THE FAIRGROUNDS REPORT 9/27/99-by Shawn Brouse

My mind has spent the better part of the last several days aflood, swirling with a jumble of memories, thoughts, feelings, emotions and realizations. Some of these have stemmed from time spent with other grieving members of the racing fraternity while the rest have come to me from deep inside, on a personal level.

It is because of all these overwhelming, mind numbing “things” and with great sadness and regret that I dedicate what you are about to read to the memory of our beloved fallen racer, Kevin Gobrecht.

I will try to honor Kevin here the best way I know how, by recounting every fond thought, story, reflection or observance I have amassed during his career and over the course of the last few days. I will also get a little “deep”, trying to put into perspective just how much Kevin meant to thousands of people and how this tragic accident has effected me along with everyone else.

But, for the first time in all the writing I have done, I do not know if what I am going to say is going to suffice. I don’t know if I can do a good enough job. I have spent hours trying to figure out what I want to say and how I want to say it. Now, as I begin, I still have no idea where to start.

At any rate, this one is for “The G-Man.”

I honestly don’t know where to begin, except to say that Saturday afternoon, my world along with the rest of the sprint car racing community was sent reeling, rocked by the news that we had lost one of the best drivers to ever circle the clay here in Pennsylvania and across the nation at the age of 30. My nephew called me with the news. It set me down in a chair.

That moment has turned out to be one of “those” moments for me. The kind where you will always remember the exact circumstances surrounding it……like where you were, what you were doing and what time of the day it was.

A co-worker of mine likened my moment to the one he experienced when he received the news of the untimely death of Toby Tobias. He was nailing a truss together on top of his newly built garage when it came over the radio.

I had made plans to attend Lincoln’s Manufacturers Night at Kevin’s home track but after the phone call, I didn’t feel like going. It took awhile, but in time, I realized that I needed to make that two-hour drive to the pigeon hills, now more than ever. I felt like I had to be there, like I needed something.

The trip south to Lincoln went fast as my mind raced with memories of Kevin. I don’t know how many times I re-lived him taking the No. 12 for a flip at Williams Grove. The one memory that keeps coming back into my head however is my first Gobrecht moment, which came at Selinsgrove in 1995 or 96.

Perched in the fourth turn end of the grandstand, the sprint heats were already underway when I saw the family trailer come rolling off the bypass, headed for the big half-mile. Kevin pulled it up to the closed track gate and crawled out then headed for the office. It didn’t take long until the fans realized that Kev was sitting there, waiting to get in.

As he paced beside the trailer, it became clear to me that the officials were not allowing him to enter the event. During a lull in the races, all kinds of fans started yelling “Come on Kevin, why don’t you come in?” G-Man looked over at us and threw his hands up in the air and yelled “They won’t let me in!” That was all it took. The stands erupted and it wasn’t long before the GCS 92 was pit-side.

As it turned out, the rig had broken down en-route to the track. If memory serves, I think they got a flat.

To be honest, until that point, I don’t think I would have known Kevin if I had fallen over him but it gave me a face for a name, and as it would turn out it would be a pairing I would see much more of in the next couple seasons.

I arrived at Lincoln still in shock over the day’s developments.

I started off the night by enjoying a nice chat with longtime race fan, Port Royal supporter and fairly new friend Robert Strickland of Newport, PA in which we discussed the untimely death of Kevin. We ended our meeting having come to the conclusion that as usual, they all know the risks involved when they get behind the wheel and one never knows when “it” might happen. He walked away from me saying “I gotta go get me a goddamn cone of ice cream!”

Pit-side on this night was the Gobrecht family owned No. 92, tonight driven by Jimmy McBee in honor of Kevin.

As I expected, G-Man shirts abounded and of course the night was filled with many “moments,” a couple of which occurred as Lincoln announcer Wayne Harper confirmed the news to all in attendance as the flag stood at half staff.

As Harper’s voice related the story of Kevin’s death a night earlier in Nebraska, I could see a young lady directly in front of me finally come to terms with the realization. A little later on, each sprinter came out adorned with a commemorative G, paying tribute to Kevin. It really hit her at that point and I quietly watched as tears streamed down her cheeks.

