Tony Gaples said missing the last two Pirelli GT4 America Sprint events has “really stoked the competitive fire” in him as a driver, as the longtime SRO America entrant returns to the wheel this weekend at Road America.
The Blackdog Speed Shop team owner/driver was forced to sit out the GT4 America rounds at Virginia International Raceway and Sonoma Raceway after undergoing multiple eye surgeries.
It left the Lincolnshire, Ill-based team with only a single McLaren 570S GT4 on the grid for Michael Cooper, although the McLaren Automotive factory driver has claimed six overall wins in eight starts so far this season.
Wednesday’s test sessions at Road America marked the first time Gaples had been behind the wheel since opening practice at St. Petersburg in March when cars were pulled off-track due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It marked a nearly six-month break in racing that made Gaples realize his passion for the sport.
“Getting back to the track with everyone at Blackdog and in the McLaren has been great,” he said.
“This is my home track and favorite one in the series, so that’s made it even better.
“At the end of last year in Las Vegas, I felt like my driving had taken a step forward. I had to push and pass a lot of cars to move up to second in the championship. The confidence had carried over to the first weekend of this year at COTA.
“That’s what made it so difficult to miss the rounds at VIR and Sonoma.
“As tough as it was, it’s been just as good to be back in the paddock and on the racetrack.
“The one thing this has allowed me to see is how much racing is a part of me. Going through all this has really stoked the competitive fire even more. I don’t plan on stepping away again anytime soon.”
Gaples revealed he had a total of seven procedures — four on his right eye and three on his left — that has ultimately put him on the sidelines.
“My doctor advised that it was better to be safe than sorry, and I’m glad I listened to him,” he said. “This definitely wasn’t expected.
“But if I’ve learned one thing that I can pass along to anyone else experience eye trouble or seeing a dark curtain across your eye, go and get checked out by a retina specialist.
“It’s not worth risking your eyesight to see if it will just go away.”