Heather Lyne is proof that behind every successful man, there is a strong woman.
Lyne is not only strong but brilliant. When she’s not entrenched in her day job as an electrical engineer for a defense contractor, Lyne is turning wrenches and computing race strategy as the crew chief for Dennis Erb Jr.
After two decades of dedication and determination, their partnership will be rewarded this weekend with the World of Outlaws Case Construction Late Models Series Championship.
“Providing we show up and start the races at Charlotte, the title is ours,” Lyne said of this weekend’s World Finals at The Dirt Track. “And we’re not going to miss it.”
Lyne was a race fan before she began working on her family’s race team. After college, the Buffalo Grove, Illinois, native moved to nearby Carpentersville. When her father decided to hang up his helmet from limited late models, she wasn’t ready to watch from the sidelines.
Lyne had followed Erb’s rookie season in the Hav-a-Tampa Late Model Series. She admired his work ethic from afar. When she discovered Erb’s shop was a few miles away, her father challenged Lyne to offer her services to the racer.
“One day after work, I went down to the shop and I said, ‘Hey, if you ever need any help, I'd be more than happy to come help you.’ I was in my business attire. I had my makeup done, my heels on and my business clothes on. He took one look at me and said, ‘Yeah, right? What are you gonna do for me?’
“So I went to the track with them—and I’ve spent 21 years. So it was a dare. My dad dared me. Bottom line. That's how we got hooked up, because we lived in the same town.”
What started as a dare 21 years ago has evolved into one of the most successful partnerships in dirt racing. Lyne was just 28 at the time. But as the eldest daughter of a carpenter, she learned to work with her hands at a young age. When she wasn’t working on projects around the house, she would join her father at job sites during the summer.
She loved the outdoors and also fell in love with fast cars. The combination of speed and her desire to help an underdog made Lyne and Erb a perfect fit professionally.
“I like to keep people guessing,” Lyne said. “They look at me, and they're like, ‘Yeah, you don't really know how to do that.’ And I’m like, ‘Watch me.’ And then they’re like, ‘OK, I guess you really do know how to do that.’
“I was raised to believe that gender doesn’t mean a thing. You can do whatever you want, as long as you put 110-percent into it.”
Lyne knows from experience. She was one of just a few female students in her engineering classes at Northern Illinois University. After earning a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and a Masters in Industrial Management from NIU, she earned a second Masters Degree in Systems Engineering from Johns Hopkins University.
“I didn’t sleep a lot,” Lyne said of combining her academic and motorsports journeys. She completed her second Masters while working full-time and racing with Erb on the weekends.
“I’d do my homework going up and down the road. Dennis would pick up the slack a little bit more at the shop. I had to be in class one night a week—for a long period of time—so I would show up at the shop later. For about a year-and-a-half period, we had a little bit of a job shift. He picked up a little bit more of what I was doing at the shop. Once I graduated, we went back to what we’re doing now.”
When asked about the depth of support that keeps him in the hunt year after year, Erb points to Lyne and Lyne alone, “That’s my crew right there. I count on her to get things done on the car, and I need her to get our tires, shocks, and springs ready.”
The No. 28 team has earned the name the “One Man Band.” However, “one-woman band” might be more appropriate. Erb was a multi-track champion before venturing out into national competition. But with Erb behind the wheel and Lyne working on the car and calling the shots, the pair has combined to win three UMP Summer National Championships (2007-2009) and two UMP DirtCar Late Model National Championships (2007-2008).
Lyne has been recognized as Crew Chief of the Year on every tour she’s raced, including the UMP, Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and the World of Outlaws in 2021. After Saturday’s feature at The Dirt Track at Charlotte, Lyne can add World of Outlaws Case Construction Equipment Late Model Series champion to her resume—and her 14th-career title.
“For her to be out on the road with me, she’s got to juggle around her full-time job,” Erb acknowledged. “And it’s quite a chore for her to put in all the time and dedication into it.”
Lyne’s engineering background has helped the team compete more efficiently. Entering the 2022 season, their philosophy was “race your race and the points will take care of themselves.” Erb scored four wins throughout the year. Until the penultimate race weekend, they didn’t discuss points. Their main goal was to be in a position where they could enter the season finale and not worry about the standings.
Now, the two-person team from Carpentersville, Illinois, will take home the ultimate prize.
“It's huge,” Lyne said. “Heck, I go up against teams that are moneyed up. They've got unlimited checkbooks. We are a very low-budget team. The team is my driver and myself. We’re a team of two whereas other guys have two and three people that go to the race track with them and they have people at the shop. Well, I'm the only person that goes to the shop and works on the car with Dennis. And I worked full-time during the day. So he's got to get stuff done during the day.
“So it's huge. We set out on a goal, and we made sacrifices. Every team does. But we've made the sacrifices. We haven’t gone to races that we normally would have because we work with the big picture in mind. And that's taking this crown home. We really wanted to do it.”