Taking Stocks

Driver Jerry Robertson aims to be king of the oval.

When Jerry Robertson was twelve, thirteen years old, he used to climb into his Uncle Bob's stock car at the old Englewood Speedway, hoping to get his future in gear but quick. "Lemme hot-lap the car," the towheaded kid would plead. Every time, Uncle Bob just grinned and shot a knowing glance at his brother Odie. "You think I'm crazy? Jerry, you're gonna have to wait."

Three decades later, the waiting is still not over.

That's not to say that Robertson, who lives in Arvada, hasn't made a mark in stock-car racing. In the first dozen years of his driving career, which began when he was nineteen, he racked up 126 wins on some very hard-banging dirt tracks in Colorado and the Carolinas. As a head welder, fabricator and foreman for some of the top racing shops in the NASCAR-crazed South, he helped build Winston Cup cars for the likes of Richard Petty, A.J. Foyt and Buddy Baker, all the while soaking up the finer points of chassis design and engine tuning from the smartest old boys in the game. He's raced at stock-car shrines like Martinsville and Nashville. He's run at Phoenix International and the Milwaukee Mile. For five years, he traded paint at the Southern Dirt Nationals in Travelers Rest, South Carolina -- a place even a Yankee can find on the map if he looks hard enough. Robertson beat his old North Carolina roommate, future Winston Cup star Ernie Irvan, so many times on the half-mile dirt at Concord that it got comical. In 1988 alone, he started 64 dirt-track races on the Southern circuit.

Since moving back home to Colorado in 1989 and switching to asphalt in 1994, the hero of our story has become a hero to hundreds of other people, too. You'll find them on Saturday nights sitting on the plain steel bleachers at Colorado National Speedway, thirty miles north of Denver, near Erie. This is the small-time, three-eighths-mile paved oval where Jerry Robertson has become a condition of life -- as familiar as a cold Bud, a grilled turkey leg or the pre-race prayer that booms through the track loudspeakers, imploring the Almighty to "stay back the weather, give the pit crews wisdom and guide each of us to the checkered flag of life."

"He's the best there is," says longtime fan Bob Fitch. "He's fearless and consistent, and he never loses his concentration." Not everyone in the stands loves Robertson, of course. Truth be told, some of the fans absolutely hate him -- in the way some people hate the New York Yankees. But no one could imagine Saturday night without the man they call "J.R." Because Robertson and his silver, red and blue Number 75 Late-Model Chevy Monte Carlo virtually own the place.

The astonishing numbers: Since the 2000 season, when Robertson redesigned his current chassis and Dave Capriotti of DC Racing Engines built him his first competitive motor, he has started 81 Late-Model A-Main events at Erie. He's won 45 of them. His ten victories in 2000 earned him the track championship as well as his first NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series Northwest Regional Championship. Last year he won eleven races and his second NASCAR regional crown. This spring, the 75 car has hit the winner's circle five times in six races. On May 30, Robertson edged the number-eight car of Bear Lynch at the finish line by a coat of paint. Last Saturday night he started ninth, worked his way up through the field, ran door-to-door for the lead with Scotty Backman for fifteen laps and won the race by a scant two feet.

After taking the checkered flag, Jerry Robertson took home $1,500. Not Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s kind of payday. Nothing that would rev Jeff Gordon's motor. But $1,500, nonetheless. The Robertson team has cash sponsors, but they don't cover expenses. J.R.'s got to buy parts. He needs a new set of Hoosier racing slicks -- that costs $444 -- every Saturday. He has to feed the crew and fill the tank and keep up the hauler. It's not easy, and the hours are killing. But winning is enough to keep him coming back for more. Just like Uncle Bob used to do. Just like his father, Odie, a Denver-area racing legend of the '60s and '70s who once ran a big-time race at Riverside, California.

"If I couldn't be in the hunt every week," J.R. says, "I'd find something else to do."

As it is, the 42-year-old husband and father of three teenagers already holds three other jobs to make ends meet. He sells alarm systems for a security company. A couple of months ago, he got a real estate license. And since 1991, he's run Jerry Robertson Racing, a trophy-and-champagne-bottle-crammed shop on the outskirts of Brighton where, among the bent, untidy carcasses of half a dozen race cars, he spends thirty or forty hours a week working on his own Chevrolet as well as rebuilding, repairing and tweaking equipment for other local drivers. Think you're busy? On Monday, June 7, Robertson endured the painful ordeal of passing three kidney stones. By Wednesday afternoon, he was back at work, doing double duty in business, and spent all of Thursday afternoon and evening in the shop. Friday, more of the same. On Saturday night, he buckled himself into the 75 car and drove forty hard laps for the win. Then he and the crew hauled everything back to Brighton, waiting for next week.

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