Fans at Grandview Speedway know Bobby Gunther Walsh for how he drives on the track and the sound of his voice.
Gunther has been a modified racer at Grandview — a NASCAR-sanctioned third-mile banked clay track in Bechtelsville, Pennsylvania — for 25 years, but he‘s been on the radio longer. He‘s the morning show host on NewsRadio 290 WAEB in Allentown, PA, a job he‘s held for 37 years.
“It‘s interesting. When I first started there (at Grandview), the people that knew that I was a radio guy, I think many of them thought I was doing it for a stunt,” Gunther said. “Most people had never heard of it, never heard my show.”
He talks about his races on his radio show every Monday morning, and he‘s become surprised at how many listeners have told him they now go to his races. He‘s also become pleasantly surprised by how many drivers now listen to him in the morning.
“I‘ve brought a lot of radio fans from up here to the track,” he said. “When I first started down there it was kind 0f like people kind of knew and they had an idea, but they never really heard of me and never heard my show. But now I‘d say a good portion of them now have heard my show and many of them listen.”
It wasn‘t a radio stunt that brought Gunther to Grandview. When he first started racing he said, “I was going through a divorce and looking for something to take my mind off things.
“I thought, I need something to look forward to. My dad used to race and I thought I‘d give it a whirl,” he added.
He grew up going to races a bit, but not as much as he would have liked, and his dad got out of the sport just before Gunther was old enough to start helping on the car.
Getting a later start in the sport, Gunther laughs when asked how long it took him to get comfortable driving a modified car. He‘s still learning, and estimates it was about five years before he really knew what he was doing. He joked that his decision to race in Grandview’s highest division with no prior driving experience led him to look back and wonder “what I was thinking.”
“It was not easy,” he said. “I guess maybe after a couple years I got adequate, and I was able to not get lapped in a heat race. The heat races at that time were only 10 laps and I used to get lapped in some of them.
“After that I got better. There are some guys that are so legendary and they‘re so good and you know that they‘re going to get two or three wins each during the year, if not more. There‘s like four or five of those guys. So that leaves the rest for everybody else. So it‘s just tough.”
More than two decades into his career, there are many aspects of the sport that keep Gunther wanting to continue racing. Mainly, the fun, the thrill, the rush of the speed, and the challenge. The biggest challenge being getting his first real feature win.
Gunther has won heat races at Grandview, and once won a race specifically for drivers who have never been to victory lane, but he‘s never celebrated a real Grandview victory.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t close calls. Last year he was leading a race until Lap 24 when he was passed by Jeff Strunk, a 10-time Grandview track champ, Mike Gular, the reigning track champ at the time, Craig Von Dohren, an 11-time track champ, Frank Cozze, a more than 400-time feature winner, and finally Duane Howard, a 7-time track champ.
“So I feel like I won because the guys that beat me, you feel like, I didn‘t lose to somebody who‘s my ability. I lost to the best out there,” Gunther said. “Do I wish I won? Yeah. But I took some consolation in, my gosh, it wasn‘t as though I got beat by some slacker.”
There was another race Gunther led for 20 laps, and had built a sizable lead alongside Howard. As he began pulling away from the field, something on his car broke with four laps to go, and he was forced to coast into the pits and end his night.
Howard, too, had something break soon thereafter.
“If I had not broken I would have gotten the lead back,” Gunther said. “And Frank Cozze, who was in third said, ‘I hate to win like this. I couldn‘t even see those guys they were out front so far.\"”
Another time, he led until Lap 23 when he made the wrong decision at the choose cone on a restart, getting passed up top and falling away.
“So there‘s been a bunch of things like that here and there where you come close but no cigar,” Gunther said.
Even without a win, getting around Grandview is so fun it‘s not a place Gunther plans to leave any time soon. He‘s raced at other bigger tracks, but found them boring compared to the speedway of his third-mile clay home away from home.
“I raced at a 5/8-mile track a few times… After having raced at Grandview for so long I actually thought I should have brought a book to read,” Gunther said. “Because Grandview is so fast, you‘re constantly having to be up on the wheel. You cannot take a breath for one minute. If you snooze you lose.
“And at Grandview you have to drive perfect laps. At other tracks that are bigger, more spread out, you can make a mistake and they won‘t catch you. At Grandview, you make a mistake and everybody is on you and you‘ve just lost a bunch of spots.”
Gunther has also become a fan favorite at Grandview. He involves the track with some of his charity work, including a recent fundraiser for a local animal no-kill shelter. Last month, the fundraiser raised more than $210,000 for the second straight year.
Every Saturday after races, Gunther stays after to hand out candy and treats from his sponsors to fans.
“I like to help market sponsors so they‘ll renew,” he said. “It has also made me more connected to the fans. I get a line of fans every week at the car. Certainly they‘re there for free things but you wind up talking about them, you know their life, they know about my family … so you end up making fans that way and you wind up having people rooting for you in the stands simply because they know you now. They‘re not rooting for a car, they‘re rooting for a person.”
Between using his racing for good, using the sport to bring fans to his radio show and vice versa, and trying to find victory lane, Gunther will continue to be at Grandview every Saturday night for more thrills around his favorite dirt track.
“It‘s the thrill of still hoping you can do it. I guess some people say it‘s an addiction,” he said. “Dirt racing, I think it‘s the original extreme sport. It‘s crazy.”