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Gearhart and crew build replacement car in 12 days

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

After a Barona Speedway collision rendered the race car of Fallbrook driver Jeff Gearhart unusable, Gearhart and his crew built a new car for the next race.

Because that next race was the first of Barona Speedway’s two-day Summer Shootout competition July 21-22, Gearhart and his crew had one fewer day to get the car ready. After 12 days of work, Gearhart drove the new race car for the two race days.

“It’s a big feat building a car in two weeks,” Gearhart said.

Gearhart finished last among the five drivers in his July 8 heat race. He began the main event in the back and had little room to gain positions. He also had little room to avoid Ramona driver Charlie Koehler when Koehler’s 1979 Chevrolet Camaro became loose out of turn four.

“I thought I had him cleared,” Gearhart said.

Koehler was on the inside. Gearhart and his 1999 Ford Crown Victoria were on the outside. “We hooked bumpers and he dragged me into the fence. Hit the fence about 80 mph,” Gearhart said.

Both cars were towed off the track. Gearhart was given a 17th-place finish for season points purposes.

Koehler and his crew spent approximately 100 hours repairing the Camaro. They replaced the wheels, the suspension and the tie rod.

Gearhart’s Crown Victoria was no longer usable as a race car. “It bent the frame in two inches,” Gearhart said. “It wasn’t worth repairing, but all the components in the car were good.”

The 42-year-old Gearhart was raised in Valley Center and moved to Fallbrook four years ago. His stepfather, Brian Griffin, raced at Cajon Speedway in the 1990s. Gearhart attended Cajon Speedway races during his childhood but didn’t begin competition as a driver until last year when he learned that the Crown Victoria was for sale. Gearhart’s brother, Jake Griffin, also began racing in 2022. Gearhart finished eighth in the 2022 Pure Stocks season points standings.

When Gearhart purchased the Crown Victoria he raced prior to the July 8 crash, he also obtained another 1999 Crown Victoria. “When I bought the first car it came with another donor car, so I had two cars to work with,” he said.

The donor car became Geahart’s race car after the other Crown Victoria was deemed unusable. “It’s basically the same car but on a different chassis,” he said. “We transferred the components to the donor car.”

“We” means Gearhart, Brian Griffin and Jake Griffin. The work included cutting the roof off the crashed Crown Victoria, taking out the roll cage, cutting off the roof of the replacement race car, placing the roll cage in that Crown Victoria and welding the roof of the new race car back together.

Gearhart and the Griffins worked on the car from July 9 to July 20. “No days off. Every single night,” Gearhart said.

The work extended into July 21. “I worked ‘till 4:00 a.m. Thursday night and Friday,” Gearhart said.

The Crown Victoria was loaded on the trailer at 5 p.m. July 21 so Gearhart arrived late at the track. Because other classes had earlier heat races Gearhart was still able to compete in the first Pure Stocks heat race that evening. “It was the first shakedown,” he said.

The two-day Summer Shootout with prize money for each night attracted 123 cars including drivers from other tracks. The Pure Stocks had 25 drivers July 21 and 24 cars July 22. The first three finishers in each Pure Stocks heat race automatically transferred to the main event. The other drivers competed in a B main in which eight drivers transferred to the feature.

Seven drivers were in Gearhart’s July 21 heat race. He began the eight-lap race on Barona’s quarter mile dirt oval in the back and finished fourth with Ramona’s Terry Adams taking the third position for the final automatic transfer to the main.

“I was overheating and I had power steering hose failure. I had no power steering,” Gearhart said.

Gearhart began the July 21 B main on the pole. He fell to seventh place and finished the 12-lap race in that position for a transfer to the main. He began the main event on the inside of the tenth row. Gearhart was unable to finish the 20-lap main event and was given 19th-place points.

“That was the first night of figuring it out,” Gearhart said.

With a race the following day, Gearhart and his crew didn’t have two weeks or even two weeks minus one day to make changes for the next competition. The adjustments for the July 22 races were primarily to the steering and the suspension.

Jake Griffin began the second July 22 heat race on the pole with Gearhart starting on the outside of the second row. In the final lap of the eight-lap race, Jimmy Villa of Descanso took the lead from Escondido’s Jeff Grill. Griffin finished third for the automatic transfer to the feature while Gearhart settled for fourth place.

Car problems prevented the scenario in which Gearhart would have had to challenge his brother for the final transfer position. “I did not have full power,” Gearhart said.

Gearhart explained that power steering and battery problems limited the Crown Victoria’s ability. Although the problems were not corrected in time for the B main, Gearhart finished eighth in that race after starting on the pole. Although an automatic transfer to the feature is preferable, the 12 laps in the B main were to Gearhart’s benefit. “It gave me more seat time with the car to get comfortable with it,” he said.

The B main gave Gearhart and his crew less time to fix the problem by the time Gearhart began the main event on the outside of the tenth row. Pure Stocks main events at Barona Speedway are 20 laps or 20 minutes, and crashes which caused yellow flag cautions shortened the July 22 race to 15 laps. Gearhart finished 17th.

“I blew the whole entire power steering pump and I was having electrical issues,” Gearhart said.

The Pure Stocks will next race Aug. 5. “We’re going to get that fixed,” Gearhart said.

Gearhart had been in fifth place in the season point standings prior to the July 8 race. Even with the low finishes July 8, July 21 and July 22, he ended the Summer Shootout seventh in the season standings and only four points behind sixth-place Joe Malone of El Cajon, who finished eighth in the July 22 main event.

“The whole goal was to rebuild that car and come back out here,” Gearhart said. “I feel like it’s a win.”

 

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