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Larry Ott’s WNY Auto Racing: Zimmerman gets a championship

As Butch Zimmerman blew out the candles on his 64th birthday cake last week, he had a wish that he hoped would come true of becoming Genesee Speedway’s newly crowned Street Stock season point champion. For a change he got his wish.

On plenty of occasions during his long 42 year racing career, Zimmerman had been in a position with just a few weeks remaining in a season to earn a title at various tracks, only to see it slip away from his grasp due to a variety of reasons.

Zimmerman enjoyed a 17 point edge over Byron Dewitt heading into the second last night of Genesee’s season Aug. 27, but bad luck coupled with Dewitt’s victory that night found Zimmerman’s point lead evaporating.

Zimmerman arrived at Genesee on Sept. 3, the last point night, holding a 10 point margin over Dewitt. Zimmerman had compiled an impressive seven wins to that point in the season and yet he had Dewitt breathing down his neck.

Would another title slip away from Zimmerman? Not this time.

While Dewitt did win his third consecutive Genesee Street Stock feature race Sept. 3, Zimmerman was able to keep pace, placing second, earning the Genesee Street Stock crown by a mere six markers.

Finally, after four decades Zimmerman can be called “champ.” Although it was not easy, the championship curse has been lifted.

“I’ve had a lot of championships in my hands and the last race or the week before I’d get taken out and never get a chance to win it,” said Zimmerman. “The pressure was on the last few weeks at Genesee. I knew that all I had to do was run my own race and everything would take care of itself. Three weeks ago I got taken out by a lapped car that didn’t listen to what they said on the radio.

“They said the leaders are coming and he just drove straight across the track and took me out. I should have won that race. I was going for the lead when it happened. Then two weeks ago I had a right front shock go bad after the third lap when a guy got sideways and came down and hit my wheel and did something to the shock. So I ended up third which was OK.

“This past week I just said let it happen where it’s going to happen. If I’m supposed to win the championship I’ll win it. I ended up getting the lead and leading most of the final race and another lapped car got in my way and Dewitt got by me but I still ended up second and that’s all I was out there to do to finish the best I could do.”

When Zimmerman had some difficulties in the waning weeks of this season at Genesee and the championship bid became in peril, it did cross his mind that history could repeat itself denying him a title again.

“Oh yeah,” said Zimmerman. “When I had some trouble over these last few weeks I was thinking here we go again! There was nothing easy about this championship. I worked for it.”

Zimmerman has a small team and no sponsors. He depends on a few people and builds most all his own parts himself. He spent a lot of his own money this season to make the championship become reality. He does not have a money tree.

Along with spending long hours at his shop working on his race car, Butch also works hard, repairing automobiles and trucks in order to earn enough side money to keep his racing program afloat.

“All of my racing budget comes out of my own pocket from working on cars and trucks for people on the side. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to race.”

Butch is thankful for a few special people who have been key to his career beginning with his wife Joan Zimmerman.

“For the first six years of my career, she worked on the race car including engines and engine changes,” said Zimmerman. “She has continued to offer moral support all of my career.”

Butch and Joan’s two sons, John Zimmerman, who drives in Genesee’s 360 Late Model class, along with younger son Nate Zimmerman are involved with the team. Butch’s brother Greg Zimmerman also helps.

Butch thanked retired drivers Merv Treichler, Gary Iulg and “Barefoot” Bob McCreadie with helping him through the years.

“I’ve had to change my whole way of driving starting the middle of last year,” said Butch. “When my son John and Brad Patterson set the car up for me I had to learn how to drive all over again. It took me most of last year to do it.”

Butch recalled his long career, one he is most proud of.

“I’ve won a lot of feature races at all different tracks. I’ve won races at Humberstone, Merrittville, Ransomville, Genesee and Freedom.”

Butch has competed in several different classes and at 13 different tracks during his racing tenure.

“My first race was at Merrittville Speedway at the end of 1973,” said Zimmerman who resides in Burt. “My dad never raced but had always worked on cars, and that’s how I got interested in cars.

“My Uncle Jimmy (Zimmerman) who used to live at the end of Ransomville Speedway was racing Late Models along with my cousins. My cousin Randy started helping him out and when we were 14 or 15 years old. That’s how I got to being around stock cars. Finally I just got into driving.

“I race all on dirt tracks,” said Zimmerman. “I stated out in the Bomber division at Ransomville and then I moved up to the six-cylinder Sportsman. Then I went to V-8 Sportsman. Then it was on to big-block Modifieds. So I went back to V-8 Sportsman, then Pro Stock and now Street Stocks.

“I’d just like to thank everyone who helped me over the years. It’s been a fun ride. Now I can say I at least won a championship before I quit.”


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