Who is That Guy with Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
Chances are if you are a New Jersey racing fan, and have a Facebook account, you have seen a picture of Gilbert Martino with NASCAR's most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. In fact, you have probably seen him with Jeff Gordon, Ray Evernham, and even Miss Sprint Cup.
But just who is Gilbert Martino, and how does he end up in all those photos, with so many well-known racing personalities?
It all started at Wall Stadium Speedway. The small, high-banked, paved oval, located near the Jersey Shore, that has produced such racing talent as the previous mentioned Ray Evernham, a Sprint Cup winning crew chief for Jeff Gordon, and Sprint Cup drivers Martin Truex Jr., and his younger brother Ryan, among others.
Gilbert has been a big part of Wall Stadium Speedway for as long as anyone can remember. He has always been, and continues to be, one of the first people looking to lend a hand anywhere he can. He has been a member of several racing teams over the years, most notably those of Vinny Green and Pete Brittain.
Shortly after Evernham, a Hazlet native, made a name for himself with Gordon in NASCAR, he took time to visit his home track. Gilbert of course was there, and struck up a conversation with the "Rainbow Warrior" crew chief. He told Evernham how much he really wanted to attend a Sprint Cup race.
Evernham gave Gilbert a contact person at Hendrick Motorsports, and it wasn't long before he found himself at a Sprint Cup race. Not as someone with a ticket to the race, but as a special guest of Hendrick Motorsports, even more precisely, of the number 24 team.
Gilbert brought that same "help any way he can" attitude to the number 24 team, and was invited to be a guest of theirs at Dover, Pocono, New Hampshire, and Watkins Glen, over the years. Even when Evernham left Hendricks to start his own team, Gilbert continued his relationship with the team.
So how did Gilbert end up being associated with Dale Earnhardt Jr.? That was all a matter of chance when the decision was made at Hendrick to switch the crews of the 24 and Earnhardt's 88. When Gordon's guys went over to Earnhardt so did Gilbert.
He also went to victory lane with Earnhardt, as he had with Gordon.
Gilbert continues to be a guest of Hendrick Motorsports for two NASCAR weekends a year, although he seems to attend a few more each year through a method he wasn't sharing with us. He is also still a regular at Wall Stadium Speedway, on most Saturday nights, doing what Gilbert does best, ready to lend a helping hand wherever needed.
Come to think of it, maybe that's how he gets into those other NASCAR weekends.
Cruise4U Steps Up to Support Two Young
NJ Driving Talents
Phil Arons, the owner of the Cruise4U travel agency, was never much of an auto racing fan. He was one of those people who thought NASCAR was nothing more than a bunch of guys just going around in circles for hours.
That all changed when a new cruise ship was built featuring bumper cars. Always the astute businessman, Phil saw an opportunity to possibly build cruise packages around this feature to race fans. In order to do so he knew he needed to learn more about the sport.
He started to follow NASCAR, not just at it's highest levels of Sprint Cup, XFinity, and the Camping World Trucks, but also the K&N Pro Series and the Whelen Modified Tour. What he learned was racing was much more than just turning left. There was preparation, strategy, and of course driving talent.
What started as a way to generate more business for his travel agency soon turned into a respect, and love for the sport. Phil wanted to be involved in the sport somehow, and sponsorship seemed like the best option.
Knowing he couldn't get involved at the highest levels of stock car racing, he contacted Sponsor Drivers Motorsports Marketing, a non-profit group that tries to connect racers with potential backers. It was here that he first learned about Rob Silver, and Neil Rutt III, two young drivers who have had a tremendous amount of success, despite still being in high school.
Rob Silver started racing at the age of six in the Quarter Midget cars at "Little Wall", the asphalt oval for young drivers located next to the pit area for Wall Stadium Speedway. He raced there for seven years picking up the Young Lion NJ State Championship in 2011, 2012, and 2013. He was also the points champion in the Young Lions/Semi-Pro Division at Bethel Motor Speedway, while finishing fifth in the nation for the INEX Young Lions Asphalt Division.
In 2014, Rob made the move into full-size race cars by joining the Sportsman Division at Wall Stadium. Driving his number 26S, the sixteen year old finished eighth in the overall points standings competing against some drivers who have been racing longer than he has been alive. His performance earned him the Wall Stadium Speedway "Rookie of the Year" honor.
Rob's plans for 2015 will see the Howell High School Junior continue to compete in the Sportsman Division at Wall with a possibility of some starts in the Wall Mods later in the season. On Opening Night, at Wall, all the seventeen year old did was set fastest time of the 22 cars on hand. Unfortunately, an inverted start of the top eight times put him in the outside lane for the start of the feature. Trapped on the outside he fell to the back of the field, but raced his way back to seventh by race end.
Neil Rutt III is a third generation driver, who like Rob, has put together a quite impressive racing career despite his age. Neil first started racing in 2006 in the Junior Flat Open Go Karts, eventually moving up to the INEX Series Bandolero Cars.
During this time he picked up more than 50 wins, and three driving championships at Wall. He was the 2006 "Rookie of the Year", the 2009 "Racer of the Year", and the 2012 and 2013 NJ State INEX Bandolero Champion. He also won in World Karting Association national competition.
In 2014, Neil took his driving talents to the full-size Factory Stock Division at Wall. Despite his lack of experience with the heavy, full-fendered machines, he soon began to put respectful finishes together in a division filled with experienced drivers.
Thanks to help from friend Paul Hartwig Jr., and Cruise4U, Neil got to realize a dream on Opening Night at Wall by getting behind the wheel of a Wall Mod. Unfortunately, a lack of new racing tires to compete on didn't allow the Junior at Toms River High School East to show his full talent. However, he did a great job staying out of the way of the faster cars while picking up some experience.
The rest of 2015 is still up in the air for Neil. He is hoping to make a Race of Champions start at Chemung Speedway on May 8th, and may make some starts in the Factory Stock Division at Wall throughout the year.
As for Phil Arons of Cruise4U, he is not only excited to be part of two young drivers careers, but he has also signed on as an advertiser with RacingAroundJersey.com as part of our Shop the Sponsors page. He will be offering special cruise deals throughout the race season to NJ race fans, with the possibility of putting together a racing cruise by years end.
We like to encourage our readers to support the businesses which support local auto racing, so if you are even just thinking about going on a cruise be sure to contact Phil at Cruise4U. Who knows, you might just end up on that ship with the bumper cars that got all this started.