Bobby Gerhart’s heart will still be in the upcoming ARCA Menards Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway, even though his body won’t be behind the wheel.
For the first time in 33 years, Gerhart will not be in the field on the 2.5-mile superspeedway. It’s a race he has won eight times and has 15 top-10 finishes.
The reason is simple, although it could have been very serious: the Lebanon, Pennsylvania native recently suffered a heart attack.
“I guess you could say I got the greatest Christmas gift of all,” Gerhart told ARCAracing.com. “I was at home and wasn’t feeling well and drove myself to the doctor. When I got there they said I had a pretty serious heart attack. It could have been a matter of five minutes or five hours, but had I waited, it’s pretty likely it would not have ended up as well as it did. I still have a very long road to go but I have been given a second chance here and for that I am very lucky and very grateful.”
For now, the 61-year-old Gerhart will continue to be involved in his race team as owner, driving coach and cheerleader for his other drivers. But he won’t be behind the wheel for the foreseeable future.
“I guess we can say I am stepping out of the seat immediately due to health issues,” Gerhart told ARCAracing.com. “It’s maybe not the way I envisioned it but at the same time I feel like I was given a gift with the way it all went down.
“I travel all over the country, not just with racing but buying and selling big rigs for work. Had that happened when I was away from home, who knows if I would have decided to drive myself to the nearest hospital and get checked out.
“I never felt any symptoms. I don’t eat fried foods and I don’t eat a lot of red meat. I’ve never had high blood pressure. I just won the genetic lottery I suppose. But with the way it all went down – versus the way it could have – I got really, really lucky.”
Gerhart has made 341 career ARCA starts since his first race in 1988. His nine career wins include the eight at Daytona. He’s also made 24 NASCAR Cup, 18 Xfinity Series and 10 Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series starts in his career as well.
Gerhart will be with his team at the upcoming series test at Daytona on Jan. 10-11, calling the shots from atop the pit box and along pit road. He still hasn’t named a driver for the No. 5, though, and with most drivers already with other teams, it’s a challenge.
Still, Gerhart hopes things can shake out positively for the season opening race on Feb. 8.
“It’s awfully late in the going, we know that,” Gerhart told ARCAracing.com. “But we have really great equipment ready to go. All we need is a driver to plug in and we can go win Daytona.
“We’ve done programs like this in the past with drivers like Kyle Krisiloff and Blake Feese. We have a great record of success at Daytona and working with other drivers so we’re hoping even with just a few weeks to go we can find someone who wants to go race.
“We’ll look at any opportunity, from one-race deals to partial season deals to a full season deal. We know we can be an asset to someone who is looking to go and run up front at Daytona. We are going to work hard to keep these race team going.”