It’s fair to say that Gerber Motorsport is a bit off the beaten path, tucked away on 22nd Avenue West in Magnolia near Fishermen’s Terminal.
At least, that’s how new owner Dominic Dobson describes the shop, which specializes in Porsche and European collector car repair and restoration.
“This isn’t a place you drive by unless you live in Magnolia, or you’re going out to Discovery Park. You’re not going to just see us,” he said. “We don’t have a big sign on the side of the freeway, it’s not like having a dealership where you can’t help but see the giant Porsche sign on the sign of I-5.”
While there’s no large, looming sign for passing drivers, the name of the owner may catch your eye.
Many may remember Dobson for his career on the racetrack, driving IndyCars, and making seven starts in the Indianapolis 500. Though, he’s not one for boasting his pedigree.
“That’s one of those things where I’m a little bit shy about it,” he said. “I’m not one to kind of beat my chest very hard about it. I tend to let others do that if they think it’s important.”
But while he’s not keen on pushing his racing experience in his new role, in a way its what brought him to the shop as one of its new owners, along with his brother Patrick, and a silent third partner.
Dobson’s connection to Walter Gerber — who moved the shop to its current location in 2001 — goes back more than 20 years. The two met in the late 1980s, and Dobson ended up racing under Gerber, who served as team manager for Bayside Motorsports. That arrangement continued for several years before Dobson went off to form his own team.
But the two remained in touch, and three-and-a-half years ago, Dobson was part of a group to purchase a Ferrari out of Vancouver, B.C. Since the car needed a fair amount of reconstruction, he turned to Gerber, and the shop did the work.
Fast forward to five months ago, when Gerber called Dobson while he was on vacation in Hawaii, and said he was considering retirement.
While he’s not stepping away entirely — he can be found next door to the shop with Goodman Racing — he said it was the right time to move on.
“My bucket list is still full,” he said.
Not to say his presence still won’t be found at the shop from time to time.
“It’s nice to still sneak over, and say hi to my team, and the new team,” he said.
For Dobson, “the planets aligned,” with the opportunity to take over.
Along with wanting to be in business with his brother, who had worked as a crew chief of his during his racing days, he also felt it was time to move on from his role with America’s Car Museum in Tacoma. For seven years, he was chief development officer for the nonprofit, before spending a year as national club auto director.
“It was a long commute from Bellevue to Tacoma, and I was just kind of ready to do something different,” he said. “And I wanted to get back into business for myself, and the car business, and get back involved in racing in certain aspects as well.”
So, he sold his house on the Eastside and moved to Interbay, while his brother moved nearby from Bainbridge Island.
“We’re all kind of local here,” Dobson said.
He also said the shop is a natural fit with Dobson’s brokerage work with European collector cars.
“Some of them I bring in here, and we do whatever work needs to be done on them,” he said.
There was, however, just a bit of hestitation in replacing someone like Gerber, who has a pristine reputation in the Porsche community.
“Our biggest job is to not screw up what Walter has done,” he said, “because he’s got a great reputation.”
Since the ownership change, you would be hard-pressed to find much in the way of differences in the shop.
“We haven’t changed much,” Dobson said. “We say, ‘Same great staff, same great service.’ … All we really did is put a coat of paint on things, and fixed up a few things that I thought could look a little bit better and enhance the customers experience a bit.”
Besides that, he said, everything from the price structure, to the types of cars the shop will work on, is the same as before.
As transition period from Gerber winds down, Dobson said his role in the shop will diminish, while Patrick will oversee operations as general manager.
“It’s not a great kind of office environment,” he said.
Along with his brokerage work, Dobson is also managing the career of a young racecar driver from Sammamish, Andrew Evans, and is also invovled with a business in Portland that builds and maintains race simulators.
Ultimately, Dobson compared the ownership change to a race. Just not the kind you’re thinking.
“I’m just honored to pick something up and kind of carry the torch, without dropping it or letting it go out,” Dobson said. “It’s like the baton race, if you’re the third guy in the relay race, you don’t want to drop that baton, because the guys who worked so hard to hand it to you aren’t going to be very happy about it.”
For more information on Gerber Motorsport, visit www.gerbermotorsport.com.