A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING
For Kirby Gobble, the addiction began with tractor pulling.
The speed. The competition. Racing: it was too much for a wide-eyed, twelve-year-old kid from Abingdon, Va., to resist.
“My Dad had a pulling tractor, and I drove it for a full season at the tractor pull,” Gobble explains. “That tractor pulling—it didn’t last long enough. You just go down the track one time, and that’s it. I wanted to get in something where I could run lap after lap.”
Since, Gobble professes to have piloted everything from “a Legends car all the way up through Late Model Stock.” A 27-year career has produced five championships at four different race tracks in two distinct racing disciplines. Gobble touts crowns from Wythe Raceway, Kingsport Speedway, Lonesome Pine Raceway and Motor Mile Speedway. And aside from a Street Stock championship at Wythe, all of Gobble’s titles have come from behind the wheel of a MOD-4.
“The biggest reason I’ve stuck to the lower classes is simply for financial reasons,” Gobble explains. “For 27 years, I’ve basically raced out of my pocket. In any division I’ve raced, it’s been out-of-pocket. That’s why it was so nice this year to be able to drive for Rodney [Campbell].”
Prior to 2011, Gobble had not recorded a full season at Motor Mile Speedway since the ownership change in 2004. In six years, Gobble compiled 13 Late Model starts and a handful of MOD-4 starts. In his only championship bid, Gobble finished third in the MOD-4 standings in 2006 despite missing two races.
True to his tendencies, Gobble’s intermittent racing schedule found him at Motor Mile Speedway on September 11, 2010 for the season finale. Inclement weather forced the postponement of the event one day—the day that would set in motion a sequence of events leading to Gobble’s first Motor Mile Speedway track championship.
Contacted by Campbell with an invitation to race for his team in the Sunday show, Gobble’s cameo appearance in the No. 87 marked his third event of the 2010 season in the MOD-4 class.
“They brought it to the track on Sunday, and we qualified on the pole and won the race—first time I had ever sat in the car,” says Gobble.
Two victories at Lonesome Pine Speedway followed. The honeymoon reached unprecedented heights at Myrtle Beach Speedway in November, when Gobble and the No. 87 team visited victory lane for the fourth consecutive race in one of the preeminent events of the season in MOD-4 competition.
“That’s a highlight of my career; that was the first time I had ever driven there. And we sat on the pole and won at Myrtle Beach,” Gobble explains. “After we had had so much success, they decided to run for a championship at Motor Mile.”
The advent of the 2011 season was a continuation of the success Gobble and the No. 87 team enjoyed at the end of 2010. On the race track, Gobble dominated, winning the first five races uncontested. However, a disqualification in post-race inspection following his third consecutive win of the season detracted from his flourishing lead in the division standings. That night, Gobble not only forfeited the win, he also lost the lead in the standings.
On May 21, Gobble tied MOD-4 standout Bryan Reedy for primacy in the points race. The championship battle would remain tight through the duration of the season, climaxing with a winner-take-all title bout between the duo entering the season finale on September 10.
A mere two points –equal to one position on the track – separated Gobble and Reedy in the final 30-lap feature of the season. When the checkered flag unfurled, a second place finish for Gobble secured the track title by a margin of 6 points over Reedy—the closest points contest division-wide at MMS in 2011.
Gobble’s “cameo” championship campaign ended a two-year reign atop the division for Wayne Corprew, who was absent from competition in 2011. How much does a championship at Motor Mile Speedway mean to a rambler who has raced seemingly everything, everywhere?
“It probably ranks No. 1 among all my championships, simply because of the competition level that’s at Motor Mile,” Gobble reveals.
Gobble has come a long way since his stint as a pre-teen tractor puller. That year, his first foray into competitive motorsports produced five wins.
Twenty-seven years later, in his first full-time effort at Motor Mile Speedway, a five-win season helped him pull off a championship.
The Trackside Transcript: Kirby Gobble
When and how did your racing career get started?
When I was 12 years old, I started hanging around my cousin’s shop. Just hanging around, trying to learn and watch. A year-and-a-half later, I decided I wanted my own car. So we built me a mini-stock for Wythe Raceway. I started racing up there when I was fourteen. In the second race of my second year, I won for the first time.
