BY JEFF FALK
It seemed like the perfect match. A racing vehicle produced by Bobby Gerhart’s Truck World competing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
But an even more natural fit was Bobby Gerhart promoting breast cancer awareness.
On Saturday afternoon at the 2.5-mile Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, during the annual running of the Fred’s 250, Gerhart’s performance was just as much about competition as it was about aiding the fight against breast cancer. It is a cause that is near and dear to the Lebanon racer’s heart.
It has been a number of years since Gerhart’s mother lost her battle with the dreaded affliction. But she is still remembered fondly.
“I lost my mother to cancer, and when you lose a close family member you can’t help, as time goes on, think you could’ve done more or should’ve done more to push a cause further,” said Gerhart, a semi-regular on the ARCA stock-car racing series. ” We got an opportunity to get behind a cause like that. We can’t get reminded enough about that in our lifetimes. Anytime you can put an awareness out there, that’s the reality in the whole thing.
“You don’t have to look far for someone who has been touched by it or gone through it,” Gerhart continued. “The celebration of someone’s life is greater than I can think about. There’s a lot of people who have beaten this thing. They’re close. You can see them everyday. It’s not just something people talk about everyday. I was proud to do it. There was a lot of pink in the garage area at Talladega.”
The fact that Gerhart ran extremely well at Talladega was just icing on the cake.
Though familiar with the track but not the series itself, Gerhart finished a very competitive 12th in the 32-truck field, after qualifying 17th. During his time trial, Gerhart clocked a lap of 55.015, an average of 174.062 miles an hour.
The race’s checkered flag was taken by Timothy Peters, who led 23 of the event’s 98 laps. The event was televised live by FoxSports1.
“Naturally we were hoping to be in contention for the win,” said Gerhart. “Track position will dictate that all race long. You’ve got to capture and maintain track position. One little miscalculation in set-up puts you behind, and it’s almost impossible to catch up. But it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it.
“It went OK,” added Gerhart. “We qualified really good. The truck drafted very, very well. The thing got pretty loose on the first extended run, but I was able to get to the front. We made it better on the first pit stop, but not perfect. At the end, we were in decent shape, but it was like a parking lot out there. We could’ve been 20th, or fifth or sixth. Overall, it was a very good run. I was pleased.”
A stock-car racing guru, Gerhart’s run in a competitive truck was his first in 20 years. His performance was as much a testament to his racing experience, as it was his race team’s flexibility.
“Trucks have a lot more draft and a lot more power,” said Gerhart, 57. “You still need to have a friend, but a group of friends is even better. That’s why track position is so important. It is so incredibly hard to pass. You’ve got to be on your game from the time they drop the green flag. You can gain six, seven, eight spots in a hurry, but holding on to it is another issue. The last couple of laps of the race were marred by cautions. But we bought some very, very good equipment.
“There’s a commitment to do it right, understanding what it takes to be competitive,” Gerhart added. “A little better ends up being a lot. There’s things you can’t do in the shop. You’ve got to surround yourself with people who can take the truck to the next level. Any time you go through it the first time with a vehicle, you can say, ‘This can be better’. I was looking for a top-ten finish and a solid run.”
The concept and commitment to running a truck at Talladega was a collaborative effort between Gerhart and his long-time sponsor, Lucas Oil. In fact, Gerhart by-passed an ARCA race to run the truck at Talladega.
But the decision paid off handsomely for both parties, in the form of extended television exposure.
“As we got towards the end of the year, my contract with Lucas Oil is not specific with a series,” said Gerhart. “It’s a personal contract based on performance. My job is to provide that company with as much TV time as I can generate. As it turned out, not only did we get coverage in the race, but we also got good coverage in practice.
“The people we deal with at Lucas Oil are the top-level marketing people,” Gerhart continued. “We talked to them about being part of a breast cancer awareness truck. As much marketing in the sport as they do, they understood the significance of it and jumped on it right away. I think we made the right call. It wasn’t completely about running a truck. It was an aggressive call. Our first truck race could’ve turned out like we were running our first truck race. We had a fantastic result. That’s the gamble you take.
Fred’s 250 Presented by Coca-Cola
(at 2.5-mile Talladega Superspeedway)
|POS.||CAR #||DRIVER||MANUFACTURER||STARTING POS.||LAPS||LAPS LED|
|11||8||John Hunter Nemechek||14||98||0|
|14||07||Ray Black Jr||27||98||1|
|16||05||John Wes Townley||2||98||1|
|32||10||Jennifer Jo Cobb||29||29||0|