I have never witnessed such deafening silence at a racetrack as took place on Saturday night. During Wayne’s statement, the proverbial pin even failed to drop for fear of making a sound. As I stood and listened, I looked across the pits.

During the oration and through the National Anthem, I could see silhouettes leaning against trailers and still others who were resting their head on someone else’s shoulders. It was truly a somber and somewhat eerie moment that speaks volumes about what Kevin meant to everyone.

Earlier in the evening, I heard how a well-respected and widely known photographer called an acquaintance of mine because he just needed to talk. Along the same lines, I had the unfortunate chore of breaking the news to another race buddy of mine and in response he looked at me, patted his heart with his hand and walked away at a loss for words, not able to talk.

In the middle of some down time a little later on, I got to hear a story recounted about Kevin that happened recently.

The gentleman beside me recalled how just a short time ago he was on his way to work around five in the morning when he stopped at a local convenience store. In the parking lot was Gobrecht with his recently purchased RV. The man said Kevin yelled over to him and said “Hey, come see my motor home, I’m showin it to everybody!”

“I just can’t believe it,” said the man. “I just can’t believe this happened, he was so nice to us.”

The start of the 25-lap feature saw the customary vacant pole position observed before Apple Chevrolet pilot Greg Hodnett sped away to his first career Lincoln win. What made this win very special was the fact the last time the Apple No. 12 graced Lincoln’s victory lane, it did so with The G-Man behind the wheel in 1997.

Does it get any more fitting than that?

Winner Hodnett reflected on the death of his fellow competitor “I cannot put into words how bad we feel right now. We were pumped for this one all day.”

Needless to say, it was a long ride home.

The next day brought more Gobrecht moments for me.

Once again my nephew gave me a call. This time it was to tell me that he observed a “moment” the previous night at The Greenwood Valley Action Track in Millville, PA where Kevin used to race micro sprints.

Nick, a successful go-cart driver at 17, told me that the whole place fell silent as the announcer recounted his story about Kevin. “He was the only driver to ever rip the light wires down here,” said the announcer. Having never been to the facility, Nick tells me that Kevin’s accomplishment was no small feat. The wires are very high at Greenwood.

We ended our conversation with talk of attending the upcoming funeral.

Later in the day it was off to Selinsgrove for the season closer of stock cars which just happened to be the speedway where Kevin got his last home state win in the lid-lifter on April 18th. It was his first career win in Snyder County and the following day he left to fulfill a dream. He would soon be driving for Dave Blaney on the World of Outlaws tour.

I spent some time talking with another avid race fan/friend of mine named Morris. He likened The G-Man to the great Mitch Smith. “It was gas ‘er and go, wreck or win for Mitch,” Morris said. “Kevin was the same way”

Later on that night the crowd of fans and racers on hand stood silent as Reverend David Park lead the invocation. He prayed for the entire Gobrecht family while recalling Kevin’s lap-five pass of Rahmer to win the season opener just five months earlier.

I could see it as he spoke, Kev dove to the inside of Freddie in four then blistered the track for his first win. In victory lane he was forced to remain tight-lipped about his new Amoco deal but everyone knew we had just witnessed an outlaw win at our track.

The funny thing is, he said he wasn’t even supposed to drive the car on that night. He related that he was at the shop saying goodbye to the guys earlier in the day when Pauch called off and they asked Kevin if he would drive the Zemco machine one more time.

I am glad he did!

As I listened to the prayer I got one of those feelings. The kind that occurs when you are totally aware of just how earthly you really are. I wondered, why did it take this to happen for me to really pay attention to such a thing. I have listened to Rev. Park’s invocations all year but I never really respected them until Sunday night.

And that leads me to this morning, Monday morning, when I left home for work at 5:30.

Just two miles from my home is a four-way intersection which I negotiate each day. This morning, as I crested the hill which leads down to the intersection, my eyes about popped out of my head. Through the intersection went some crazy fool, going at least 50 M.P.H.

