10 Questions with…Kerry Gilbert!
From the first time we saw Kerry Gilbert at East Bay in the Nichols Motorsports #55 Schnee, we though to ourselves, “nice car, smooth driver, keeps his nose clean, could be something to this guy,” because we didn’t really know much about Kerry at the time. As usual, Kerry made us look good with our assessment of him as we don’t think we’ve ever really seen him put a wheel wrong in his Schnee and he gets everything available to him out on the track.
As you will see below, Kerry has been at this auto racing business for a while now and just when we thought we couldn’t do better than the picture of him with a scantily dressed blonde, he does us one better with an even more impressive photo.
Ladies and gentlemen, Roger Penske’s favorite employee, Kerry Gilbert!
For those of our readers that aren’t familiar with your racing career before you moved to Florida, you cut your teeth running 1/4 midgets up in Ohio at a very young age. How did you get your start in racing?
My parents raced Triumph TR3s in the SCCA when I was young and we were at an event somewhere and someone had a Moss Quarter Midget for sale. I talked my dad into buying it and so then I began racing at the age of five. I progressed to Half Midgets, Mini Indy’s, Legends Cars, Arena Cars and then Modifieds.
You moved to Virginia in 1987 and got back into racing once again. You were the 2001 Track Champion in the Legends Division at Southside Speedway in Richmond, VA. Tell us about your time racing in Virginia.
I actually started to get back into racing in 1999. We ran at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Southside Speedway in Richmond and Southampton Speedway in Emporia. We ran the Legends Car for about eight years. We won a few races and accumulated a lot of awards, but most importantly had a ton of fun and made a lot of friends.
You then moved on to the Arena Racing USA series that campaigned smaller scale stock cars. Tell us about your time running this series.
The Arena cars ran indoors on a 1/10 mile track. A lot of people said it was like running at Bristol believe it or not. We would run the Arena Racing USA series in the Winter and the Legends in the Summer. In 2001, the first year of the series, I ran against Denny Hamlin and a lot of others that were big time Late Model guys, some of which went on to run the Hooters Pro Cup series.
Kurt Bush also came and ran with us the same year he won his NASCAR Championship. I ran these cars for about seven years. We finished a lot in the top five and won a lot of races. In the second season I went into the final race leading the points championship but I was blocked in the feature by the teammate of the guy in second in the points. As a result I ended up second for the season. Regardless of that, we had a lot of fun.
You’ve been racing for a decent amount of years, is there one win that stands out as being the one you remember the most?
Probably the one win that really stands out was in the Arena Series. We were running third in the Top Dog race which was the big race of the evening. The fastest groove that night was on the low side in the turns. On the last lap, I went high into turn three, at the same time the second place guy went for the lead. They both touched and I got around them on the outside and won by about two inches. For me that was a very rewarding win.
So now you’re living in Florida and competing with a Schnee chassis in the East Bay Sprints and the Top Gun Sprint Series. How did you get to deciding you wanted to run sprint cars?
My parents used to come down to watch the Winter Nationals at East Bay and they made a lot of friends. When I moved down here, my dad asked if I would like to drive a sprint car. Of course my answer was pretty much, “hell yeah!”
Quite honestly, those sprint car guys all looked a little nuts to me and I didn’t think me driving one would ever really happen. Well it turned out my dad knew a guy (Lacy Black) who knew a guy (Marvin Nichols) who had a sprint car and no driver. So he arranged a meeting with Nick Nichols (Marvin’s brother) and they decided to let me drive it.
I just want to say thank you so much Marvin and Nick for letting me drive your car, it has truly been an awesome experience for me.
Before you moved over to the dirt in a sprint car, did you have much dirt racing experience?
Before hopping into the #55 Nichols Motorsports sprint car, I had never been in a sprint car, much less ever raced on dirt. Honest. It was all new to me and as a matter of fact, we never even got to practice. I went out in warm ups at East Bay and then ran my first race. I pretty much tried to stay out of everyone’s way.
Nobody came over and yelled at me so I guess I did ok. I am so thankful to both Kurt Taylor and Steve Cline for helping us out, giving me an education on how to drive and also how to work on a sprint car.
I also need to thank my crew, John, Shawn, Phil, and Fred for helping me in the pits. Most of all, I need to thank my beautiful wife Lynn for letting me participate in this crazy sport.
You’ve always impressed us at East Bay, is there something about that track that suits your driving style?
It usually gets pretty slick. When the track is slick and you have to finesse the throttle, it helps me compete with some of the guys that have a lot more horsepower. Also all of the people at Eastbay have been really nice. I enjoy going there and feel like I am at home at that track. I have won a heat race and finished in the top five in points these past two years. But what I am really ready to do is win a feature. Hopefully that is coming soon. Once I get that monkey off my back, I think I could win a few more.
What do you like to do when in your free time when you’re not fixated on racing?
We have a little sports car that we hop into and go see the sites here in Florida. We’ve been to some nice beaches, gone to Bike Week, been to some great car shows, attended numerous sporting events (Rays, Lightning) and spent some time in Key West. I really do love living in Florida.
We also like to shoot over to O’Briens Bar and Grill in Brandon and get some wings and a beer. A little plug for my sponsor.
Let’s say I’m over on the left coast of the state and need to lease a truck to move a lot of objects from Point A to Point B, who should I call?
Well, I am glad you asked. You should call Penske Truck Leasing. I have worked for Penske for a long time and we have the newest, cleanest, best maintained trucks in the industry. Plus Roger Penske is the boss and we have some great race teams.
I honestly joined Penske because of the racing, but it has turned out to be a great career move in the long run. It has allowed me to almost afford the racing hobby. So when you see one of those big Penske Yellow trucks running around the Tampa area, it probably came out of my location. So keep renting those trucks, it keeps me employed!
Alright, we’ve got to ask, you’re legendary (to us at least) for the picture of the hottest sprint car crew chief the world has ever seen (see above). First off, job well done. Second, how did you pull that one off?
Charisma, good looks, dynamic personality, extraordinary physique………….no, it wasn’t any of that I’m afraid…
You have heard the expression that “even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then,” haven’t you?