In the big money business of drag racing, father and son team Jim and Ryan Warter know they are the underdogs.
But that doesn’t stop them from strapping in, firing up the engine and blasting down the quarter mile every season.
“The main thing I love about it is spending time with my dad, quality time, good friends like (crew chief) Jeff (Heuer) and others that help us,” Ryan Warter said.
Racing has always been in the fabric of the Warter family, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.
“When I was younger, I asked my dad, ‘How come and so and so has a boat and we don’t?’” Ryan Warter said. “He said, ‘Because we race.’”
Jim started drag racing his 1939 Chevy when he was 18. That started a long career that culminated with him being elected to the NHRA’s Northwest Division 6 Hall of Fame. He retired from driving competitively in 2010, passing the torch to Ryan. Jim, 70, now serves as coach, mentor and fan.
“I enjoy that just as much,” Jim said. “It’s a different type of enjoyment.”
LIFE ON THE ROAD
Jim’s house and garage are in Olalla, and Ryan, who lives in Puyallup, works 12 hours a day at Boeing in Renton. It makes for a busy schedule, as the father and son usually work on the cars a couple days a week, and traveling to races is an all-weekend affair.
“We drive back Sunday night and go to work in the morning,” Ryan said.
Ryan, 29, races in the Northwest Division 6 of the NHRA circuit, which includes Boise, Spokane, Mission, British Columbia; Billings, Woodburn, Oregon; and Seattle. The country is broken up into seven different divisions which compete in points races throughout late spring, summer and early fall. There are 10 to 12 races a year in three different classes of racing: Stock, Superstock and Competition Eliminator. Warter races in Competition.
There are certain rules pertaining to the car’s specifications, but Ryan Warter said you’re able to do pretty much whatever you’d like with the motor. The customization possibilities present a unique challenge for the family-oriented squad, which is on a limited budget.
“We race against guys that have unlimited budgets,” Ryan said. “We’ve ran the Camaro for 24 years. We do the most we can with a little.”
The 1992 Camaro is one of their cars, along with a 1975 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Warter is comfortable behind the wheel, just like his father. The younger Warter finished fifth in the division last year. He also holds the record in the division for fastest quarter mile run, 8.62 seconds at 156 mph.
“I’m a competitive person, I like to win,” Ryan said. “Just driving the car, nothing beats letting the clutch off the starting line and banging gears.”
Racing is a lot of work for the three-person team, and unless they have a phenomenal year, usually costs them quite a bit of money. But all agree it’s worth it.
It was especially worth it a couple weeks ago in Spokane. The three were all sitting in a golf cart, waiting to make a run, when Jim said something to Jeff.
“He wouldn’t respond to us,” Jim said. “We realized he was having a stroke.”
Fortunately, the medics were a mere 20 feet away. They immediately diagnosed him, saving him from permanent damage.
“We were really fortunate people were right there. The ambulance took him to the hospital,” Jim said.
Jim and Ryan were shook up, but after determining their friend and crew chief was OK, they decided to keep racing. It turned out to be a good decision.
Ryan and the Camaro ended up taking first place.
“It was a pretty emotional weekend,” Ryan said.
The emotion of winning the biggest race of his life, coupled with the emotion of having one of their closest friends and teammates in the hospital, hit the family at the finish line.
“It was cool having everyone down there, hugging,” Ryan said. “It was one of the best days of my life.”
“Just to see the look on his dad’s face when he won,” added Linda, Jim’s wife.
Heuer is doing fine now, and is champing at the bit to get more involved again.
The first place finishes are few and far between for the team, but that’s what makes them special.
“You definitely lose a lot more than you win,” Ryan said. “A lot of people just don’t understand the work time and effort that goes into it. Loading up everything, drive all night, work on the car all weekend. It’s a huge effort.”