In the ARCA ranks, restrictor-plate racing is synonymous with Bobby Gerhart. And true to form this past Saturday, once his car got out front at Daytona, he didn’t get caught. Despite early pit stops that had his team under the hood, Gerhart scored a convincing victory in the season-opening race that was the sixth of his career at Daytona, an ARCA record.
But despite that sixth win, Gerhart’s attention this week is currently honed in on the number before it.
With Herd Racing’s Brett Rowe and the Bob Schacht entry Gerhart is slated to drive in this Saturday’s Nationwide Series opener both wearing No. 75, NASCAR granted permission for Gerhart to run his trademark No. 5 car this weekend, marking the first time he’s ever gotten to use the number in NASCAR competition. And that’s no small deal for the Lebanon, Pa. veteran.
“[Getting to run the No. 5] has a huge amount of significance,” says Gerhart. “It’s as big as making the switch from ARCA to Nationwide, or from the ARCA garage to the NASCAR garage.”
“That all started years ago with my Dad running car No. 5, and he had a tremendous amount of success running the No. 5. We ran a decade with almost no success and I remarked to a buddy last night that my first win came the first time we ran the No. 5. It makes me feel at home in this environment, and I think it will be neat not only to be involved in this race but to look back and say we ran car No. 5.”
“I’m sure it’s something Dad would be proud of.”
But while Gerhart may place a lot of focus on the No. 5 and the unique opportunity presenting itself to run the number, the No. 5 is where that focus ends. Because this weekend is different for Gerhart. Last weekend, he entered the ARCA garage with every single driver and team knowing full well they’d have to go through his operation to win at Daytona… and none proved up to the task. That’s not so in NASCAR’s garage, where Gerhart’s hauler is parked towards the back, the attention turned towards names like Earnhardt and Stewart, some of the greatest plate racers alive today.
Knowing full well the competition he faces this weekend, Gerhart is making a point to ignore other car numbers entirely.
“It’s certainly a step up in competition across the board [coming from ARCA to Nationwide],” says Gerhart, noting “I understand the obstacles, I completely understand how much harder its going to be [to win].”
But Gerhart knows full well the reality of stock car racing at its highest level. “Keep in mind that I started racing at the Cup level. I had the pleasure of racing against the King, David Pearson, Rusty, DW, Dale Sr., that whole group of guys that in their own time were gods, so to speak, and ruled the sport” the veteran recalls.
“Early on I came to understand that I had to take the numbers off the cars, to run my own race, good, bad, indifferent.”
It’s that mentality that has allowed Gerhart, even as ARCA has become more and more competitive year after year, to remain nearly untouchable in the circuit’s restrictor-plate events. It’s that mentality that has allowed him to be competitive even at the Nationwide Series level, where he scored top-10 starts at both Daytona and Talladega in 2009, contending for a top-10 finish at Talladega before the big one).
It’s a mentality that he’s fully confident will continue to work; Gerhart’s team is currently planning to contest all three Nationwide Series plate races in 2010, a first for a team that until last year hadn’t run any NASCAR races in six years.
And it’s one that just might propel ARCA’s most accomplished plate racer to make some noise on the NASCAR circuit.
Because according to Gerhart, “I come here to try to win, I don’t care what race it is. Saturday’s race is no different. I understand the obstacles. I completely understand how much harder its going to be, but I didn’t come here just to qualify and run good.”
His six wins in the No. 5 car speak volumes for the efficacy of this strategy. For Gerhart, it works more often than not.