Had I been just seconds earlier, there is no way that whoever was driving would have been able to stop, even if they wanted to. I consider myself quite lucky right now!

A few hours later, as I gathered accurate information about Kevin’s arrangements, I got more bad news.

I thought it odd that I didn’t see my buddy Rob Strickland at Selinsgrove the night before, now I know why. He past away suddenly Sunday afternoon, leaving behind a son and a daughter. I hope he got his cone of ice cream.

So what does all this mean?

Here is how the last three days events have effected me.

I’ve come to the conclusion that irony plays a large roll in life, at least it seems to in mine and it took Kevin’s death to make me see that.

Somehow, I almost feel like we should have had our guard up for something like this to happen. After all, wasn’t this season about the most tumultuous one we have had in a while before the accident in Nebraska? We had so many driver changes and abrupt, shocking moves by car owners and drivers. We are on the verge of losing a couple of speedways to malls or financial ruin and now this. Ironic?

It is so ironic that this normally outlaw boycotting “journalist” broke down late in the day and went to last summers outlaw show at Williams Grove in which The G-Man pulled off a stunning win. Also ironic is the fact that I took with me someone who had never seen a sprint car race before, much less a WoO event and then a darn local beat their butts in a fantastic race. The kind we all live for!

Extremely ironic is also the fact that Hodnett returned the Apple car to Lincoln’s victory lane, just hours after Kevin’s death, for the first time since Gobe put it there in 1997.

And how bout Rob and I ending our talk with that “it could happen anytime” talk and a day later he is gone?

My mom, who is not by nature an avid race fan, felt compelled to go with me to Williams Grove on one of those blustery cold, late winter Sundays earlier this year. She just wanted to go to a race she said and though I was concerned for her being out in the cold we went and she got to see The G-Man at his best, taking a win from Hodnett in turn three on the last lap. Just two weeks ago, Hodnett spoke of how that race changed the way he runs every event today. My mom now says she is so glad the mood struck her to go to a race that day. Isn’t that ironic?

And what about me getting a personal reality check on the way to work this morning in the wake of a pretty reality based weekend?

The other big lesson I’ve learned is one of what the definition of family is. I realize now why I felt I had to go to Lincoln on Saturday. I understand what I needed.

I had to be with family.

I never really realized just what kind of ties I have been making over the last ten years or so. Indeed, racers are a family.

No matter if you are a driver, crew member, fan, reporter or an official, we are all family. Whether we realize it or not we function like one on a continual basis, enjoying hour upon hour together, forging relationships while doing something we love. It is only natural that we need to spend the hard times together as well.

Racers are definitely the tightest knit group of people I know and I am proud to boast such a large family. Thanks for making me aware of all of them Kevin.

I truly feel a sense of personal loss over the untimely death of our family member, Kevin Gobrecht. It is because of that sense of loss that my nephew and I will attend The G-Mans funeral services on Thursday night. It won’t be easy, but it is what families do.

Look at it this way.

For Kevin, long gone were the days when he heard the apple turn-over jokes passing through the grandstands. Instead, the talk was of the talented, educated man who was realizing his dreams, who was headed for the top, winning one of the sports premier events and finishing third in another. The talk in the stands and in the pits was that this guy was a PA Posse member so he must be good. He was doing his home town fans proud out on the road. He was The G-Man and everyone was saying that he was going to be a top gun on the tour. All of this was talk about him, and he got to hear it.

Now, for us, long gone is Kevin Gobrecht. But isn’t it more important that for him, the critical apple-turn-overs turned into the affectionate G-Man and Gobe, which led to success and gave him a chance to live and realize his dreams. How many of us will ever be able to say we really are living our dreams? How many of us will get to hear the critical talk do a 360 and become affectionate?

God needed one more driver to fill his starting lineup and he chose Kevin. I can here the announcer now. “Starting on the pole will be Jan and along side him comes Kenny followed by Daryl and Mitch and ………….”

Thanks for everything Kevin. We love you and miss you but will never forget! See you next lap buddy.