Racing is in the Wermters' blood
The Wermters can be found every Saturday at North Central Speedway in Barrows. Today, Travis and Louie race, as Don retired in 2004. However, this season — which has hardly begun — has put a “wrench” in the Wermters’ racing. Travis’ motor and transmission on his race car blew up a few weeks ago and Don has been working on Louie’s motor for the past few weeks to get his race car up and running.
“We’ll be back out, don’t worry,” said Travis with a smile. “We’ll be racing this season.”
The Wermter boys have a lot of support as Carol Wermter, Don’s wife, and Marsha Wermter, Lyle’s wife, come to every race with them, and love the sport as much as they do.
“Racing is a family affair,” said Carol. “Our family knows that every Saturday we are at the race track. Family members have worked their family gatherings around that. Sometimes it doesn’t always work, and we’ve had to miss some family events ... But this is our life.”
Don is the one who got the family interested in racing. His passion for racing started when he was 12, when he started working on cars. He also worked on lawn mowers and bikes. Don said in high school he, and Lyle, worked in the pits for Jack Strong and Bob Sikes, who raced in Nisswa. The Wermter brothers graduated in the mid-1960s from Washington High School in Brainerd.
Don said when he was in Vietnam as a Marine he raced a go-cart and won the Da Nang 500 and that gave him the itch to race.
Don said North Central Speedway was started in 1958, the year he moved to Barrows, just blocks from the track, located south of Brainerd on Business Highway 371.
“I’ve been at that track every Saturday since,” said Don. “I love the people there and the competition. It’s in my blood.
“I love getting my hands dirty. My hands still get sweaty watching a race. Those young kids have too much guts out there.”
Don talked about one of his races with Mark Jacobs, a racer from the Clear Lake area. He said they were running for first- and second-place in both Aitkin and Brainerd going into the final race of the season.
“I finished ahead of Mark in Aitkin and won the championship there, but Mark blew his motor during the race,” said Don. “Since it was too far for Mark to take his car home and work on it before the Brainerd race the next night, he took his car to my place and he was able to get the motor changed in time for the final race at North Central. Mark finished ahead of me in that race and won the championship by one point. This is what racing is all about.”
Lyle said he had to get into racing with his brother because “Someone has had to pick him up off the ground when he fell.
“I raced a little, but it never really was in my blood. I’ve been working in the pits for Don and the boys for years. It’s fun.”
Carol said, “It takes a family to race, both on the track and in the pits. Lyle has helped keep the cars going, being safe and competitive. He makes sure the driver’s seat belt is tight. Lyle has always been there.”
Don said, “Our backbone are our wives.”
Lyle said his sons Louie, 42, and Travis, 39, both race, and that Travis was always the “motor head.” He said Louie didn’t get involved in racing until 2003.
“I packed the track one summer and it all went downhill from there,” said Louie with a laugh. “That’s all it took and I said ‘let’s build a car.’ And then I started racing.
“My first year I did well. Then a couple of years ago I rolled it and burned it on turn 4.”
Marsha, who was sitting in the suites at the track said, “I never ran down the stairs so fast in my life when I saw him hanging upside down.”
Carol said it didn’t take any more than 10 seconds from when Louie rolled to when North Central Speedway officials extinguished the fire and got Louie out of the car.
Louie said he has raced in the Pure Stocks, Street Cars and in the Midwest Modified classes. Louie said he enjoys racing, but he may not race as much anymore as he is busy with his three children.
Travis said he got into racing at age 18 when Don was racing Street cars. Travis said he raced in Brainerd and won two Pitman races and won a Pitman race in Aitkin. Travis said he raced in the Pure Stocks for 10 years and won the Pure Stock Championship, and also raced in the Street Stock and Midwest Mod classes.
“It’s an Adrenalin rush,” Travis said on racing. “There is no speed limit, its competitive and its always fun. There are guys out there who give me a run for the money. There are a lot of clean racers out there.
“I have a 7-year-old and a 9-year-old and I think my youngest will most likely get into racing. Racing has always been a fun family event, a family affair. My parents have always helped me out and the family is a big sponsor, I really appreciate all their help.”
The Wermters have no large sponsors, as they do all the work on the cars themselves. However, they do have some sponsors who they appreciate their help.
“We’re on a shoestring budget,” said Don. “We all work together.”
In the Wermters’ racing careers, Don earned the Sportsman of the Year award four times; Travis won it three times and Louie won it two times.
So, what if racing was not in the Wermter family?
“I don’t know if there is another life out there,” Carol said.
Don said, “I do have a boat.”