Kevin Gobrecht began in go-karts at age 8. He didn't do the things most kids do because he was either racing or working on his kart. Even in his high school years, he would work on the kart after school and, when it got late, take an engine into his house and work on it while he was watching television.
His racing advanced from go-karts to micro-sprints when his older brother Scott vacated the seat in his grandfather's micro.
In his second year in micros at age 21, Kevin won two features en route to the track championship at Trailway Speedway. A year later, he split with his grandfather and sat out for four months while he put his own micro-sprint team together.
The new owner/driver won four of the ten micro races he entered in 1991. He came back in 1992 to win 36 features spread over nine different tracks along with championships at Trailway and Hill Valley. He backed that up with 29 victories in 1993.
By 1994, he had become so dominant that he expected to win every night, and when he lost, the agony of defeat far outweighed the thrill of victory. The only driver who seemed capable of beating him was his brother, Brian, and they often raced at different tracks on the same nights so both of them could win.
Brian's little brother made his sprint car debut at Lincoln in 1995, and it didn't take him long to get fast.
Despite some crashes, he was showing steady improvement and, had it not been for a flat tire, would have won a feature at Lincoln in early July. Although Kevin lost a race that night, he did gain a mechanic. Brian had been racing a micro the night Kevin nearly won at Lincoln.
Three weeks later, he got his first win at Lincoln and held off Pennsylvania superstar Fred Rahmer in the process. He also qualified for all six World of Outlaws races he entered in 1995 and impressed enough voters to be named the National Sprint Car Poll's Rookie of the Year.
Kevin got off to a good start in 1996 with a victory in the prestigious Williams Grove opener. Six weeks later, he would win another one, and people were starting to notice.
Still in the family car, which was financed by the Gobrecht brothers and their father Bob, Kevin was spectacular riding the wall at Eldora the night before the Big One in August. His performance was reminiscent of one of Ohio's favorite sons, Jac Haudenschild.
Haudenschild wasn't spectacular on this weekend, he was still feeling the effects of a crash at New York's Lebanon Valley Speedway. There was no way he could race the Big One. He would be sidelined for the next several weeks.
Haudenschild was in the Pennzoil machine at the time, and car-owner Jack Elden needed a substitute driver to keep his sponsor's colors on the circuit. The team's crew chief was Kirk Dewease, whose brother, Lance, is a star on the Pennsylvania circuit. Kirk knew about Kevin and recommended him to the car-owner. Elden agreed to meet the young Pennsylvanian.
So there he was in his second season of sprint car racing, subbing for one of the most exciting drivers on the WoO tour. He was in a car carrying corporate sponsorship, and working for one of the game's top owners. He debuted in the Big One, then went on to the Knoxville Nationals. Kevin had come a long, long way in a very short time.
Haudenschild was back in a few weeks, and Kevin returned to Pennsylvania, but he left on good terms with his car-owner.
Although he was afraid it would affect their friendship, Stauffer offered Kevin the seat in the Apple car for the '97 season. Friendship notwithstanding, it was a sound business move, from Lee's point-of-view.
They won two races at the Grove and two at Lincoln, but the crashes far outnumbered the victories. Late in the season, Lee Stauffer was the one who had to end it.
The firing strained their relationship for a few weeks, but when Kevin crashed his own car at Williams Grove, Lee was there to offer parts and assistance, and their friendship was back on track.
Lee Stauffer knew there would be more good rides in Kevin's future.
Kevin's first victory in the Zemco car stopped Rahmer's 12-race winning streak at Lincoln. His second win was against the World of Outlaws at Williams Grove. He would get two more at Lincoln before the season ended.
He would also meet a girl named Bobbi Myers, who worked at the French Fry stand at Lincoln. After that, his nights on the town with Lee Stauffer were numbered. The Zemco team would field two cars for special races in 1999. Pauch would drive at Williams Grove and Kevin at Lincoln and at any other time that Billy couldn't be there.
He won a race at Volusia, then the next night flipped out the ballpark in a frightening crash in which his car erupted in flames, "I was upset with him (because of the crash) at Volusia," said Lee, who watched his own driver, Greg Hodnett, help Kevin climb out of the wreckage. "He was such a calm person outside the race car. I don't know what clicked off in his head when he strapped in. I told him he needed to calm himself down."
Kevin must have heeded his friend's advice, because when he came back to Pennsylvania, he was virtually unbeatable. As an example: On March 27, he won at Lincoln in the afternoon and Port Royal at night. The next afternoon, he won at Williams Grove. He was driving with a confidence that made him seem invincible.
A couple of days later, somebody said to Bob Gobrecht that he must be very proud of his son after winning three races in less than 24 hours.
"I was even more proud of him when he showed up for work first thing Monday morning," Bob replied.
By mid-April, the G-Man had eight victories and was the winningest driver in sprint car racing.
About that time, he got a phone call from Dave Blaney.
The former World of Outlaws champion and current Busch Grand National ace needed a driver for his sprint car, and he wanted Gobrecht. It was a full-time WoO deal, complete with a highly successful crew chief in Kenny Woodruff and major sponsorship from Amoco.
He joined the Amoco team in Tulsa and ran fourth to match the car's best finish at that point in the season.
A few days later, the Gobrecht experienced what corporate sponsorship is all about. He found himself in a convention center in New Orleans greeting 3,000 of Amoco's best customers.
Things would not be going quite as well on the racetrack, however. The team struggled for two months. A DNQ at Lernerville was the final indignity. Kevin came home to New Oxford in late July to await the weekend WoO races at the Grove and Hagerstown--and to contemplate his future. He knew the Zemco car was his if he wanted it.
Although he knew J&J chassis were winning races all over the country, Kevin felt more comfortable in Maxims. Just a personal preference. So he called Blaney, who told him to contact Woodruff. He got Woodruff's voice mail, left a message, then went fishing with his brothers and some friends.
While he was on the fishing boat, his cell phone rang. It was Woodruff. If Kevin didn't mind missing a weekend, the veteran crew chief would go home and put three new Maxims together. Woodruff was willing to do whatever it took to keep his driver happy.
In his first weekend in the new car, he won the Big One at Eldora. A week later, he ran third in the Knoxville Nationals. The six-week Western swing was next, and Kevin recorded 9 top-10 finishes in 14 starts.
He was leading at Gray's Harbor near Elma, Washington, when he made contact with a lapped car. He was running away with a qualifying night feature at Calistoga when a flat tire took him out. He felt driver error cost him the Gold Cup at Chico.
So, after two months on the road, Kevin was coming home. There was just one stop between Rock Springs, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania. Just one weekend stop. At I-80 Speedway near Greenwood, Nebraska.
And that's where it ended, in Greenwood, Nebraska, Kevin Gobrecht rolled during a turn on lap 15 of a 20-lap event, while on his left side with his roof facing traffic, was hit by another driver. Gobrecht passed away early Saturday morning from head injuries.
With thanks to Doug Auld