The youngest member of Lake Havasu City’s famed racing clan, Gerchman made a family celebration out of the next-to-last race of the season for the Lucas Oil Modified Series presented by 1-800LoanMart.
Gerchman set a track record in qualifying on the quarter-mile oval, led the final 53 laps to win the Optima Batteries 75 and collected every bonus point available. He paid tribute to his grandfather, Jack, who was celebrating a birthday, and his late uncle Dave, who passed away September 14. And he redeemed himself on the track after a black flag dispute in the previous race September 29 at Blythe relegated him to a 14th- place finish.
“I wanted to win that last race for my uncle and it just didn’t happen for me, and then we ended up getting put on probation,” Gerchman said. “This race, especially in our home town, I’m just glad to win it for my uncle and I wish he could be here with us.”
What kept it from being a completely perfect night was Austin Barnes, who had gone into the evening with a 26-point lead in the standings over Gerchman, protected most of it by finishing second, and will carry an 18-point advantage into the November 17 finale at The Bull Ring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Gerchman got 50 points for the victory in the Peggy’s Sunrise Café entry. He also got the 2-point prizes available in the E3 Spark Plugs Bonus Program for capturing the Sunoco Winner’s Circle, Optima Batteries Hard Charger and Budweiser Fast Time awards, the latter with a lap in 15.216 seconds that trumped Barnes’ record 15.248-second lap earlier in the session. That gave him 56 points. Barnes got 48 points for his runner-up finish and $100 for winning the GEICO Clean Pass award.
“Chris drove a really good race,” said Barnes, who stalked his rival over the final 50 laps of an event slowed just once by a caution flag, for Doug Carpenter’s accident on lap 56. “He knew what he had to do and he did everything he could.
“Until about lap 40 I thought I had something for him and I really kept pushing. When we got the caution flag I thought ‘here’s my chance.’ We were just a tick faster. But there was really no point in pushing the issue at that point. It was going to be taking a chance of wrecking a car racing really hard with him or just coming home second and having a good (points) cushion going to the last race.”
Larry Gerchman, Chris’s father, won the 6-lap MAV TV Trophy Dash and finished third in the main event, then joked that he was going to start asking for a head start or a “senior yellow” because “these kids are wearing me out. There wasn’t really any slowing Chris or Austin down. I would have liked to have been able to get to them, but they were in a different time zone.”
It’s been that way all season, with Barnes and Gerchman each winning four times and moving far ahead of Jim Mardis, the reigning two-time champion who is third in the standings. But on this night there was more to talk about than just the battle between the points leaders.
The talk with Aaron McMorran was about optimism. Eighth in qualifying, he started on the pole in the inverted 19-car grid and held the lead for 22 laps. McMorran, who had battled the flu for several days, finished eighth and said it was a case of both the car and the driver falling off. But it was the first time McMorran had led this year while breaking in a new car and his best finish of the season, a third, came in the first visit to Las Vegas in May.
The talk with Mardis was about frustration. He started fourth and finished sixth, but was never a serious factor in the race.
“The car just went so free I could hardly drive it,” Mardis said after an event that was a microcosm of the season. “For as much time and effort as goes into it, this is really disappointing. It’s so frustrating, after the success we had the last two years. I’m ready for this year to be over, for sure.”
Series’ race director Bill Rozhon called the race “spectacular” and series promoter Greg Scheidecker agreed.
“People that really appreciate racing should appreciate what they just saw,” Scheidecker said. “There was a lot of racing going on throughout the pack. How many times did you see these guys three-wide, in mid-pack? But the courtesy (in giving each other room) down through the field was tremendous.”
That was true most of all when the 2-lap caution period ended and the drivers executed the first double-file restart in series history without incident. Not everyone was pleased with the procedure, since lapped cars were lined up among the leaders, but Rozhon called it a necessary step to take.
“If we’re going to move this division into a big-time division, like it is, we have to do that,” said Rozhon, who also is the Havasu 95 Speedway promoter. “We have to step up like men and take it the way it is. They all understand you’ll have good days and bad days with that.”
“We have a very professional group right now,’ Scheidecker said. “We’ve got 8 or 9 track champions in different divisions out there. It’s a very unique group. They are professional race drivers and they showed it tonight, they really did.”
For more information regarding this incredibly exciting open wheel racing series, visit the official website at www.lucasoilmodifieds.com .
The Lucas Oil Modified Racing Series, presented by 1-800LoanMart, is powered by a highly potent marketing concept known as "Team Lucas." Team members include Lucas Oil Products Inc., E3 Spark Plugs, General Tire, GEICO, CANIDAE All Natural Pet Foods, MAV TV, SpeedCo Truck Lube and Tires/Firestone and Optima Batteries.
The series also is strongly supported by a group of associate sponsors. That group includes Eibach Springs, Hoosier Tire West, Budweiser, Blue Water Resort and Casino, Sunoco Race Fuels, Frank's Radio, Racing Plus and Go Pro Cameras.
The results of the Optima Batteries 75 at Havasu 95 Speedway, round 8 of the Lucas Oil Modifieds Series presented by 1-800LoanMart:
1. Chris Gerchman, Spring Branch, Texas; 2. Austin Barnes, Escondido, Calif.; 3. Larry Gerchman, Lake Havasu City, Ariz.; 4. Doug Hamm, North Las Vegas, Nevada; 5. Roger Brown, Colton, Calif.; 6. Jim Mardis, Yucaipa, Calif.; 7. Chris Cook, Hannah, Utah; 8. Aaron McMorran, Las Vegas, Nevada; 9. Tim Morse, Burbank, Calif.; 10. Scott Osborn, Las Vegas;
11. Pat Petrie, Las Vegas; 12. Dave Arce, Santee, Calif.; 13. Dennis Lovelady, Las Vegas; 14. Elliott Stjerne, Madera; 15. Keaton Swane, Gilbert, Ariz.; 16. Vanessa Robinson, Las Cruces, N.M.; 17. Jerry Toporek, Venice, Calif.; 18. Mike Riefler, Las Vegas; 19. Doug Carpenter, El Cajon; DNS, Randy Ussery, Salome, Ariz.
Margin of victory – 0.515 seconds. Average speed – 43.945 mph.
Sunoco Winner Circle Award – Chris Gerchman.
Budweiser Fast Time Award – Chris Gerchman, 15.216 seconds (track record)
Trophy Dash winner – Larry Gerchman.
Optima Batteries Hard Charger Award – Chris Gerchman.
GEICO Clean Pass Award – Austin Barnes.
Next race – 1-800LoanMart Championship at The Bull Ring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, November 17, 2012.