourth and Chris Buescher took fifth.
“I just wanted to run good and run strong,” said Gerhart. “It wasn’t a terrible day. We were just a little tight.
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do for the rest of the season,” Gerhart added. “I’m going to do a little development work and try to get better at these places. All you can do is work at it. That’s all you can do.”
Martel can certainly attest to that. At this point of his career, all Martel is trying to do is stay on the right side of the wall and understand the things that fly by him at 160-plus miles per hour.
Martel’s day on Saturday represented his first ARCA and NASCAR Camping World truck series outings of the year. For Martel, who has run just a handful of competitive big-time stock-car events in his career, it was also his first experience with Pocono’s smooth new pavement.
“Unfortunately, the racing world revolves around funding,” said Martel. “How do I stay sharp when I haven’t raced in a while? I’m always tinkering with the care and tinkering with the truck.
“I felt good for the ARCA race,” continued Martel. “The guys kept me hydrated. This is a new car to our stable. We didn’t know much about the car, but we learned a lot. We’ve never even been on this pavement before.”
After starting 24th in the Pennsylvania ARCA 125, Martel seemed to pick up momentum and confidence in the middle portions of the race. He appeared to be running strong at the end of it.
Martel enjoyed a similar performance in the Pocono Mountains 125. There he started 32nd in the 36-truck field and finished 21st.
“You always want to win,” said Martel. “It’s always the objective. I think we have a real strong race team. We’ll go get them again in June (the next race at Pocono).
“It’s a big goal (staying out of trouble) of our’s because there’s very, very limited funding,” added Martel. “We can’t go building new cars. We’ve got to build them once and build them fast. We try not to tear cars up. We want to bring them home.”