Erb feels he inherited some of his dad's driving skills.
When Dennis Erb Jr. was born some 35 years ago, there was little doubt about what he'd be doing down the road. His father was a dirt stock car racer of some note, winning a track championship at Sante Fe Speedway in Illinois, and as long as Dennis Jr. could remember, that was the direction he wanted to take too.
In fact, during the first years of his career, he did compete on the same track with his dad. That continued until 1997 when a fatal shop accident claimed his father's life.
"I still remember when we were out there together," recalls Dennis Jr. "It was really fun. And would you believe that I even beat him a couple times? My dad never got upset when that happened. He really enjoyed the success I was enjoying. There were also a lot of people that said they saw a lot of Dad in my driving style."
He recalls advice that his dad gave him when the subject of choosing racing for a career came up.
"He told me if I wanted to race for a living, I would have to really work hard in order to do it," Erb recalls. "And believe me, I have definitely worked hard."
Erb says that he thinks he inherited his dad's dirt skills. "But I also benefited from setting up my dad's cars for him. I used to use his setups on my early cars."
After the Carpentersville, Illinois, native graduated from high school in 1990, he attended Northern Illinois University and enrolled in manufacturing and computer design courses. He will tell you that those classes paid big dividends.
When he started his racing career, it was straight into Dirt Late Models. No Quarter Midgets or Karts as one might expect. "It was a real learning experience, those early years," he recalls.
Success was sweet in 1994 when he took the track championship at LaSalle Speedway. There were 10 feature wins that season and he also went to his first Eldora Dream race. "Just missed making the feature by a couple places," he says. He was in a MasterSbilt car that season.
The following years he wheeled a Rayburn car, and that make seemed to be adaptable to his style. In 1997, the season was wracked by his father's death, but he did run a few races at the end of the season. In 1998, he started to travel a little more and ran some of the UMP Summer Nationals races.
The sun started to shine for Erb during the 1999 season when he ran with the Hav-A-Tampa series. "It was a time when I had to make the decision whether I was going to be serious about racing," he recalls. "I wanted to see what it was like to run against the best dirt drivers in the business. There were no wins, but I think that I was competent out there and not a hazard on the racetrack.
"Those guys were out there making a living out of the sport. There were a lot of great drivers, but I thought that the best was Billy Moyer. I tried to watch and follow him. I also want to thank those guys who were very helpful to me. There were times that I felt I might have gotten in over my head, doing my whole deal on my own. But I kept telling myself that this is what I wanted to do."
It paid off as he was voted Rookie of the Year in the Hav-A-Tampa Series.
At times he says he felt in over his head, but Erb says he kept going because racing was w
Economics dictated dropping back to UMP and Northern All-Stars races that were close to home the following year. Then, in 2002, the trend was upward again as he scored well in two of the biggest classic races.
Says Erb: "I made the feature at The Dream and finished 12th. At the World 100, I made the feature there too, and was running about 15th when I got caught up in an accident putting me out."
On a roll in 2003, he counted the LaSalle Speedway Spring Shootout and the USA Pepsi Nationals among his dozen feature wins.
But it was gangbusters in 2004 when he had a breakout season with 16 wins, 38 Top 5s, and 67 Top 10s. "The big wins brought in some needed funds and certainly brightened the outlook," he says.