Don Erwin is a man of conviction when it comes to business and hobbies. He knows what he wants, even when he’s been told to do otherwise.
Today he operates a shop in the small town of Willard in Southwest Missouri. Although he is proud of the service he provides, he limits that work to tires, alignment, balancing, brakes and state safety inspections – absolutely nothing else. He’s tried other options but likes it best just how it is.
Don has always had a love affair with cars, especially fast cars, but as a young man he had to tow the mark for a while.
“My dad was 100% against racing, but if he ever had a car break down he wanted me to work on it,” Don said. “If I lived in his house I was not going to race – that was the rule. I turned 18 on Dec. 5; on Dec. 6 I started work at Sweetheart Cup (a former factory in nearby Springfield known for its paper cups and plates). On Dec. 22 I got married and moved out. So when I got married I lived in my own house and I’ve been racing ever since. I’ve raced for 44 years now.
“I worked for Sweetheart for 20 years and got tired of working for someone else, so I built a carwash here in Willard in 1990. In 1992 I built Willard Fast Lube. We ran that until 2008. When we quit it, it was my wife, Christine, me and five employees. It was very, very face paced. We were averaging 35 cars a day, so we decided we wanted to slow down. With 35 oil changes a day you’ve got too much chance for something to go wrong.”
The grind was getting to him so he sold the business and bought a lot with a house and 120 rental storage units. A friend bought the house and moved it and Don built his shop. Christine opened a resale shop with clothes and furniture next door.
“The shop opened in 2010,” Don said. “Now it’s me, and Josh Tranbarger, who is full-time, and Kevin Bledsoe, who goes to school and helps me on his days off. He works three days a week. It’s a lot slower pace, but it’s a lot more work that I enjoy doing. We started with the name EZ Auto but we are in the process of changing it to EZ Tire. We still have people coming in saying “I didn’t know you sell tires, but now that’s about all we do. I do not want to have a full-service garage. People come in and say ‘Oh, you can’t do that.’ But yes we can! I can rebuild motors, I can paint their cars, I can put a roll cage in their car, whatever they want done, but we’re not going to, we’re just going to sell tires and the other services printed above the bay doors.”
Don doesn’t make appointments but it’s common for customers to leave their vehicles for the day.
“It normally works out really well,” he said. “We’ll come in the morning and there will be three cars in the lot with notes on what they want done and then they come in after work and pick them up. So if someone comes in for work and they have to wait, we’ll do their car first, but we’ll always have those cars that are dropped off completed by the time the customer’s work day is over.”
Willard’s population is about 5,500 and a lot of the tire installations are performed on pickups and larger farm trucks. The shop is also known for its alignment work, and Don and Josh align a fair amount of race cars.
“We scale all four corners so they go straight,” he said. “We’ve started aligning a lot of Outlaw cars lately.”
Don doesn’t track average tickets, but noted that he buys about $20,000 in tires each month to keep up with his business traffic.
“This is a small shop but everyone knows me from the fast lube. I’m very well known around town,” he said. “We’ve got a very good reputation and we want to keep it that way.”
Although Don can order any brand tire his customers want, his biggest sellers are Multi-Mile tires, made by Cooper. It’s a popular tire in the rural areas because it was sold for years by MFA, a farm cooperative.
“When I had the fast lube in 1992 Raymond Hartman had a shop that sold the Multi-Miles through MFA,” Don said. “He got ready to retire and it was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me because Raymond just told me to take over his tire line. So I just started selling tires then and it worked out really well.”
Don said it’s not uncommon for motorists to visit his shop after buying tires elsewhere.
“They’re not satisfied, but sometimes it can be a situation where the tires just aren’t balanced properly. We can handle that with our Hunter 9600.”
Why is business so good for a shop so specialized? “Most of the time customers know me,” he said. “They will see me at ball games, they’ll see me at sports functions and church functions.” He also tries to help promote community activities, such as sponsoring school sporting events.
It’s not hard for folks to realize that racing is Don’s hobby. Anyone who visits his shop knows he’s a big Ford fan too. In addition to the racing seats in his showroom, a Mustang front clip is used as an awning to his customer waiting area. Two red Ford pickups are usually parked outside, and there’s a good chance you’ll see at least one of his Mustangs inside the bay area.
He can count on his Chevy friends giving him a hard time when they come in but he’s well prepared.
“I quit hunting and fishing and everything else and decided just to be a very serious racer. I’ve got three Mustangs. Most people can’t tell the difference between them because they are painted similar. The ’641/2 is the one I go out and do a lot of wheelies with and people look at it a lot. My ’66 is a street car and is street legal because I will be racing in street-legal classes. The ’65 has an all-aluminum 632 motor and it will run over 165 mph in the eighth mile. I would like to think it would run 200 mph in the quarter but we don’t race the quarter mile so I don’t know.”
Don is a regular at the Ozarks Raceway Park in Rogersville, Mo., and he’s a six-time track champion. He also has raced at MOKAN, St. Louis and Tulsa the past couple of years.
“I don’t do car shows. I don’t like stuff that is judged. I’m kind of like the guys in the Olympics,” he said. “If there is a score board or a finish line, I’m in. I know if I’ve won or lost when it happens.”
EZ Tire
500 E. Jackson St.
Willard, MO 65781