GERHART WINS THIRD DAYTONA RACE AS EYES ARE FOCUSED OTHER PLACES
Only 12 of 41 Starters Running At End of Crash-Filled Race by Jeremy Troiano & Matthew Dillner
It should have been a huge win for Bobby Gerhart. And it was. Gerhart matched ARCA-great Iggy Katona by winning his third Advance Discount Auto Parts 200 to open the ARCA season at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday.
However, none of the accidents should overshadow what Gerhart was able to do this weekend at Daytona. In addition to winning his third-straight Daytona pole, he led the most laps and dominated the race, picking up win number three, one that is just a little more special to him than any other.
“I promise you one thing - this is one of the most special wins that I have had,” said Gerhart. “This is the first one my mom and dad got to watch together. I lost my dad last year and my mom in 1997. They always came here in the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s and watched some lack luster performances. I ended up in the hospital a few nights.
“On the ride back from the hospital the morning after, I remember my mom said to me 'you guys need to work on qualifying a little better.' That's all she really needed to say. From that point on I put my foot down and knew that we would be back here and be better. Son of a gun we were.
Bobby Gerhart won third-career ARCA race at Daytona on Saturday night. (Bob Milner Photo)
But Gerhart’s win will be overshadowed by a plethora of multi-car accidents and other incidents that left just 12 of the 41 cars entered running at the end of the shortened race, two drivers and one photographer in the hospital, two cars on their roof and a bunch of wrecked race cars in the garage area.
Missing all of the carnage, Gerhart led Frank Kimmel and NASCAR Busch Series regular JJ Yeley to the line as the race ended under caution because of a multi-car accident with just three laps to go that collected no less than 16 cars on the backstretch.
“Some say that there are too many inexperienced drivers out there, but that is not entirely true,” said Gerhart in the infield media center after the race. “Everyone has to have their first superspeedway race at some point. I know ARCA really looks at the drivers that are out there racing and they just don’t let anyone race on these tracks. And they make sure these guys are ready. But the fact remains they have to have their first superspeedway race at some point. People will point their fingers at the inexperience out there and say that was the problem, but I don’t think it was.”
“When it comes time to get ready for these places I reach back to that all the time. No matter what it takes, no matter how many people I have to piss off to get done what I need to get done, we do it; because this is why we do it.”
Gerhart’s parents aren’t his only inspiration either.
“I've been truly blessed as a race driver to have a best friend and a brother to look over me. In this game of racing, let's face it, we are exposed to a lot of things. To have a big brother to pull me back in check and watch over everyone who's human, who's hands touch these racecars, and take that extra time to look things over for their brother is truly magical.
Bobby Gerhart (#5) and Blake Feese (#94) race early at Daytona. (Bob Milner Photo)
“I know there are brothers in this garage area like the Kimmels and some on the Cup side and that is why. Family in this deal means a lot. I don't know if I would have even survived in this sport as long as I have if it wasn't for my brother Bill.”
For Bill, who is a big part of Bobby Gerhart Racing, it was just good to get to see his brother win another.
“Bobby and I have raced here together since 1988 and have went through some real mean years,” said Bill Gerhart. “But we refused to go away. We kept saying every year that we are gonna fix this. We finally started turning the corner in the late ‘90s. We won in 1999.
"There is nothing more special than winning here with family. It doesn't get any better than that. When you win here once you have even more of a taste to come back and do it again. I wanted this win more than I wanted win number one. And I promise you we are going to work really hard to win number four.”
Kimmel, who finished an impressive second after having to start shotgun on the field after his problems on Friday, wasted little time moving to the front of the field. The six-time ARCA Champ positioned himself within the top 10 and eventually the top-five, where he raced most of the night until making a daring move under Todd Kluever to get into second with just a few laps to go. However, the late-race accident kept Kimmel from taming Daytona, something he’s never done.
Kimmel had reason to be anxious and nervous. He just missed all of the wild action a couple of times.
Frank Kimmel (#46) made little work in coming up through the field. (51 Photo)
“Heck of a day,” said Kimmel. “What a lot of fun that was. I have to thank JJ Yeley because he pushed me all the way to the front there. Our car was good on the bottom of the racetrack. They had to really block to stop me. Congrats to Bobby Gerhart, but I believe this is the best chance we ever had to win this thing.
