Chip-ping away at a championship
Chip Herr still recalls a conversation that he had with his grandfather when he was 10 years old.
Chances are, the 2001 Warwick grad always will.
“He said, ‘Find something you love to do and figure out how to get paid for it,’” Herr said. “I didn’t understand it then, but now I’m thinking, ‘That makes a whole lot of sense.’ If you have fun going to work, it’s not really work.”
These days, Herr is certainly having a lot of fun.
In 17th year as a professional race car driver, Herr is currently leading the championship in the Dominican Touring Series in his Mazda 6. In four races to this point, he has recorded three wins and a third-place finish, good for 77 total points and a sizable lead over second-place driver Alfredo Marino, of Uruguay (43 points).
As he prepares for the next leg in the series, set for this Sunday, Aug. 17 at the Dominican Republic’s Autodromo Mobil 1, Herr has his sights set on taking a stranglehold on the No. 1 spot.
“My car is really solid as far as reliability,” said Herr, who competes with the Sarraff Racing Team in addition to serving as the general manager at Warwick Autopark. “I’m leaving this week to fly back down for rounds five and six, which will put me over halfway through the season. I’m real excited. Right now, we’re doing well, but I want to get past this halfway point to really have a good solid lead, I think. That’s my goal.”
A seven-time World Challenge Touring Car winner, Herr doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge that winning the Dominican Touring Series would be a big deal. Sanctioned by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (Formula One), the series is internationally known and carries a lot of respect.
“When you get your name out there, I think championships mean more than actual race wins,” Herr said. “I think once you have won races, you’re like, ‘OK, that’s great, but people forget about that.’ They don’t know who won the races. They always remember who won the championship. It’s like NASCAR. You can ask anybody, ‘Who won Darlington?,’ and they’re going to say, ‘I don’t know.’ But who won the championship last year? Jimmie Johnson. Getting a championship under my belt, to me it shows the maturity I’ve had over the years and consistency finishing the races.”
The Dominican Touring Series is designed in a way that no driver will get the pole position for every race. With two races per weekend in a 10-round season in Santo Domingo, the field’s finish from the first checkered flag is then inverted at the start of the next race.
Herr has achieved a maximum of two poles in the early going, but he’s not taking anything for granted.
“There’s so much that comes into making sure you gain points every race,” he said. “I’ve been very lucky to have three wins and a third. I know there are more cars coming out and it’s cars that I’m racing against now where guys are going to start figuring things out and getting faster. So I think it’s going to be interesting the next coming races how fast everybody starts to get chasing me down.”
There are 26 different countries represented at the DTS, each marked with its flag flying at the track. The bulk of the drivers originate from Haiti, Puerto Rico and the Dominican, but the red, white and blue colors of the U.S. are also on display. That’s due solely to Herr, who is the only American there.
“That really means a lot to me to represent our country,” Herr said, “and I’m in the fastest class, so it’s a class that everybody wants to watch.”
Over the years, Herr has definitely caught a lot of people’s eyes. In 2008, Mazda hired Chip as a factory driver, which led him to finishing third in the Touring Car championship with four poles and two wins. Then in 2009, he was hired by Lamborghini and its team owner Dan Pastorini, a former quarterback for the NFL’s Houston Oilers, and competed in the Long Beach Grand Prix.
“It was a fantastic opportunity because the marketing aspect of it was fantastic,” Herr said.
From there, he got hooked up again with Mazda, running in the Grand Am Series’ Continental Tire ST Class. Among Herr’s quality finishes for them was a victory in the three-hour Watkins Glen race in New York in 2012.
“It was a big race for me and the team,” he said.
Another big race turned out to be claiming third-place honors in the Dominican behind the wheel of a Mazda in 2010.
“I was supposed to go down and coach the new owner of the car,” Herr recalled, “and then once they saw how fast I was, they actually let me race the car. Third, I guess, was a huge deal. There’s only one track in the Dominican Republic, so everybody’s really good at that track.”
During that time, Herr met a car owner who was looking into building a car. The connection was promising enough that, even after Herr took a hiatus from racing for most of 2012 and then all of 2013 for the birth of his twin daughters, he was offered a job racing the Mazda this year.
“I wanted to spend time with my wife Letrisha and my twin daughters,” Herr said. “Those are memories I don’t want to miss, especially these early stages.”
Upon his return to racing, he didn’t miss a beat.
“It’s really going well,” Herr said.
So is the coaching aspect of his schedule. His list of responsibilities also takes him to Pocono Raceway, where he does test rides at manufacturer events and offers input about safety interests. At the end of the day, he takes people on “hot laps,” reaching speeds of 165 miles per hour in BMW’s, Mercedes and other high performance cars.
“My whole thing is just to drive people fast and show them what the car can do,” Herr remarked. “That’s the most fun.”
With his grandfather’s words still ringing in his ears, life is good for Herr. The Dominican Touring Series takes him away from home just five times, enabling Chip and his parents, Chuck and Deb, to invest more time into Warwick Autopark. In recent years, they have increased their inventory and are having record months.
“Between service and sales, we are busier than ever,” Herr said.
If all goes well, he is hoping to get a commitment from Mazda for 2015 shortly. Another win or two might not only seal his future, but also the Dominican Touring Series championship.
“Really, it’s all my dreams coming true,” Herr said. “The dreams any driver is looking for is to get paid to do what you love.”