BY JEFF FALK
LONG POND – Thinking ahead, thinking behind – to manage the moment.
Anticipating. Remembering. Processing.
Glaring out the windshield, peering out the netting and constantly checking the rearview mirrror.
Alert. Intense. Focused. In a zone.
Mental awareness. Perceiving everything around you. Pushing the limits of the brain.
On the macadame of the track, Bobby Gerhart’s mind races.
On a humid Friday evening on Pocono Raceway’s 2.5-mile Tricky Triangle, Gerhart tapped all of his mental energies and cerebral experiences to finish 16th in the General Tire #AnywhereIsPossible 200, the seventh event on the 2018 ARCA racing schedule. While cautions allowed the Lebanon stock-car racer to claw into contention, they also hindered Gerhart’s ability to finish the 80-lap race strong.
The checkered flag was earned by rookie Harrison Burton, during his first competitive ride on a superspeedway. Sheldon Creed was the runner-up, while Zane Smith came in third, Travis Braden fourth and Riley Herbst fifth.
After falling off the lead lap near the middle of the race, Gerhart finished about 18 seconds behind Burton.
“It’s a drain,” said Gerhart of his brain. “People don’t call racing an athletic sport. But it’s just a draining process, mentally. You’re dealing with heat. You’ve got to have a lot of focus in these cars. It’s very mental. You can’t check out early. You’re here to do the whole thing.
“You’ve got to really pay attention,” continued Gerhart. “You’ve got to think all the time here because each turn is different. You’re always thinking about the next corner, who’s around you and what advantages you can get on them.”
“It’s even harder when you’re not working well,” said Gerhart’s brother and crew chief, Billy. “You’re not only worrying about your car, you don’t want to mess up anyone else’s car. That’s really important to a veteran driver. It’s tough. He (Bobby) was extremely calm today. He never told us what to do. I just wish we had one more change to make at the end.
“You get used to it,” Billy Gerhart continued. “He’s been doing it over 30 years. The worst thing that can happen when you’re having a bad day is to make it worse yourself. This could’ve gone worse. He’s more drained mentally today than when he was when things went perfectly at Daytona. He was great at relaying information.”
Gerhart’s famous number-five, Lucas Oil Chevrolet was one of 20 – of the 30 cars which started – still running when the event’s smoke had cleared. The race was marred by seven cautions, and only 42 of the event’s 80 laps were run under green-flag conditions, including just five over the final 28.
The cautions extended the time of the race to 1:51.05 and reduced the average speed of it to 108.611 miles per hour.
“It’s a little frustrating,” said Bobby Gerhart. “I thought we could gain some postions at the end.
“At the end of the race, we were closing in on the top group of cars,” added Bobby Gerhart. “There were 20 really good cars here.”
“Some races just have caution fever,” said Billy Gerhart. “It gets frustrating when you want to race and you’re idling behind cars. There’s a lot of youth here. There doesn’t seem to be enough patience. I get it. People are here to make names for themselves and they run hard. But it’s not just here. There were too many cautions.
“When you anticipate it and lay back, you’re trying to stay out of trouble,” Billy Gerhart added. “You don’t want to be tearing up a car on the foolishness of someone else. It’s terrible.”
Gerhart was turning 56-second laps during the latter green laps of the race, some 2.5 seconds quicker than he was earlier. But they weren’t enough to overcome a 20th starting position, a bit of a slow start and all the cautions.
“My target coming here was 55.7s or 55.8s,” said Bobby Gerhart. “We put the car right on target with where it needed to be. It wasn’t seconds, it was tenths of seconds.
“The car ran very, very respectable until the end of the race,” Bobby Gerhart added. “We just couldn’t overcome track position.”
“I don’t know why we were so far off,” said Billy Gerhart of the opening laps. “We got lapped and got the lap back. We made major changes on Lap 55, but we didn’t have a green flag. Not that we could’ve made up two or three spots. But we have a good starting point for coming back here in July.”
After showers wiped out Friday’s morning practice, the race’s starting grid was determined by practice times in the afternoon. At the outset, Gerhart momentarily moved up to 17th, but 28 laps later the veteran local racer was a lap down the leaders.
Gerhart was able to get back on the lead lap around pit stops on Lap 40 and Lap 52. On Lap 57, he was running 16th.
“We were plagued by power steering issues in practice,” said Bobby Gerhart. “It would run two laps, get tight and then throw fluid. But we worked on it and at the beginning of the race we were ready.
“It’s only because they do so much in two days here,” Bobby Gerhart continued. “Any glitch in the weather and you’re done.”
“We tried to go aggressive on the set-up,” said Billy Gerhart. “It seemed OK on Wednesdsay. But it was no good once this track took rubber.”
The race represented Gerhart’s 329th ARCA start – 58 of which have come at Pocono – but just his third ARCA race of the year. No stock-car driver in history has turned more laps at Pocono than Gerhart.
“I thought the guys did a great job in the pits,” said Billy Gerhart. “We threw some crazy changes at it (the Chevrolet). Everything went fine. You want to leave here going in the right direction.”
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Bobby Gerhart’s Career Accomplishments in the ARCA Series
Bobby Gerhart’s 8 wins at Daytona came in ’12, ’11, ’10, ’07, ’06, ’05, ’02 & ’99. Outside his career-best ARCA championship point finishes of 2nd, he also finished 3rd in ’99, 5th in ’00 & ’91, 8th in ’88 & 10th in ’90 & ’97. In well over 300 career starts since 1988, he has 55 top-5 finishes and 122 top-10s. His best superspeedway finishes other than wins at Daytona & Talladega are 2nd at Daytona ’00, 3rd at Talladega ’11 & ’08, 3rd at Talladega ’05, 3rd at Pocono ’04, 3rd at Talladega ’97, 4th at Daytona ’08, 4th at Pocono ’08, 4th at Kansas ’05, 4th at Pocono ’02, 4th at Michigan ’98, 4th at Texas ’98 & ‘91, 5th at Pocono ’06, 5th at Pocono ’04, 5th at Kentucky & Talladega ’00, 5th at Lowe’s & MIS ’99, 5th at Pocono ’02, ’97 & ‘96, 6th at Kansas ’06, 6th at Pocono ’06, 6th at Daytona ’04 & ‘14, 6th at Daytona & Pocono ’01, 7th at Nashville ’06, 7th at Talladega ’06 & ‘14, 7th at Pocono ’05, 7th at MIS ’02, 8th at Kentucky ’06, 8th at MIS ’04, 8th at Daytona ‘98, 9th twice at Pocono ’15, 9th at Pocono ’09 & ‘10, 9th at Chicagoland ’10, 9th at Kentucky ’05, 9th at Gateway ’04, 9th & 10th at Atlanta ’98, 10th at Pocono ‘05 and 10th at Kentucky ‘04. His best short-track finishes are 2nd at Anderson ’00, 2nd at Flemington ’99, 3rd at Salem ’06, 3rd at Hagerstown ’89 & Flat Rock ’91, 4th at Winchester ’07, 4th at Toledo ’04, 4th at South Boston ’02, 4th at Toledo & Winchester ’00, 5th at Toledo ’07, 5th at Winchester ’06, 5th at Lake Erie & Milwaukee ’05 and 5th at Kil-Kare ’00. Bobby also won General Tire Pole Awards at Daytona in 4 consecutive seasons ’03, ’04, ’05 & ‘06. Also Pole winner at Talladega ’06, ’02 & ’01, MIS ’98 & Winchester ‘00. He has led 839 in 35 races. His first race was in 1976.