The legendary families that have built the history and tradition of 71 years of auto racing at Bowman Gray Stadium are numerous.
One of those families, the Robertson’s, lost the patriarch after a two-year battle with throat cancer. Gerald Robertson died early Sunday morning. He was 80.
“He meant a lot to a lot of people over there and was really a fixture at Bow-man Gray,” said his son, Mike, who followed in his father’s footsteps as a driver and now a car owner on the historic track.
Mike’s brother, Bryant, is also a driver at the track and they both marveled at their father’s longevity in a sport that is both expensive and unpredictable.
“It’s funny but he always told me and my brother don’t get into racing, but, of course, we didn’t listen,” Mike said.
Gerald Robertson first started racing at Bowman Gray in 1960 and didn’t retire until 2010, a season that saw him win a Stadium Stock Division race at the age of 70. He’s one of the oldest to win a race among the four divisions of racing that is held on Saturday nights.
“He finally quit after that season, but that was such a big highlight for him to win that year,” Mike said on Sunday afternoon. “I think the think that sets him apart was his endurance because he just loved to race.”
Robertson raced the more expensive Modified Division for many years and while he never won a race in that division it wasn’t for a lack of effort.
“I can remember as if it was yesterday when I was a kid and I’d ride home with him and we’d be on Stadium Drive and we’d hit Waughtown Street and he’d look at me and say ‘you know what, we’ll get ‘em next week,’” Mike said. “That’s just the attitude he had, and it’s a great way to go through life in my opinion.”
During his time as a driver in Modified he got to take his car twice to run at the big tracks. He raced at Daytona International Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1977.
“He expanded out a little bit and he raced at those tracks and he loved it,” Mike said.
Junior Miller, one of the top winners in Modified Division history at Bowman Gray with 74 career wins, said Robertson was well respected by everyone. Miller lent Gerald his truck so Gerald could get his Modified car to Daytona.
“I’m sorry to hear about Gerald, and prayers to his family,” Miller said. “He was always a good guy and we ran against each other for a lot of years in the Modified Division. He ran for a lot of years out there.”
Miller said when the Modified Division cars got to be too expensive, Robertson scaled it back and decided to run in the Stadium Stock Division for several years. He ended up winning 10 races, including the one at the age of 70.
“I think one year he finished in the top 5 in the Stadium Stock in the points race,” Mike said.
Mike’s son, Ryan, and another son, Chase, are both drivers at the track and are third-generation drivers. Last year, Chase was a 14-year-old rookie at the track and he had planned to run another full season but the coronavirus pandemic cancelled what would have been this summer's 72nd season.
“What he always talked about was the friendships he developed and that meant more to him than the victories,” Mike said. “He raced against Alfred Hill, Lee Jeffreys, Ralph Brinkley, Junior Miller and guys like A.J. Sanders and they continued to be his friends long after he quit driving.
"The friendships were more important than the victories.”
Mike said the fight that his father showed on the track all of those years carried over into his fight with cancer. At one point he had been cancer free for about six months, but last May it returned.
“He never said 'why me' and kept putting up a good front,” Mike said. “All of those years of racing he would do his best every time he got on the track. That’s what I'll remember the most is how he loved the challenge of giving it his all on the track, and I saw if first hand.”
Robertson said that the funeral will be Wednesday at 1 p.m. at Vernon Forest Baptist Church on Mount Vernon Church Road in Winston-Salem.