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Kerr’s Impulses Lead to Great Things

When Tim Kerr feels an impulse decision is close at hand, look out, because things can get interesting. And those impulses have seemingly led his journey from his start in the sport, to different cars, to even a couple of years racing on pavement. And it also led to a big block modified program that has turned heads and even seen him pull off a major tour win in front of a packed house at the Dirt Track at Charlotte. The thirty year old carpenter from Picton, Ontario who currently calls Brewerton and Fulton Speedway’s home during the regular season, has become more than just a regional name within the north east modified geography, and not by way of famous drivers in the family beforehand either. Kerr felt a passion for it, and went for it, and that mentality has stayed consistent from his start in the street stocks, all the way to where he stands today.

Jeremiah Fish Photo

“I always enjoyed the mechanical part of it,” Kerr said in a recent interview. “I did a few enduros and I really enjoyed it so I bugged my parents for couple of months and my mom finally gave in, my dad didn’t. So, we ended up with a car. It wasn’t anything the family had really ever done before, maybe some drag racing down the line somewhere, but nobody in the family had been a circle track racer before so everybody kind of looked at me like I had two heads to go and do something like that. It was a championship caliber car, it had won the title two years in a row. Everybody had joked that we had some really big shoes to fill. It was a Monte Carlo,  305 engine deal. I actually ended up running for the championship at Brighton Speedway against a good friend of mine that I’d grown up with who’d started a few years before me. We went into the last night and basically I had to win the race and he had to finish fourth or worse and it worked out for us that night.”

To say Kerr’s impulses don’t sometimes have a downside would be untrue, they come at the expense of getting completely comfortable with what he’s focusing on and then moving on to something completely different while perhaps skipping a step or two. But in that approach, Kerr has uncovered something. That there is more than one way to skin a cat with regards to how to progress through the ranks, and also that sometimes the best way to learn is a sink or swim approach. Kerr has sunk before, and learned how to pull himself above water, and then to succeed beyond expectations where other drivers sometimes never leave their pond.

“The next year we basically jumped into a Canadian IMCA mod more or less, with much larger tires, and ran two years close to home. And we were competitive and it gave me some experience, I got used to something that moved around a lot more than a street stock did. And every year we have Applefest at Brighton, and the 358 mods would come down. It was actually the first time we’d ever seen one before. My dad gave me a choice, there were sprint cars there and 358 modifieds and he told me that we’re getting out of here and going travelling, which car would I want to drive. So we bought a 358 that was for sale that year. We’re kind of impulse people you could say . We made a decision after we got the small block to go to Florida . What a learning curve that was. That was probably the coolest week I’ve ever had racing so far. I’d never been around the caliber of guys that follow the tour, and you’re all on a big fast half mile to start with. We bought the car and didn’t know anything about them. We had some spare parts and a few tires and that was it. We started at Brewerton and Fulton in 2006 or around there, with the small block and weren’t doing to well and finally went and got a big block which was quite a power adjustment, it was an interesting few years. I look back now and I wish we would have slowed down a little bit on the process that we made jumping up but you learn a lot over the years too. It took up until three years ago to learn to keep my fingers off the race car and quit making bad changes, or more changes than you should.”

Strangely enough, with just a few years of racing under his belt, Kerr found himself in another sort of racing altogether just a short time after getting his feet under himself in a big block modified. A unique opportunity presented itself, and Kerr decided to take advantage of it. Sometimes it’s good to go on a whim just to test the waters and build experience and he completely embraces the mindset of having nothing cast completely in stone when it comes to future plans. It’s all part of being Tim Kerr in a way. As long as he’s competitive as he can be and having fun then it’s all good.

Jeremiah Fish Photo

“After Florida one year we were offered a deal to go down and do some Hooters Pro Cup Racing, that was a really cool experience. At that point and time it was only my third or fourth year behind the wheel of a race car. We were racing down south with guys that had run races with the Nationwide Series and ARCA and such.  We did that for two years and had our own shop and crew in our second year, that was 2008 , the year that my mom passed away and we came home and never really started up the asphalt deal and went back to dirt, it was our family kind of thing. We’re pretty much a family business between my dad, myself and my girlfriend and we’ve got some solid sponsors behind us too. But we can’t ask for big money, they’re all from around here really. Mainly people I’ve worked with or my suppliers, but what they do really helps. If I need help, they’re there for me.”

