JEREMY GERSTNER LOOKING TO MAKE HIS MARK IN THE HEART OF THE SOUTHERN MODIFIEDS
We have met a lot of drivers and teams. And we have come to know the racing community as one of faith, determination, and hard work. It’s one of the reasons we do what we do. Despite what many think, drivers work hard, not only at what they do, but to even be able to do what they do. During the racing season, it’s nothing for a driver to work all day to feed their families, and then turn around and work all night on their cars. But we have found no one that works harder than “The Flying Floridian”, Jeremy Gerstner. As many already know, I love racing. All kinds of racing. But as a disclosure, what made me a racing fan was the first time I set my eyes on a modified stock car as a youth at Bowman Gray Stadium. I was hooked. But for my son, it was different. He is a bigger racing fan than me. Yeah, I know… hard to imagine. But he looked at the blue collar side of it. He liked the grass roots divisions. Street Stocks, Mini Stocks, etc. He told me, “Dad, those guys work as hard as everybody.” He had a point. But I showed him, that the bigger divisions weren’t just about big sponsorship, those guys, all of them, worked for what they do. He knew I had a point as well. But still, he was focused on what he liked about the sport. But when we started covering modifieds, it started to change his perspective. What changed it? Watching Jeremy Gerstner, his family, and his team work at what they do. What caught his eye at first was Jeremy’s wife Dawn. While Jeremy and the team worked, she was right there with them. And right before he would go onto the track to practice, qualify, or race, Dawn would be wiping down and waxing the car. He noticed that. He told me one day too, that “Dad, that’s love. She always wants to make sure the car is the best it can be before he goes out.” So Josh, as he does, did his research on Jeremy. And when he found how far Jeremy is willing to drive, practically every week during the racing season, all the way from Wesley Chapel, Florida, to race his mods on the central east coast. Well, that really got his attention. Knowing that they work on those cars all week at night after Jeremy worked during the day led Josh to know the determination of the hardest working racer we know. It was Bowman Gray Stadium that made me a modified racing fan, but for Josh, it was hard working Jeremy Gerstner.
We talked to Jeremy about why he chose to continually make the hours long drive from his home in Florida, to race his modifieds on the central east coast. And we found that indeed Jeremy’s story is one of hard work, determination, and a will to fulfill a legacy. They say with hard work comes rewards, and Jeremy has put in the hours, and now he looks to reap the rewards. Jeremy has chose to run the full season on the SMART Modified Tour this year with his own team. And, now he sets his sights on running the full season at Bowman Gray Stadium with his own team as well. What drives Jeremy to do what he does?
STR- Jeremy, what made you want to start racing, how did you get your start, and at where did you finish in your first ever race?
JG- Oh wow, you talking about my very first race? Well…when I was 5 years old, my brother John Gerstner, he ran all kinds of stuff, but he ran quarter midgets at Terre Haut, Indiana, and basically, my father…as far as racing, it was all about John, and well, one day we were at the track and Jeff Gordon’s there, as he ran the same track we ran, and he had a friend that had a quarter midget for sale, so my father bought it as a backup for my brother. And it worked out that dad let me go out and drive it that night, and I ended up finishing, I think Gordon won, and my brother got second, and I got third. I was coming strong at the end, and so yeah, that was my very first race, racing a quarter midget against my brother and Jeff Gordon. You were supposed to be 6 years old in that race but we slipped me in and out of 27 quarter midgets I finished 3rd, and so that was pretty cool deal.
STR- What is the motivation behind you making the trip from Wesley Chapel, Florida to race modifieds on the SMART Modified Tour and at Bowman Gray Stadium?
