Bill Colton Earns Northeast Modified Hall Of Fame Mechanic Award In 2012
Veteran chassis designer and crewman Bill Colton has been named to receive the annual ‘Mechanic of the Year Award’ and will be formally honored during the 21st Northeast Modified Hall of Fame induction and special award ceremonies scheduled for Sunday, May 27 on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds in conjunction with the annual Memorial Day Weekend holiday show at neighboring Rolling Wheels Raceway Park.
This special award was created in 1998 to recognize one of stock car racing’s modern day heroes during a customary time of tribute to the legendary drivers in our sport. Colton will be rewarded for his outstanding contributions as a car-builder for some of the biggest stars in Modified racing — those competing on both dirt and asphalt-surfaced tracks and winning many of the most prestigious events in existence today.
The Northeast has been blessed with a rare breed of machine that has commonly emerged as the headline class for over a half-century. And just as technology has driven construction of the mighty Big-Block Modified to its most recognizable appearance across the region, the Troyer brand has been at the head of the game for the past 35 years.
“The focus of Troyer Race Cars has been and will continue to be on our customers and the race cars we build for them,” said Colton, 51, who retired from racing Modifieds on the pavement in 1987 to make a career commitment to building open-wheel cars adept to both dirt and asphalt race tracks. “Every builder always wants to sell more cars, we’re no different. However, we’re content to grow at a steady rate, fast enough to keep busy and slow enough to allow time for personal attention as 100% service is what we’re really all about.”
Troyer Inc. was founded in 1977 by legendary driver Maynard Troyer and during the past four decades has grown into one of the most successful race car manufacturing businesses in the country. Both Troyer and Colton enjoyed successful racing careers, allowing them to develop first-hand setup techniques that continue to complement any race team’s personal approach.
“I was always into fabrication with my own cars and built the aluminum roof for the first Mud Buss. Maynard saw what I did and liked it, hired me right away and together we moved fast forward after that,” recalled Colton, who officially joined the Troyer staff in the summer of 1981, worked his way up the chain of command and assumed control of the shop’s main affairs as a managing partner in ’89 before emerging as sole owner of the prolific company 10 years later. The production site was initially located on Dewey Avenue in the north end of Rochester, near Lake Ontario before the move to Lyell Road, in Gates, New York, just west of the Flower City. “I also did body work for the original Mud Busses and made the move to Rochester when the third or fourth car was being built. We’ve been going at it just as strong ever since.”
Legendary asphalt driver Troyer and fledgling fabricator Colton wasted little time when the first Mud Buss came off the line in 1981, dusting the field with DIRTcar star Alan Johnson behind the wheel in its maiden voyage. The domination continued into autumn as Merv Treichler buckled in behind the wheel of Mud Buss V and passed Johnson to capture the ‘Schaefer 200’ on the famed Syracuse Mile to close out Super DIRT Week in October. Johnson did earn the overall Mr. DIRT title in ’81, keeping Troyer personnel busy filling orders during the ensuing winter months as office phones rang non-stop.
“It was a great time working right along with Merv, Jack (Johnson) and Doug (Hoffman) when they won Syracuse driving our cars,” said Colton, who traveled more regularly around the dirt circuit with current star Danny Johnson beginning in the 1980s. In the asphalt arena in which the Troyer name is as prominent as Kleenex in the tissue paper trade, Colton personally helped spearhead the pitside efforts of such successful drivers as Doug Heveron and Jan Leaty. “There have been so many Troyer drivers that have won just about every important race at the best tracks around. That says a lot about the product and service that we continue to provide. I’m proud of the quality of our cars and even more the follow-up to every sale we make.”
“We’ve always focused on using the highest quality materials and staying consistent with every chassis we put out. Every driver leaves Troyer with the assurance that the new car will be better than the last one. Durability, easy parts replacement and ability to work on the cars combine with our hands-on technical support to give race teams one of the best programs possible. We also guarantee that any team that brings a wrecked race car to us in the morning will be on its way back home that same afternoon to race again at night. It’s a promise we live by and our customers have come to expect nothing less when they buy a Troyer car,” stated Colton, who retains an ‘Open Door’ policy for customers new and old as the HBR Motorsports no. 98H team car driven by Jimmy Phelps on the Super DIRTcar Series is maintained on premises throughout the season.
Like many life-long race fans, Colton first tagged along with his dad, Bill Colton Jr. And growing up in the Buffalo suburb of Tonawanda, N.Y. it was Lancaster National Speedway (Dunn Tire Raceway Park today) that offered a wide-eyed six year-old his first smell of burning fuel and worn rubber. Yet unlike the majority of spectators that filled the bleachers on Saturday night, his father was a highly respected car owner and sponsor and Billy became entrenched in the Modified mainstream from day one.
“Once I got to the track that was it, no other place I really wanted to be every weekend of every summer,” said Colton, who’s father owned cars for such Western New York notables as Kenny Meahl and Bill Bitterman while supplying sponsorship support to Ron Martin and Dick Kluth. “My father probably enjoyed Lancaster more than any track, but I remember when Ransomville Speedway was up for sale in the early 70s he looked at putting in an offer. Dad was always helping out the racers, most importantly after Tony Jankowiak died in a crash he was the one that developed the soft foam walls that significantly reduce life-threatening injuries after impact.”
Although just 16 years old in 1977, young Colton jumped behind the wheel of his first race car at the end of the season and competed in the Bomber (stock) division on dirt at Ransomville and Merrittville (Ont.) speedways; numbered 22 after his first favorite driver Billy Rafter, who was successful on both surfaces. The following year he returned to his roots at Lancaster in a Street Stock entry and declared 1979 his rookie season in a Modified. He drove on to score feature wins at Lancaster, Holland (NY) Int’l Speedway and Spencer Speedway in Williamson before hanging up his helmet for good a half-dozen years later to devote the rest of his career to helping others reach victory lane.
“Its still the challenge of competition and sense of accomplishment that drives me today,” said Colton, who has averaged attending 75-100 races annually the past 30 years, with exactly 84 trackside appearances accounted for in 2011. “The equipment is similar today within the rules so trying to out-think everybody else is our biggest motivation. I respect the competition a lot so the adrenaline comes from trying to beat the best and getting ahead in some facet of the business at the end of the day. All our guys in the shop are totally dedicated and its nice to be able to see how all their hard work pays off.”
“Recognized as one of the first real manufacturing companies in motorsports gives us plenty of pride but growing into a factory support type of business and being able to maintain relevance in the car-building industry for so long is Troyer’s biggest achievement. Providing customers with leading-edge information on the tech side and giving them an advantage over the competition remains a primary goal. We’re all about assisting a team from start to finish, helping a driver finally get that first win or enabling more consistency in a championship program. Even when I’m not at the track there’s constant cell phone communication every weekend and being able to talk one-on-one to many of our teams on raceday is what I enjoy most,” added Colton, who is assisted in daily operations at Troyer Race cars by his wife and office manager, Laurie, while daughter Brittany, who graduated this month from the Rochester Institute of Technology with a degree in Graphic Design, may come aboard as the reputed company rolls on in the newest millennium.