Kerr returned back to the north east modifieds and to his home tracks where he had struggled early on, but learned a great deal. However when you consider the talent pool and the depth at the tracks in the north east just for a weekly show, it can be an intimidating thing for any young driver. Imagine if you will Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, Donny Schatz and Daryn Pittman all racing at Knoxville every Saturday night, now imagine that you’re trying to just make the show there week in and week out let alone compete with the top five who are as good as it gets. Such is the way of life in big block modified racing, where touring occurs Sunday through Thursday, and the big beasts of the east reside at just a handful of tracks running weekly shows on Friday and Saturday nights against part time drivers just trying to compete.

Jeremiah Fish Photo

“It’s still kind of like a series race at Brewerton every week, and when we first started going there all the tour drivers raced there. So we looked at a top 25 like a pretty big deal when we were there. I was lapped a lot in the early years by guys like Billy Decker, Matt Sheppard, Alan Johnson, Tim Fuller and other guys like that. But, when they lapped me, my biggest thing was to try and pick up their line. To learn how they drove the race track and adapt yourself to it. We put the hard work and the dedication in at the shop, but I think we put those hours into the wrong spot and now we’ve changed up how we go about things in that shop and it’s helped us a lot.”

The switch in philosophy, to focusing more on what the top priorities are in the shop helped Kerr make his way to the front half of the field. And the fact that such top competition resided there, made his first win at Brewerton in 2015 much sweeter.

“The confidence part of it was big. Before that we’d had a second place run and a few top 10’s, and it felt like we were starting to get it there. We were able to pull off that win and it was weird because the night before, we were terrible at Canandaigua and we didn’t change anything but a shock and the thing was lightning quick. For us to win at Brewerton was huge in the way that I thought and in the way we put our program together.”

While Kerr’s first home track victory stunned those who weren’t paying attention to the weekly results on a regular basis, what happened just a few months later at the annual World of Outlaws World Finals was simply amazing, leaving fans in the area and fans who knew a little bit about the more familiar drivers both open mouthed in awe. The imagery associated with the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team defeating the Soviets comes to mind when it came to the final result, and the thrill for Kerr and crew had to feel like it did in Lake Placid for those players. But just like the players on that team, Kerr believed he had a strong chance to shock the world before almost anybody else did.

“My expectations going into Charlotte were high. I was looking for top 10’s. That was our goal. After the regular season ends we chase races. So we had the car torn down and went through every little piece trying to make everything as good as it could be before we went. I wanted to make sure that the only person that could be blamed would be me if we didn’t do very well down there. I put a lot of pressure on myself when we went down. We got stuck in our heat race on qualifying night, but we had our fastest qualifying time to get us into the race though, but we had a spark plug wire come off in the feature on Friday night and we finished 19th. And of course we were cancelled for Saturday so that afternoon with the rain so we just did normal maintenance, had a look at the plugs, did a bolt check and washed it an put it back in the hauler for Sunday.  When the car worked as good as it did in the heat race in the black, I knew we had something. But I didn’t know it was a winning car. I called my dad who wasn’t able to come down and I told him we had a really good piece, that we could make some noise and maybe get a top five. And I’ve never called home and said we have a good race car before.”

However, good race car or not it is one thing to pass top quality cars all trying their best to win on one of their biggest stages apart from Super Dirt Week, and perhaps even a bigger one since this one played to a house outside the normal modified geography, with a large chunk of the dirt racing industry watching.  Kerr started closer to the front on Sunday evening and passed the cream of the crop on the way to the front with precision and poise, and whomever he didn’t pass, he held off to collect the $8,000 check and the bragging rights to one of the biggest trophies of the year.