JG- You know in Florida, and I don’t want anyone to take this wrong at all, but in Florida, I have a lot of fans, but honestly Florida is not what you would consider a racing state. I mean, it has a great racing scene, and again, I don’t want anybody to misunderstand, as I love the racing scene in Florida. But these guys, literally, in North Carolina, South Carolina, and up there in Virginia, they basically work all week long, and they’re thrilled to bust their butts working so that on Saturday, or sometimes Sundays, they can get to the track and race. So all week, the drivers and fans I’ve met ask us, hey you coming up this week? And that kinda gives us the drive to join ’em. You know, kinda like a wrestler, you want to get out and showcase your talent. And you know, not bragging at all, but here in Florida, I’ve got over 180 wins with my Florida cars, and that’s great, loved every minute of it, but now it’s like, I’m not the new guy, y’know. Like Tim and Burt over at the Stadium, if I didn’t win I was running second or third, and it got to be like it was still cool, but to be honest, it wasn’t like North Carolina cool. I mean, that area, is the core of racing. NASCAR country. And there, when you do an autograph session, the fans get down there, and they get personable, as they’re more involved and invested in, not only the racing, but you personally. It’s not just about racing there, it’s more about, like they’re part of your family. I mean, you see it over at Bowman Gray as a perfect example, thousands of people every week cheering you on. It’s just a great area to compete and race at.
STR- What are your thoughts on racing at Bowman Gray Stadium, and your thoughts on racing the SMART Tour, and on the SMART Tour in general?
JG- You know, the SMART Tour has brought back great life to myself (as far as racing). As you probably know, I ran the SMRS Tour for three years. The first two years in 2017 and 2018 we won the championship with Shady Grady Racing, but in 2019, in my opinion, politics crept into that tour. And in all honesty, it effected me in a way that I had lost all faith in Southern Modified racing. I was literally to the point of pulling the plug and selling my cars, and maybe just keep one to go run NASCAR races at the big tracks. But when Chris Williams called me and told me about his plans on reforming the SMART Modified Tour, he said, “Jeremy, I’m going to be the director. I’m going to control it. Everybody is going to have a fair shot on this tour, you have my word on that.” And honestly, he’s lived up to it. If I have a problem, I can call Chris, and he’ll straight up answer me. So, yeah, that’s restored my faith, and increased my drive to want to compete. And Bowman Gray? First off, it’s just a super professionally run deal. They did it first, and they know how to do it right. The drivers as well, just great competition out there. But for me, at Bowman Gray, the motivation starts with the fans. It’s just a great place to race all the way around.
STR- For the last question, we thought we’d surprise you a little bit. But we wanted to know, how surprised were you to be awarded the win after finishing 9th in the Eddie Brann Memorial race over at Citrus County in 2016?
JG- Well you know…that was like a year long process. People don’t realize. See, we were running the SMRS Modified Tour at the time with our own team, and I really didn’t want to run it as we were because I was running an old school left hander car, and all these guys were building these new lightweight cars, and so I knew in order to win this race, I was going to have to survive it. We knew we wouldn’t qualify on the pole, and that was for us a bad thing to know. Because at Citrus before this race, we were upset if we didn’t sit on the pole and win. And if we didn’t, we knew we missed something. So we showed up there, and right away, the officials went over the whole car, and they were like wow man, this really is old school. And we were like, yep, no aluminum parts, just an old school racer. And then literally, we went out there and practiced 3rd, with everybody on old tires and scuffs, but when we stickered up, we came away with 8th. And then in the race, we drove all the way up to 4th, and with like 10 to go, the car tightened up and I was working, but the car slipped back to 9th. And I’ll be honest, we just went back and loaded her up and said, hey we just missed on it today. We’ve been running the tour and came down and ran this race, it’s a one off, lets just take it for what it is and go home. But the kids were just too tired. So, we had her loaded, and we decided to just stay the night and sleep in the RV to get some rest. And they came and knocked on the RV door at 2:30 in the morning and said, “Good thing you stayed because your 9th place, but we need your car in tech right now and you got 10 minutes to get there.” And I was like 10 minutes? We’re already loaded up. And so I said, “We’re already loaded up, and it’ll take 10 minutes