If there was such a thing as frequent driver miles, Jeremy Gerstner would have earned a lot of them during the 2017 racing season.
Gerstner is based out of Wesley Chapel, Florida while the Tour-type Modified team he drives for, Shady Grady Racing, is nearly eight hours away in Charlotte, North Carolina. For 13 weekends, he found himself driving close to 12 hours to get to whatever track the Southern Modified Racing Series was visiting that weekend.
Entering this past weekend’s Southern Modified Racing Series finale at Orange County Speedway (NC) Gerstner held a 10-point lead over Brandon Ward. With 30 laps to go on Saturday evening the two were tied up in points and it came down to whoever finished higher than the other. When the checkered flag waved, it was Gerstner who would circle back to the front stretch to celebrate his first SMRS championship.
“Its incredible,” Gerstner told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “As of Saturday night when we got to the track, we had traveled 14,860-something miles. By the time I got back home, we were well over 15,000 miles put into it to chase this championship. “
With many drivers who competed on the tour full-time more centrally located, Gerstner found himself on the outskirts and knew going into the season that it was going to take a lot of work. He and his team were ready to do whatever it took, and they did just that.
“Everybody used to always tell me that I was crazy for doing this, but I love and enjoy these Tour-type Modifieds and it’s a shame that the actual NASCAR Southern Modified tour went away because I think we finally gelled as a crew chief and driver,” Gerstner stated. “Going forward, I wish we could find the funds to run the actual Whelen Modified Tour but right now we are just doing what we can work with.”
With big hopes for the 2018 season, Gerstner can now add a touring Modified series championship to his resume along with the near-70 feature wins and two track championships he has collected over the years.
“This is a dream come true. My wife and I were actually talking about it all on the way home the other day, that in 2003 I won the track championship at Ocala when it was still asphalt, seven years later in 2010 I won the track championship at Citrus, and now here we are another seven years later and we won a touring championship.”
Many will agree that touring championships are held to a higher accomplishment due to the demand to adapt and run well at multiple different tracks.
“Those are so much harder to get because you’re going to different tracks week in and week out and getting your crew there and the pit stops there; it’s just so much more to it and we take pride in it. It’s the icing on the cake.”
Going into his third season with Shady Grady Racing, Gerstner knew that he wanted to compete for this championship; however, his car owner and himself had to come to an agreement on their strategy before they would find themselves in contention.
“Originally, in the beginning of the year, my car owner and I had a disagreement because he wanted me to hang back during the race but I’m the kind of guy who liked to be up front all the time,” Gerstner admitted. “With how the points system is you get five bonus points if you lead a lap so I finally convinced him that we needed to get that every time we could and about half way through the season I told them, ‘If we keep running like we are, we are going to have a shot at this,’ and here we are now.
Of the thirteen races this season, Gerstner collected one win at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC) but only finished outside of the top five three times the entire season.
“Its been a dream season to get nine top-three finishes out of the thirteen races that we ran this season. It’s great numbers and consistency and that’s what got us this championship.”
Story by: Hannah Newhouse – Southeast Correspondent
Photo by: Speed51.com