For more than 30 of his 67 years, Gary Ermish has been laying down serious rubber at Pacific Raceways in Kent.
But he’s never had a year like this one.
This season Ermish and his 1968 Chevy Camaro, loaded with a big block 496, have been cruising down the strip in record times, landing the Auburn driver in first place in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) District 6 National Ope Series Super Street Point Standings.
Coming into this weekend’s NHRA Pacific Northwest Nationals, Ermish is sitting pretty with 95 points, just ahead of Don Paine and Justin Sibley who have 94 points each.
Ermish doesn’t know exactly why it’s happening, and he doesn’t want to know — he’s just enjoying the rides of his life.
“This has been just an exceptional year for me,” Ermish said. “I’m not sure why, but I’m not stopping too long to examine it. I’m just riding it as best as I can.”
Ermish, a South Dakota native, has been “riding it” as best he can since the 1970s.
While he’s always been interested in cars and working on them, it wasn’t until the 1970s that he started bracket racing.
“All I’ve ever done is what they call bracket racing. But I’ve been off and on with it; I’ll do it for a few years then lay off it for few years. Back in and back out and back in again.”
In bracket racing, cars are allowed a handicap between the predicted elapsed time of two cars over a standard distance, typically a quarter-mile.
Before each race, drivers choose a dial-in time for their cars, estimating how long it will take them to cross the finish line.
At the starting line, the starter adjusts the Christmas tree starting lights, so the car with the slowest time takes off first, and the fleetest gets a delayed green light.
This allows consistency and driver skill to determine races, rather than pure speed and the amount of money an owner can pump into a car.
Ermish has been running the same Camaro with the same big-block Chevy engine that he’s run since 1999.
“It’s had a couple of rebuilds, and I’ve blown it up a couple times,” Ermish said.
Ermish said he wasn’t sure what first drew him to the sport except that he’s always had a thing for cars and motors.
“I think I went out a time or two in high school and just went from there,” he said.
He started out the 1970s with a 1957 Chevy Bel Air.
It was during that decade that Ermish infected his two sons, Troy, 49, and John, 48, with the racing bug.
“I like the people, it’s as much the other people involved in it as the racing itself that keeps me racing,” Ermish said. “And having my son (John) into has helped keep me into it. They were both out there with me all the time, for as long as I can remember.”
Although he often gets the chance to race against John, who lives in Renton and often pits his 1967 Chevrolet Chevelle against his dad’s ride in Division 6 action, Ermish’s oldest son also has motor oil in his blood.
“My other son, Troy, lives in Tracy, Calif., and races,” Ermish said. “He doesn’t drag race, but he does road course racing.”
Ermish said Lois, his wife of 14 years, also gets in on the action.
“She lived in Kansas when I first met her, but our first date I invited her to come up to Washington, put her in the tow car and went up to Canada to drag race,” Ermish said. “She had a history of watching drag racing. She’s like my crew chief. She’s with me at all the races and helps me with everything.”
And with every summer jam packed full of racing opportunity, that love of sport is crucial.
“There a couple of times during the season where we might have a couple of days off, but now, the next five weekends we’re out every weekend,” Ermish said.
After the nationals, which run from Friday to Sunday at Pacific Raceways, Ermish said he has a divisional race, two races for point standings and a bracket championship in Boise, Idaho on the schedule.
“(The races) are total night and day,” Ermish said. “At nationals, we take a back seat to the Top Fuel and the dragsters, who take the top bill. We are at their beck and call.”
For more information on the NHRA Northwest Nationals, visit www.pacificraceways.com or www.nhra.com.