A framed photo of Dale Earnhardt Sr. hangs above the couch in the waiting area of Zimmer Wheaton GM, an Earnhardt Matchbox car matted next to the photo.
Beside it, signed photos of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin and Richard Petty round out the race car theme — one that’s carried out throughout the building.
Upstairs, the boss’s office is no different — any misguided notion that the autographed photos are normal decoration for the lobby of a car dealership is quickly erased. A frame filled with racing trading cards dominates the wall above his desk, and his bookshelf is filled with more than 50 die-cast replicas of NASCAR cars. Trophies cover his table and line his walls, the result of a lifetime of driving cars.
This is the office of a racing fan.
Rob Zimmer has been around cars and racing all his life. He grew up in a car-loving family; his dad, Rob Sr., was a motorhead just like him.
“I’ve been involved in racing of some sort all my life,” Zimmer said. “Whether it was snowmobiles, dirtbikes, drag racing or even lawnmower racing.
“I’m a motorhead; I started driving at eight. I’ve always had some sort of motor underneath me since.”
In 1999, Zimmer began racing in Alberta, in the Super Truck Racing Series. He later spent time in CASCAR and NASCAR Canada before moving to his current series: the A&W Street Stocks at Vernon Motoplex Speedway and Event Park.
His car is the work of Bill Thompson Jr. and Bill Burns — legends in the racing world — and it’s been through three seasons without needing its engine (a 350-horsepower GMC Crate) replaced. Bob Roberts, Bill Lindsey and Bill Donaldson — his technician and crew chiefs, respectively — deserve a lot of the credit for that.
“I’m cautiously bulletproof,” Zimmer said. “Because I don’t want to blow it up next weekend.”
To this point, Zimmer has had the poll in all three races of the season — placing second in the season opener on May 11 and grabbing the checkered flag at the following races on May 26 and June 14.
He drives the No. 3 car, in honour of Dale Earnhardt Sr. (No. 3 was Earnhardt’s number).
Zimmer has an Earnhardt tattoo on his shoulder and the Tasmanian Devil plastered across his hood (just like Earnhardt). He joked that Taz is also indicative of the sort of driver he is out on the track.
“The joke around the shop after the weekend is ‘Did you go left or did you go right?’ ” Zimmer said. “Right is the collision centre, left is the shop where it gets parked.
“Luckily I haven’t gone right yet this season.”
Aside from an accident in his first season three years ago, in which he hit the wall in turn three at 128 km/h, he’s been lucky; there have been few accidents and few vehicle repairs needed.
Zimmer’s passion for cars came from his father and he hopes to instil the same passion in his son, Brandt, 13, who already seems to have the racing bug. He drives an Acura Intergra RS in the Hornets junior series.
“The goal is to get him to take Dad’s seat when he’s older,” Zimmer said, referring to his car. “Brandt’s my biggest fan. He hasn’t missed a race this season.”
With seven races left in the season the championship is still up for grabs, though Zimmer has put himself in a position moving forward.
He says there’s a group of five drivers who are always pushing to win each race, which makes for exciting action. He’s been at the front of the last two races, but they haven’t been blowouts.
Make no mistake; Zimmer is there to win a championship. Just like his hero Dale Earnhardt Sr. did time and time again, and just like his dad in a few unofficial races on the back roads of rural Saskatchewan.
“Over the years, our team has matured immensely and our goal is to win a championship,” Zimmer said.
“As long as we can stay out of the mayhem and our car handles properly, we have as good a chance as anyone.”