Actually, my Dad had a pulling tractor, and I drove it for a full season when I was 12 at the tractor pull. So my first competitive deal was tractor pulling. We pulled one full season and I think I won five times. That tractor pulling—it didn’t last long enough. You just go down the track one time, and that’s it. I wanted to get in something where I could run lap after lap.
What’s your biggest career highlight?
The biggest highlight would probably be winning Bristol on August 9, 2008. They decided to have the MOD-4s as a support division for the Pro Cup race. They had, I think, 31 cars there.
Of course, I had never been there with a MOD-4. We unloaded off the trailer decently fast. We qualified third, and just hung in there and won the race. It was great.
We didn’t lift. Bristol—that was a superspeedway for us. To go out there and put it on the mat and not lift; that was the first place I had ever raced at where I could do that.
Access the season, what goals were set at the beginning of the year, and did you surpass those expectations?
My goal was to win the championship for Rodney and Tasha. They had been in racing for several years and had won a few races along the way, but had never won a championship. That was our main goal. But we really didn’t expect to win as many races as we did.
The team endured a carburetor infraction after your third win of the season—an incident that dropped you from first in the standings. At that point, how discouraged was the team, and how big of a setback was it?
Well, it was a setback. Of course, I didn’t like the situation. It wasn’t anything that we had done to it; we had sent a rule book to a company and had them to build us the carburetor, and when we got it back we assumed they had built it by the rules. But the way I looked at it, we were going to have to come back and win more races than I had initially planned on winning. The only way to gain the most points is to win races.
We concentrated harder on making our car drive better, and we concentrated harder on winning races after that. I really put the championship behind me then.
Another obstacle this team had to overcome was the last lap crash with Chucky Williams on August 20. Consequently, Bryan Reedy got back in contention for the title, and heading into the season finale you held only a two-point lead. Walk me through that incident—why not points race and protect with one race to go?
That was driver error. After 27 years of driving, it doesn’t matter how many years you’ve done it, you still make mistakes. I was the first to admit that was just driver error. I was going for the win on the last lap, and I knew that the bottom of the racetrack was dirty. It was just something I didn’t think about. I was going for the win. I drove off into the corner…
I knew I should’ve just run second, and got the points for second that night. That wouldn’t have been near as bad as what happened. But it wasn’t nothing intentional by any means. I’m not that kind of racer.
-Were you concerned that the championship was in jeopardy?
Yeah, I was. The last race of the year, I brought one of my old cars up there as a back-up. I knew if something happened to the No. 87 car in practice or something, I wouldn’t have a ride to even start the race. We were concerned, but after the race, it all worked out.
I would argue that the MOD-4 division featured some of the best racing spanning all divisions this season. Not only the race previously mentioned, but also the three-car first place battle on July 16, and the night you chased down Williams on the final lap on August 6 come to mind. What is your assessment of the racing in the MOD-4 class this year, and just how tough was it to win this title?
It doesn’t matter what division you’re racing: if you want a challenge –to win a race or a championship – you need to go to Motor Mile Speedway. That’s where the best of the best race. It doesn’t matter if it’s MOD-4 or UCAR or Late Model Stock. It shows. You go to Martinsville to run the big race, and the Motor Mile guys are running up front. If you go to Bristol to run a MOD-4 race, guys from Motor Mile are the ones you’re racing up front. They feature the best cars in every division; it doesn’t matter what class you’re running.
How was this championship won, and what attributes to the success this team has enjoyed this year?
The biggest reason we had so much success this year was shop preparation. I can’t say enough about Rodney Campbell. He did it all himself, along with our engine guy, Billy Cash. Those two guys kept the car up at the shop; I didn’t go up there any during the week all year. They did all the maintenance, and we didn’t have any DNF’s. We didn’t have any motor failures. Didn’t break anything on the chassis. And that’s the No. 1 key to winning a championship.
What does this championship mean to you, personally, and where does it rank among your list of accomplishments?
Really, it probably ranks No. 1 among all my championships, simply because of the competition level that’s at Motor Mile.