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Bill Colton feels that over the last few years he and his Troyer Race Cars driver Jimmy Phelps have been within an “arm’s length” of winning the biggest prize in DIRT.car Modified racing, the VP Small Engine Fuels 200. It’s the marquee event of each Super DIRT Week held annually at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse.
This year’s NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week XLI runs today through Sunday at the state fairgrounds’ one mile oval known as “The Moody Mile.”
Colton, a Tonawanda native, is the owner of the Rochester-based Troyer Race Cars. The operation builds 100 to 150 race cars a year for both asphalt and dirt stock car racing of which two-thirds are dirt track race cars. His business employs 17 people. He returns to Syracuse this week with Phelps to try to win the big race again this Sunday.
Colton was honored this year with the DIRT Hall of Fame Mechanic of The Year Award. The DIRT Hall of Fame is located in Weedsport. His business responsibilities find him attending about 80 races per year.
“I feel that we have been a real big factor in that race the last four or five years,” stressed Colton. “One time Jimmy was leading with eight laps to go and Jimmy got a flat tire when a lapped car brushed into us. We’ve been in a position to make a run at the win late in the race other years and then something would go wrong. Let’s hope this year we have none of the Syracuse bad luck.”
Phelps was the fastest in time trials twice for the VP Small Engine Fuels 200, earning the pole in 2007 and 2010. Phelps placed sixth in the race a year ago and second in 2010.
Bill Colton is the son of the late Bill Colton Sr., who was a fixture in Western New York racing for many years, owning race cars and sponsoring many local drivers and events.
“My dad started taking me to the races when I was 5 or 6 years old,” said Colton, who graduated from Tonawanda High School in 1979. “I never stopped going.
“I had always been on dirt bikes as a kid, and when I was 15 years old my dad bought me a Bomber car, and late that season I raced at Ransomville, Humberstone and Merrittville. When I was 16 in 1976, we went to asphalt racing. My dad bought a Street Stock car from John Julicher and we started racing at Lancaster Speedway (now Dunn Tire Raceway Park). Lancaster is where my dad’s racing heart really was.
“I didn’t win but I learned a lot. Two years later we moved to the asphalt Modifieds and in my years racing in it I won races including Lancaster, Spencer and Holland.”
For a brief period, Colton’s brother Chris Colton ran Street Stocks but Chris’s career would be short-lived.
“One night at Lancaster, Chris hit the wall at the second turn pit gate and was taken from the track unconscious to the hospital,” said Bill Colton. “At that point, I should have gone to the hospital with him but I stayed back to run the Modified feature which was later that night.
“My heart and mind really wasn’t in it because I was worried about my brother. I was running about fifth in the Modified feature and I attempted to pass Dave Cramer and I flew right over the wall and out of the ballpark. Chris would be OK but he decided to retire as a driver at that time.
“I got a job at Troyer’s in 1981 as a sheet metal shop manager and kept driving Modifieds until 1987. When my job responsibilities at Troyer got deeper, I couldn’t do justice to either my job or my driving by continuing to do both so I left driving.”
Colton’s involvement at Troyer would only grow larger. In 1987 he became a managing partner in the business with Troyer Race Cars owner, founder and retired area Modified legend Maynard Troyer. In 1989 Troyer retired and in 1999 Colton bought the entire business.
Then tragedy struck in October of 2005 during Super DIRT Week, an event that could have spelled the end for Troyer Race Cars. While Colton was in Syracuse, a fire on Friday of that week destroyed the Troyer Race Cars main building and Colton’s dreams, livelihood and business were reduced to ashes.
“It was 10:30 Friday night and I was at Super DIRT Week, hanging out with some people and I got the call that the business had burned,” said Colton. “A friend drove me back to Rochester but there was nothing I could do when I got there. At 4 a.m. we headed back to Syracuse to see what we could do there to help ourselves do well there. The whole thing was a nightmare.
“After we got home from Syracuse we set up in a temporary building and I’m proud to say that by that November at the National Parts Peddler show in Syracuse that we had a newly built car on display. We never stopped building. We finally got back into our new permanent building 13 months later.”
Colton is ready for another assault this week at Syracuse.
“Kurt Wiegel has our car for Jimmy ready to go,” said Colton.
Highlights of NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week XLI begin today at 1 p.m. with VP Small Engine Fuels 200 time trials for the Modifieds and Gander Mountain 150 time trials for the 358 Modifieds on tap. Time trials will determine the first three rows for each race.
Friday, further qualifying will take place with triple 20-lap qualifiers for the Modifieds and twin 20-lap qualifiers for the 358 Modifieds to commence at 7 p.m. Earlier Friday, Sportsman time trials to determine the top 24 starters in Saturday’s Sportsman 30 will be held at 1:30 p.m.
Saturday is a busy day with the Gander Mountain 150 to get the green flag at 2 p.m. followed by the Sportsman 30 at 4:30 p.m. Pro Stock time trials for Sunday’s Pro Stock 20 will take place Saturday at noon.
Sunday’s activity includes the Pro Stock 20 presented by BACC-Off at noon followed by the grand finale, the VP Small Engine Fuels 200 at 2 p.m. Satellite Super DIRT Week events include tonight’s World of Outlaws Late Models/358 Modified Super DIRT.car Series event at nearby Rolling Wheels Raceway Park in Elbridge at 7:30. The World of Outlaws Sprint Cars will compete at Rolling Wheels, Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Wyoming County International Speedway will showcase its season-ending Fall Shootout for SST Modifieds, SST Super Stocks, 4-Cylinders, Cup Lites and WNY Vintage Late Models, Saturday at 3 p.m.
Dunn Tire Raceway Park will present its IHRA weekly drag racing points finale, Friday at 7 p.m.
email: lawrence_o_14075@yahoo.com