“What was going through my mind when I took the lead? Pretty much try to check out as best as I could and hope for no cautions. When I got to Decker and we battled for third, I really started to believe. Larry Wight and Peter Britten had checked out on us but we started to reel them back in, and once I got by Larry and underneath Britten, I was just praying there were no cautions because I could feel the tires start to go away, there were cords showing, it’s a good thing it was only forty laps. I remember that I even took an extra lap, I wanted to make sure that was actually the checkered I was seeing. On my way to victory lane it was awesome to see a lot of different car owners and my crew coming up and they came down to the pits for a good two hours to congratulate us, I don’t think I even got out of my fire suit.  Afterwards, we celebrated at our pit and went out for some food. It was Sunday night so everything kind of closed up a little early, we finally came back to the hauler at 1:30 am or so and there wasn’t a single thing in the pits.

This season, Kerr has seen some ups and downs with two feature wins at Brewerton, some stout finishes at Fulton, and some bad luck, dnf’s and some over thinking on the adjustment side of the equation to boot. Kerr has had to learn how to deal with being the hunted as well as the hunter.

“That’s part of racing. There’s going to be good and bad nights. I was hoping for a really good season. We weren’t as strong in Florida as we wanted to be, I had really good cars, but come feature time we got bit a couple of times. And then our SDS season got off to a rough start, we had issues. We’ve been hit and miss at Fulton, but our Brewerton program is really good. That place is tight, it’s racy, but it’s tight and it’s easy to get in trouble. But we kind of got out in left field by June with adjustments. So we basically restarted both weekly programs and re did some things. Our frame was getting really inconsistent and that’s not where it needs to be. We were either going to get a new frame, or we were going to park it, but we weren’t going to keep throwing money out the window. So we found a fairly new frame with two or three races on it, the previous owner didn’t like it. So we got it home and won at Brewerton on the first night it hit the track for us, and it helped bring my confidence back for sure.We should be back at Brewerton and Fulton in 2017, they’re both about three and a half hours away. As far as the tour goes, it all depends on how it goes. It’s a tough deal if you can’t be in the top 16 in points in the first two months of the tour. So if we can get ourselves in contention in the first few months or if we have to travel to a track we’ve never been to, we can at least get a guaranteed starting spot. Maybe I’m my own worst enemy for being afraid we’re going to make the race or not, but it’s nice to have in the back of your head that if your car isn’t right that night you’ll still have a spot.”

With Super Dirt Week a mere few weeks away, Kerr has thoughts of competing, but will leave that up in the air in typical Kerr fashion. There’s good reasons both for and against. Now that the action will shift over to Oswego Speedway, it will open doors for drivers that don’t have a purpose built Super Dirt Week car which was basically necessary when it ran at Syracuse. Still though, Kerr may just decide to work, or play golf, or perhaps go and enjoy the party…or perhaps race.

“I’m up in the air on SDW. I might go and hang out. We’ll do the Outlaw 200 the week before. We’re kind of spontaneous so if we decide to do it it’ll be a last minute thing. I never once went to Syracuse, never stepped foot in the place. To me it was just a lot of money for what I thought I would gain from it. But I kind of got excited to see it went to a short track where you wouldn’t need special bodies, or special motors. But it’s also 300 laps and we’d like to be ready for Charlotte at the same time too, so we’ll see.”

At the end of the day though, Kerr keeps one thought in mind, having fun no matter what the results or outcomes are. Being there in the moment for Kerr is nothing without having the right people with him and that side of things keeps him racing.

“It’s a family sport, whether it’s my family here, or my friends that I’ve met doing it. And I enjoy the racing part of it too. I enjoy the people you meet. If it becomes a job, I don’t want to do it anymore. I go to work and I enjoy my day job but I also enjoy coming to the shop. It’s kind of my place to myself, that’s my sanctuary. At the track, it’s fun for us, everybody’s laughing and joking. When we run bad, I come back home and work twice as hard to find out why. Years ago, I’d was the car and put it in the shop. I’m at the point now where I try to run the best I can and yet still enjoy it.”

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