Even In An Off Year, Stuhler Sets Late Model Standard


October 06, 1991|By Stanley C. Dillon

The story of Gary Stuhler is one of consistency.

Over the past six years, Stuhler has been the winningest late model driver in the Northeast. Until this year, Stuhler has averaged 19 wins a season racingprimarily at Winchester (Va.) and Hagerstown speedways, considered by some to have the toughest competition in the area.

Stuhler has become one of the most popular and well-known area drivers in dirt track late model racing. His smoothness has propelled him to more than 100 wins, two track titles at Winchester and one at Hagerstown.

He held the record for the most wins (11) in a single season at Hagerstown until this year and is fourth on the all-time list for career wins at the Washington County oval with 45.

The 1991 season hasn't been kind to Stuhler, but the maturity he has gained inthe limelight served him well during a disappointing year. He has kept everything in perspective and is ready to regroup for next year.

"It is just one of those years that everyone goes through," said Stuhler. "You just get in a rut and can't figure out what to do to makethings better. Still, 10 wins isn't all that bad."

And while Stuhler wasn't winning, he was consistently in the top five.

For two weekends in September, Stuhler went on the road. He finished sixth at Eldora (Ohio) Speedway, where 180 cars were on hand, and the following week he finished 12th at Pittsburgh Motor Speedway, with 75 competitors present.

What has been a disappointing year for Stuhler wouldbe a banner year for most drivers. Stuhler's 10 wins are more than many competitors have in their racing careers.

Stuhler's consistency shows in his personal life as well. When he was 15, he met his future wife Charlene (13 at the time) at a skating rink. The racing season began and they didn't see each other again until the following winter back at the rink.

On their first date, they went to the Beltsville Speedway. She's been with him ever since, and they have two children -- Kyle, 7, and Christin, 4.

Stuhler's racing interests didn'tcome from his family. But he lived near two drivers -- Chuck Talbertand Ray Kable -- in Owings Mills, Baltimore County, and spent his spare time hanging around their garages.

He began going to the raceswith Talbert and Kable, both area racing legends in the 1950s. Eventually, Stuhler began helping Don Riley of Towson.

In 1975, Riley decided to give up racing and offered his car to Stuhler for $2,500. Stuhler took it.

He ran his first race at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa., and didn't qualify. Then he went to Lincoln Speedway in Hanover, Pa., and crashed.

The third time out, again at Lincoln, he won. Everyone was amazed that he had beaten the best drivers in only three weeks.

"I think the fact I had been around race cars so much had something to do with it," said Stuhler. "I was absorbed in racing, watching how the top drivers did it."

Stuhler then raced for Butch Devilbliss, who was a Ford man. But Ford parts weren'tquality parts back then, and Stuhler had more than his share of engine problems and often dropped out while leading the race.

In 1983,Stuhler got what he considers his biggest break of his career -- he landed a ride with car owner Bobby Allen, who took Stuhler on the road to run against professional drivers in the now-defunct National Dirt Racing Association series. Stuhler responded by finishing sixth in points and was named the NDRA Rookie of the Year.

Trying to work and race on a traveling circuit became too much, and it wasn't long before Stuhler and his crew became burned out. In 1986, his car owner was hospitalized.

With no ride, Stuhler hooked up with Ron Hayes ofMiddletown, Frederick County, and the two clicked. Stuhler went froma popular local driver to one known throughout the country.

In 1986, Stuhler made his mark in racing at the Pittsburgh Motor Speedway by winning the Gold Cup Series race. He started in the rear of the field in the 100-lap event after qualifying through the consolation and, by the time the race was over, he had not only passed all the cars to take the lead but also went on to lap all but one car in an astonishing victory.

That win against full-time racers was the turning point of his career. He now was considered a threat wherever he raced,and that increased his confidence.

His consistency and ultra-smooth driving has led him to Victory Lane at least once in every big race at the Hagerstown. Extra distance events with increased purses often found Stuhler in front when the checkered flag fell.

If anyone from this area can make it to the big leagues, Stuhler has the abilityand credentials to do it. If he secures the necessary sponsorship, Stuhler is certain to pursue either a full-time dirt schedule or the Busch Grand National Circuit.

He tries not to speculate about how he might fare against big-time competition. But if he gets the chance,don't bet against him making an even bigger name for himself.

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