Gerhart Leads The Way To ARCA Firstplus Financial 200 Victory
8 February 1999
Daytona Beach, FL-February 8, 1999
For Bobby Gerhart, the trip home to Lebanon, PA will be a short one. After winning the ARCA BONDO/MAR-HYDE SERIES FirstPlus Financial 200 at Daytona Beach, FL. Gearhart did not give that wonderful phrase about "Going to Disneyworld." Nope, this ARCA veteran was heading home to prepare for the next race. To win Daytona is the best possible way to begin the quest for the championship. Starting outside on the front row Gerhart, in his Kewadin Casinos-Knight Ridder Chevrolet, took the lead from pole-sitter Matt Hutter on lap 10, dueled with Bill Baird mid-way of the race and then held off strong challenges from Shawna Robinson and Bobby Hamilton, Jr.
The qualifying of the 41 cars was dominated by Dura Lube driver Matt Hutter of Charlotte, NC with a time of 47.652 seconds for a speed of 188.869 mph. The 27 year-old University of Cinncinnati grad was almost two-tenths of a second quicker than Gerhart. 36 cars made the field using their times with 5 drivers taking provisional.
One of the other pre-race stories was the return of Shawna Robinson in the Bob Evans Restaurant Chevrolet. Robinson, who returned to Daytona after taking time off to raise her kids, turned in the fifth fastest time with a lap of 48.098 seconds for a speed of 187.118 mph. Robinson, upon returning to the pits, was as delighted as a person could be. "It feels so great to be back behind the wheel." Robinson exclaimed. "The guys [her pit crew] have given me such a great car that all I have to do is put my foot to the floor." Robinson almost gave them a reason to be delirious.
Team Rensi driver Matt Hutter led the field into the first turn and was effortlessly pulling away from the field. Never in a breakaway mode, Hutter was certainly the class of the field. On lap 10 Hutter's crew told him to back out of it just a bit to find out just how the car would react in traffic. With this being Hutter's 11th start of his career, some valuable drafting lessons to be used in the latter stages of the race needed to be discovered in a hurry. Things appeared to be going Hutter's way. On lap 15 the first caution of the day was brought out when 7 cars (five of them in the top ten) got caught up in Turn 4. The wildest ride of the day belonged to Mark Gibson in the Jani-King Ford whose car went up on it's side, slid about 600 feet before coming to rest on all four wheels. Unfortunately, Gibson's car along with Daytona Beach native Dan Pardus and Joe Ruttman were done for the day. Gibson commenting coming out of the infield care center said "I don't know what happened, all of a sudden my car got loose." Andy Hillenburg and Bob Kelly, also caught up in the accident would retire one lap later with terminal mechanical problems. In all five of the 7 cars in the melee were out of the race. Fortunately all of the driver's escaped unhurt. For Ruttman the accident could not have come at a worse time. Having worked his way from 19th to 7th place Ruttman seemed to be getting his Jim Dandy Chevrolet dialed in when the accident occurred.
The caution period lasted 9 laps. When the race went back to green on lap 24 Gerhart led Hutter, Robinson, Kitchens and Shane Yoder into turn one. The field seemed to be sorting itself out when Shane Yoder, a rookie in restrictor plate racing, hit the wall in Turn #1. Yoder later commented "It was my first restricto plate race. I just wanted to stay out of trouble. I think the car just got a little loose." The caution period for Yoder's accident lasted 5 laps. Some of the teams pitted while others were trying to stretch their fuel windows. One of theose driver's trying to stretch the window was Mark Voigt. Starting in 34th place, Voigt was putting on a spectacular driving performance. His team felt that they had to gamble. Voigt knew he had a strong car and also felt that their would be at least one more caution before the race was finished.
On lap 35 the race went green, the top five running order was Voigt, Gerhart, Hutter, Robinson, and Bobby Hamilton, Jr. The steady progress of Hamilton, Jr. was something to watch. With his dad, Winston Cup star Bobby Hamilton, Sr on top of the trailer, Hamilton, Jr. was driving his Shoney's Inn Chevrolet like a seasoned pro working his way through the traffic. The senior Hamilton was asked after the race if he talked to his son very much during the race."Nope, he replied, it was too crazy out there to talk to him very much."
On lap 38, the third caution of the day was brought out when Norm Benning and Calvin Councilor spun on the front stretch. Both cars were able to continue. The running order in the top five at the half-distance mark (40 laps) was Mark Voigt, who had worked his from 34th starting place, Gerhart, Ciochetti, Robinson and Baird. For pole-sitter Matt Hutter the day's strong run was beginning to fall apart. A vibration was being reported by Hutter. The crew changed tires thinking it was a bad set. An axle problem would eventually force Hutter's retirement from the race.
The field went back to green on lap 43 and it appeared that maybe the field was going to truly settle down. Gerhart wasted little time getting the lead back from Voigt, who other than Hutter had the strongest car on the track. The running order of the top five at lap 50 was Gerhart, Hamilton, Jr., Ron Barfield (making his first appearance in the top five) Mike Swaim,Jr. and Mike Ciochetti.
The racing was really getting interesting. The top cars were all trying to figure who was the best to draft with. Then on lap #57 Shane Doles in the Performance Paint-Riverside Ford spun in turn #3. The pace car came on to the track was rear-ended by Joe Cooksey. Visibly shaken by the experience, Cooksey could not find the words to apologize enough for the accident.
The race went back to green on lap #64. The running order for the top five at lap #70 was Gerhart, Hamilton,Jr, Barfield, Robinson and Swaim, Jr. The hope from all of the crews was to have a ten lap shoot-out. The battle was shaping up for the top five to slug their way to the finish line. Gerhart was seemingly holding off the drafting charges of Hamilton,Jr and Robinson. But it also looked as if both Hamilton,Jr.and Robinson were waiting until the last lap to play the passing game. Unfortunately, the three driver's never got the chance to slug it out. On lap 78 Curt Piercey tagged the wall at the start/finish line bringing out the 5th and final caution of the day. The race to the finish line was almost a complete lap but the distance between Gerhart,Robinson and Hamilton, Jr. was too great for either of the two drivers to close the gap.
David Treffer -- The Auto Channel