LONG POND – This concept of ‘luck’ – or more accurately ‘fortune’ – in sports is more than a cop-out, an excuse or a rationalization. It’s real. And it seems the more variables in a sport, the greater the degree of luck.
There are few sports which involve more variables than automobile racing.
On Friday evening at the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway, fortune did not ride with either Bobby Gerhart or Kyle Martel, during the running of the ARCA ModSpace 125. Both Lebanon drivers experienced mechanical difficulties beyond their controls and were sent to the garage before the completion of one-third of the 60-lap race.
Officially, Gerhart finished 23rd in the 31-car field and Martel came in 28th . Gerhart was ultimately forced to the garage on Lap 20 by a blown tire he suffered at the start of the race – ARCA listed the reason as ‘vibration’ – while Martel had blown a valve 11 laps earlier.
It was two bad strokes of luck for Gerhart and Martel, at a place they call their home track, and others call ‘The Tricky Triangle’.
The race was won by Justin Allison, the next generation of the famous Allison racing family. Allison, who averaged 121.918 miles per hour, beat runner-up Will Kimmel to the finish line by 0.384 seconds.
“There’s actually a lot of luck involved,” said the 27-year-old Martel, who will compete in Saturday’s Nationwide Truck Series event at Pocono. “To be in the sport these days, you’ve got to have money or luck. It’s a gamble every time you go out there. It’s a car. Things break. There’s only so many things you can account for. It just wasn’t our day.
“It’s just our luck this weekend,” continued Martel. “The guys have been working for two or three months, just trying to be ready for this weekend. I can’t thank them enough. I’m excited about tomorrow.”
“So many things can go wrong,” said the 56-year-old Gerhart. “Tens of thousands of things can go wrong. I’m not going to say this track hasn’t been good to me. But we’ve had much better days here for sure.
Gerhart, who was running a Chevrolet he had purchased just a few days earlier, started the race from the 29th position. But just two laps in, Gerhart returned to Pit Road with a mangled right rear Hoosier.
“It was a lot of a gamble,” said Gerhart of running a brand-new car at Pocono. “But we had high hopes. In retrospect, we took some steps back. We were better in June.
Gerhart pitted under caution on Lap 14 and stayed out on the track for another six laps. But on Lap 20 of the short 125-mile race, down three laps to the leaders, Gerhart came off the track for good.
“No,” said Gerhart, when asked if it would’ve been possible to make up those three laps. “We blew a tire at the start of the race. I went to third gear and it exploded. I guess it was just a bad tire, a random thing.
On June 7 at Pocono, Gerhart finished 12th in the ARCA 200. Gerhart entered the event situated in 24th place in the ARCA point standings, thanks to a couple of top-tens in four previous starts.
Martel, who runs an even more limited racing schedule than Gerhart, started from the 14th spot on the grid. From the outset, members of Martel’s pit crew wore scowls of concern on their faces.
“That’s tough,” said Martel, of having his racing day last minutes, after waiting months for it to arrive. “It definitely pushes some buttons. The guys today, they all did an excellent job. I’m proud to be able to represent our team as a hometown driver.
“We just dropped a valve,” continued Martel. “We were down a cylinder. There was no reason for us to go on. We weren’t going to advance any more.”
With Martel falling farther and farther off the pace, he made his final left turn on to Pit Road on Lap Nine. His performance was in stark contrast to the 14th he ran during the ARCA race on The Tricky Triangle in June.
“All the gauges were reading good the first couple of laps,” said Martel. “I was relaying them in, and everything seemed good. And then the next thing I knew, smoke was rolling into the car.
The start of the race, which was televised live by Fox Sports 1, was delayed by about an hour by rain. Though the skies threatened throughout, the race was completed without interruption.