ARCA: Gerhart Goes to Victory Lane at Daytona
9 February 1999By Don Radebaugh
Daytona Beach, FL - After 113 ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series starts mounting up to 12 years of trying, the wait is finally over for Bobby Gerhart. Gerhart picked the biggest race of the year, and quite possibly his career, to go to victory lane. The Lebabon, Pennsylvania veteran held off spirited charges from Shawna Robinson and Bobby Hamilton, Jr. to win the 36th annual FIRSTPLUS Financial ARCA 200 Sunday afternoon at the Daytona International Speedway before an estimated 80,000 attendees and live ESPN audiences.
"Its been a long time coming," said Gerhart. "Weve sure had our share of tough luck at this place. We sure struggled here yesterday. We went from over 188 mph in qualifying to 182 yesterday in practice. We left the track last night scratching our heads. One thing about this Daytona track, it changes like the weather. You just have to give it what it wants. So we put our heads down and just kept going forward, taking good notes and it paid off here today. If Im going to finally win a race, its got to be here. This is the race for me to win. I'll never forget it, thats for sure."
Gerhart, who started outside row one in his Kewadin Casinos-Knight Ridder Chevrolet, dominated the 200 leading 57 of the 80 laps but not without constant challengers, especially as the race neared conclusion when Robinson and Hamilton lined up directly behind. After passing Ron Barfield for third, Robinson took charge and began to pressure Hamilton for second. Robinson then drove to the inside of Hamilton and raced the second generation driver door-to-door for two laps before making the pass with three laps remaining. However, just as she positioned herself to take a shot at Gerhart, the caution flag flew for a Curt Piercy crash on the frontstretch just as the leaders had completed the 78th lap. It then became a race back to the caution as well as the white flag. Gerhart held off the determined mother of two and finished the race under caution while Robinson could do nothing more than watch. "We absolutely could have won, no question about it," said Robinson. "We just didnt have enough laps. This Bob Evans race car, no question should be in victory circle. We ran out of time. Shoot!" Hamilton finished third ahead of Mike Swaim, Jr. and Glen Morgan, the Beaumont, Texas lawyer who recorded his career-best ARCA finish in fifth. Robinsons second place finish was the highest finish for any female driver in the history of ARCA competition. Barfield held on for sixth in front of Mike Ciochetti, Bill Baird, Mark Stahl and Kirk Shelmerdine to complete the top ten. Bairds eighth place finish came from the 30th starting position earning the Sturgis, Kentucky driver the Hoosier Tire Midwest Hard Charger honors for advancing the most positions.
Polesitter Matt Hutter led at the onset for nine laps in Ed Rensis Dura Lube sponsored Chevy, and appeared to be a definite contender for the win until mechanical trouble stopped his run on lap 61. Mark Voigt also showed his share of muscle leading the way for 14 circuits before Gerhart took control for good on lap 45.
There were five cautions for 29 laps including one that took out several front-runners on lap 15 when Daytona Beach native Mark Gibson spun his Jani-King Ford off turn four setting up a multi-car pile up that included Dan Pardus, Joe Ruttman and Andy Hillenburg. There was also a bizarre incident under caution that involved the pace car when it stopped in turn three directly in front of Centralia, Illinois driver Joe Cooksey who could not stop in time to avoid contact. In all, there were no injuries.
Gerhart earned $20,820 for his effort but had to count it on the way to Atlanta Motor Speedway where he was scheduled to test for Hoosier Racing Tire the following Monday. A portion of Gerharts payday included the $1,000 Auto Value Parts Stores Halfway Leader Award and the Quarter Master Comin Thru in the Clutch honors. Robinson was the STP-Prestone Highest Finishing Rookie in her first ARCA start and Jerry Hill was the BSR Second Round Fastest Qualifier. Next action for the ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series will be March 12th at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
SERIES POINTS: Bobby Gerhart 265, Shawna Robinson 225, Bobby Hamilton Jr 215, Mike Swaim Jr 210, Glen Morgan 205, Ron Barfield 200, Mike Ciochetti 195, Bill Baird 190, Mark Stahl 185, Kirk Shelmerdine 180.