BY JEFF FALK
LONG POND – How many 60-year-old athletes do you know? How does a 60-year-old stock-car driver compete with racers more than half his age?
The real question is: ‘How much longer can Bobby Gerhart continue to race?’
On a moist Friday afternoon at Pocono Raceway’s 2.5-mile ‘Tricky Triangle’, Gerhart turned reflective following a disappointing 24th-place finish in the rain-shortened ARCA Modspace 150. The veteran Lebanon stock-car racer’s peak into his racing future came six days after his 60th birthday and only hours after another frustrating run at Pocono.
This time, Gerhart was plagued by an alternator malfunction throughout. Ultimately it caused the short-circuiting of his day on pit road on Lap 28.
Contested under threatening skies, the scheduled 60-lap, 150-mile race was reduced to 33 laps when the clouds opened and a deluge ensued. At the time of the thunderstorm, Zane Smith was leading the Modspace 150 and because of that was awarded the checkered flag.
Sheldon Creed finished as the runner-up, Chase Purdy finished third, Harrison Burton came in fourth and Riley Herbst was fifth.
“It’s not the race that drains you, it’s the preparation,” said Gerhart, who has not yet committed to racing next year. “To do this, most people don’t grasp how much you do or how much time goes into it. If you’re trying to do it well, it’s difficult.
“I’m beginning to explore what I want to do in the future,” continued Gerhart. “I want to stay involved in racing. This series has allowed a certain type of development and it’s a very technical thing. A lot of people want to race. But they can become extremely disappointed when they run into brick walls.”
Gerhart and his crew battled the alternator issues throughout the race and did everything in their power to avoid the ultimate electrical outage.
Gerhart pitted three times in the event’s first 15 laps in an attempt to right the situation. He was running 13th on Lap 26, but it wasn’t too long after that that he began to falter.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” said Gerhart. “We lost our charging system. It started on pit road. We spent most of the day working on the rear end. Then we started the race and it wasn’t charging. It was a combination of things that didn’t go our way. We did everything short of changing the alternator.
“The alternator is for the battery,” added Gerhart. “You get to a certain point and they shut down. They consume a lot of power to work. We came in before the race and started to fix it, and we couldn’t. It’s the kind of thing you want to perform correctly. They wouldn’t do anything correctly unless it has 14 volts, then it gets to 12 volts, then it gets to ten volts and then it shuts down.”
Despite the rear-end issues, Gerhart entered the race optimistic. He practiced well in the morning and qualified 15th.
But that optimism was quickly tempered by reality.
“We had a good practice and we did well in qualifying,” said Gerhart. “It all looked extremely promising. It was the same car we ran here in June. But you certainly can’t push it. It’s got to run.
“You kind of start thinking, ‘What’s next?,'” Gerhart added. “You go so long with no issues and then you get to the point where, ‘What’s next?'”
Over the years, ARCA has evolved into a series where drivers backed by funding come to gain experience. Ironically, Gerhart is a driver with experience hindered by a lack of funding.
“It’s not easy,” said Gerhart. “I know coming into these races I’m not going to be able to compete with the top ten, 11 or 12 cars. Some guys get really disappointed. It’s disappointing knowing that when you come here you’re not going to be at the level they are. It’s all engineering and how they prepare. It’s how they’ve advanced the game.
“I’ve got to try to do what I can to organize a program that’s a little more competitive,” Gerhart continued. “People come here and say ‘I’m going to lay down a 53.o- (second) lap’. Easier said than done. You’re not going to beat money. You’re not going to beat engineering and experience. They have a few more tricks in their bags.”
Gerhart was not the oldest driver to start Saturday’s ARCA Modspace 150. But all of the top six finishers were 20 years of age or younger.
“What I’d like to do is put a program together that seeks a funded driver,” said Gerhart. “It all comes down to how much you can afford to be prepared. This is a sport where there’s no limit as to how much money will do for you.
“I look for little jumps and we continue to make them,” added Gerhart. “This could’ve been a potential tenth-place car. It’s hard to be content when other teams have you covered in a couple of areas. You do this to be competitive.”
Given the David-versus-Goliath situation Gerhart has operated under for decades, it’s amazing how long he’s been able to perform at the level he has. Gerhart was the ARCA rookie of the year in 1988 and has been competing on that circuit, and others, for many of the past 40 years.
“Behind the scenes what’s happened is, the latest from an organizational standpoint, the objectives have gotten much stronger,” said Gerhart. “The organizations that were on top before aren’t any more. Some of them are just better off the truck than we are.
“Teams who are on top of the heap, who two or three years ago were cup teams, they’re spending a lot of money,” continued Gerhart. “These rides are $1.2 million or $1.3 million for 20 races. That’s what it costs to be on top. The talent has come here because a lot of things in the cup garage went unfunded.”
Gerhart’s run at Pocono was his sixth ARCA start of the season. If – or when – he does retire as a driver, it will be a smooth and gradual transition into the next phase, rather than a profound leap.
“When I saw the race was on my birthday, I thought, ‘What else am I going to do?,” said Gerhart of his 60th birthday at Berlin Raceway in Michigan. “‘Why not?’
“I think it’ll (the potential retirement) be a change of direction,” concluded Gerhart. “There’s some things I’m talking to other people about. They’re looking for another avenue like me, whether that means becoming a co-owner or putting resources together.”
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Bobby Gerhart’s Career Accomplishments on the ARCA Circuit
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.