Column By: MIKE WARREN / WORLD OF OUTLAWS – CONCORD, NC – Dennis Erb Jr. added the most significant piece to his dirt Late Model resume in 2022—a World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series championship.
However, what makes his title unique is his path to get there.
Unlike many teams in today’s dirt Late Model landscape, the Carpentersville, IL driver owns his equipment and races on a budget. It’s something Erb said makes the accomplishment sweeter, knowing years of hard work have paid off.
“We race against high-dollar teams, and I’ve never steered away from it,” Erb said. “I know what we’re dealing with. I know the costs, the work, and it’s nothing that I ever complain about. We just go out and do our thing.
“It does make it a lot more satisfying knowing that we’ve accomplished this, owning everything myself with the budget that I have, making back money to put back in and keep fighting for it. It’s definitely a real good feeling knowing the way we got this done.”
While it’s the veteran driver’s first championship, it’s also the first title for his longtime crew chief Heather Lyne. She became the first female championship-winning crew chief in a national dirt Late Model series and North American motorsport series.
Because of the way Erb and Lyne operate their team – as the only two crew members – Lyne called the “Dynamic-Duo” underdogs.
The two have been working together since 2001, when she volunteered to join the team. Since then, they’ve accomplished many feats, including the 2016 Dirt Late Model Dream at Eldora and three consecutive DIRTcar Summer Nationals championships.
Those accomplishments paved the way for the duo’s first championship on a national tour.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Lyne said. “It’s been a pretty awesome and amazing feeling. I’m very proud of our accomplishments. We have worked hard; we haven’t had the funding and help that many other teams had, so we kind of classify ourselves as underdogs to some extent. But we make up for it in our work ethic and our planning.”
That planning led to a renewed focus at the start of the season for Erb, who said he felt the team was in a place to push for a championship.
He opened the season with a top-five finish at Volusia Speedway Park during Sunshine Nationals, leading to a Series-high 22 top-five finishes.
“It’s like I said earlier in the year, I had a focus on going out and doing it this year,” Erb said. “I feel like we’ve been getting better each year, and I think we were at the point where things were in place at the beginning.
“It started off real good, and we kept rolling real good, and I just think after a few weeks I had a really good idea that we had a good shot of doing this.”
One of the things that helped Erb and Lyne on the path to the championship was changing their approach.
Lyne has the challenge of balancing her full-time job as an engineer and being a crew chief for a full-time national Late Model team. While not an easy balance, she’s mastered its obstacles and still found ways to keep the team more efficient than ever this year.
“We were really starting to focus and get a better and more efficient process going up and down the road,” Lyne said. “We kind of blocked out a lot of the distractions that we had previously. With myself working as well, I always have that added stress and the extra workload, but I was not putting as many hours in as in years past, so we could really start focusing on this.”
That efficient approach helped fuel Erb’s consistency in 2022. Along with his 22 top-fives, he added four wins and finished outside the top 10 only eight times throughout the near 50-race season.
Erb mathematically secured his first championship at US 36 Raceway with three races remaining, allowing some weight to come off his shoulders before the World of Outlaws World Finals championship finale at The Dirt Track at Charlotte.
“It was a big relief, knowing that we finally got it locked up,” Erb said. “All of the hard work has paid off and then we could go into Charlotte and not worry about anything. It’s racing. Anything can happen. You can get a run of bad luck and things could turn around really quick.
“Just to be able to hear that it’s clinched and knowing all of the hard work that’s been put in throughout the season and over the years to get to this point, it really made me feel good.”
A World of Outlaws CASE Late Models title will always be remembered, no matter who wins it. But for Erb and Lyne, it’s a unique path they can cherish for the rest of their lives.
However, as Lyne mentioned, even though they won a championship, there’s still work to be done.
“We’ve set the bar, and now we’ve got to clear it,” Lyne said.
Part II of Erb’s championship journey will be out on Wednesday, Nov. 23, highlighting Lyne’s story as his crew chief.
The World of Outlaws CASE Late Models kick off their 2023 season at Volusia Speedway Park for Sunshine Nationals Jan. 19-21.