“We get the most improved position award and I think that pays 50 dollars, so that's better than nothing right? It's pretty special to come from the back like that. Before the race I was pretty nervous and anxious. I don't get that way very often. I didn't really know what to expect but we had a great race car and a great night.”
Kluever, who was making his ARCA debut with Roush Racing, was one of the 15 cars that were involved on the accident on lap 63 on the backstretch. Kluever’s car got upside down after being hit by another car and slid on its roof before being hit by Larry Foyt’s car while sliding upside down. Kluever’s car then got into the grass and did a series of barrel rolls before landing on its wheels.
Behind and in front of Kluever, cars began wrecking everywhere. Some of those included in the accident included Billy Venturini, Dan Shaver, AJ Henriksen, Foyt, Joey Miller, Christi Passmore, Todd Bowsher, Kyle Krisiloff, Ken Weaver, GR Smith, Doug Reid, Mario Gosselin, Chad McCumbee and Joe Cooksey.
Todd Kluever's car was destroyed after an end-over-end flip at the end of the race. (51 Photo)
Shaver’s car also got upside down in the accident and was on fire for a brief period of time.
Both Shaver and Venturini were transported to Halifax Medical Center in Daytona for further evaluation. Shaver was eventually released, but Venturini was held over night for further evaluation. On Sunday, Venturini was scheduled to have surgery to help fix a broken vertebra and torn ligaments in his neck. All of the other drivers, including Kluever, were treated and released from the infield care center.
“There at the end, the 9 (Joey Miller) finally lost it,” said Larry Foyt. “You knew it was going to happen one way or another. I went up high and just stayed in the gas. I guess he got into the 60 (Kluever) because all I saw was the bottom of the 60 and I hit him pretty hard. It is a bummer because we had a good car.”
Blake Feese, one of the pre-race favorites to win, came into this pit a little too hot and slid past his pit stall. Just past the stall was an opening in the pit road where several photographers were standing. Feese’s car struck several of the photographers before coming to a stop just inside the pit area of Miller’s Hagans Racing team. Several photographers were taken to the infield care center and one, Steve Rose, was transported to the local hospital.
Kyle Krisiloff's car was destroyed in the late accident. (51 Photo)
“Someone got into the back of me a little bit coming out of the corner there,” said Miller, who was the first to spin in the accident. “You just can’t get into someone in the corners here. You are going to get them messed up. I spun it down toward the infield and around. Luckily, I kept it out of the wall and we were able to drive back by all those other guys.”
That accident was just the first of several other accidents that had a profound impact on the way the race played out.
Clair Zimmerman brought out the red flag on lap 28 when his car got sideways on lap 24 on the frontstretch, became airborne and got into the frontstretch wall and took out part of the catch fence just past the tri-oval. The race was under red flag conditions for nearly 45 minutes while repairs to the catch fence were made.
During the caution period following Zimmerman’s accident, and before officials brought out the red flag to fix the fence, a scary pit road accident left several others with trips to the infield care center.
Fesse retired from the race as a result of damage from the accident.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Speed51.com cameras caught the pit accident from two different angles. Click here to view both photos.)
Once the race restarted, a multi-car accident on lap 39 in turns one and two took out six cars and involved several others. Involved in that accident were Mark Gibson, Chad Blount, Bill Eversole, David Ragan, Tim Steele, Johnny Leonard, Ed Kennedy and a few others.
Blake Feese's car slids through his pit stall and into a crowd of photographers early in the race.
“I have no idea what happened,” said Gibson. “Someone just checked up. You knew it was going to happen. We all had to check up. Someone hit the back of me, I hit the car in front of me, he hit the car in front of him. It is just Daytona racing. I’d trade this place for another DuQuoin and I’d be satisfied any day of the week.”
“It seemed for a few laps there everyone was fast and stable so I was really comfortable,” said Leonard. “Then we get in the middle of one and two and three or four cars get completely turned sideways. There was no place I could go. I couldn't go down. I couldn’t go up. It was sickening. I don't know if it would have been better to be up more or back more. There is a lot of carnage out there.”
Despite all of the carnage, all of the drivers involved were released from the infield car center. But, matched with the long red flag and the fact that the Nextel Cup Series cars were scheduled to run the Bud Shootout later, ARCA officials were forced to shorten the race from 80 to 65 laps.