just to get it out.” They understood that, and said they would send the officials over while we unloaded it so they could watch us. And we rolled it up there at about 3 in the morning, and they tore it all apart. The motor, suspension…everything. But see my wife Dawn went over that rule book the whole year we were getting the car ready to run that race. She knew every word in that rule book. And she had me changing all the aluminum brackets, everything they stated couldn’t be on the car for that race. And the track, to their credit, put that week on Facebook that to anyone that won that race or finished podium, that they were going to look over their cars with a fine toothed comb. It was a huge payday to win, and they weren’t giving that money to anybody that didn’t adhere to their rule book. So when we showed up at the track, I immediately saw 8 things wrong on 8 different cars. And I mean, I wasn’t going to say anything, you know. (laughs) So yeah, they went over those cars like they said, and they found all kinds of stuff. And you know, you hear it said that well this doesn’t give you an advantage, and that doesn’t give you an advantage, but that’s not the point. The point is that every track has a rule book, and we’ve learned that you gotta follow those rules. I mean, it’s their track and their show, and if they have rules you have to abide by. And so yeah, at 3:30 we got awarded the check, the trophy, and even the pole too (laughs again). But to say we were surprised? Yeah, we just settled in for the night and took our, what we thought was a loss, and prepared to move on. So it was a pleasant surprise to us. The track, again to their credit, did as they said, and we came away with the pole and the win, and I believe it was something like $5,500. It was crazy, but I’ll never forget that.
STR- Thank you Jeremy for taking the time to talk with us today, and good luck on the rest of the season on the SMART Modified Tour, your first full season at Bowman Gray Stadium, and all you guys do at GMR Racing.
We went on to talk with Jeremy about racing and his future plans, and we talked with Jeremy at Hickory Motor Speedway, as we were surprised by the GMR racing team as they had shown up for the Carolina Crate Mod race there. I had mentioned them to Jeremy but he beat me to it, as he went on to tell me how great the series owners were, and how he thought it was a great developmental modified series for southern modified racing. He expressed the same sentiments we had on that, but it’s how we come to know Jeremy. If there’s a good opportunity to race a great track or series, he’s checking it out. Always working. I asked him when he was going to get some sleep, and he said, “Sleep? What’s that.” And we both had a good laugh. But really, that’s who Jeremy is.
Jeremy is excited about his new deal to run Bowman Gray Stadium. Jerry Hunt has come on board in a big way to make this deal happen. Jeremy will be in the #55 Jerry Hunt sponsored machine for the full 2021 Bowman Gray Stadium season with an association with Tim Brown. They won’t be teammates however, but they have a deal that if something happens to Tim’s car in one of the opening twin race nights, that Jeremy will give up his car to Tim for points. But that said, this is no backup car. As a matter of fact, Jeremy told me that he would love to run for points, and if that works out, it would be fantastic. But he has a goal in mind, and it’s a big one. It’s personal. Jeremy wants to do what no other Floridian has done, and that’s to win a modified race at Bowman Gray Stadium in the modern era. Maybe people outside of the Stadium wouldn’t understand. But to a southern modified fan, and to southern modified races, the significance of winning at the Stadium cannot be understated. It really is that big of a deal. And Jeremy wanted everyone to know of that goal, and who is helping him have the opportunity to achieve it. So, when I told him the article would be released right before the season starts at the Stadium, he wanted me to be sure and mention Jerry and Todd Hunt, and Jerry Hunt Auto Sales. That is how big a deal this is to him. Just to have a shot at winning.
And so we end with where I started in this article. Jeremy Gerstner is a racing champion. But most of all, he is a hard worker, motivated and determined. I saw a couple of posts with Jeremy practicing his #55 Jerry Hunt Auto Sales mod at the Stadium, and in some of the comments I saw people saying, “Way to go Tim!”, because the car Jeremy is driving had the exact graphics scheme as Tim Brown’s SMART Modified Tour car. But I promise, by the end of the year, the fans won’t be confused on who’s running the 55 at the Stadium. And to his competitors there, note: Jeremy Gerstner is focused and determined, and you won’t out work him. There is no doubt to us, that he will be a big factor as he looks to fulfill a life long dream, of being the first Floridian to win a modified race in the modern era at Bowman Gray Stadium.